Some ideas on easing some of the difficulties with other people

There are many ways that we can try to put people at their ease; for example, by explaining how the speaker can help. Most people have no idea how to communicate well unless we explain.

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The following are some of the ideas people have told us about:  (This section is a little repetitive in parts but I have tried to keep the richness of peoples’ contributions.)

1.  Some people said that they only tell people that they are deaf or hard-of-hearing if they feel comfortable about that person knowing.

2.  Nobody can tell that I am deaf by looking at me. That’s why I tell them I’m deaf. I find that it’s the greatest help and there is nothing to be ashamed of about being deaf. I find that there is nothing to be afraid of and very often people are willing to try and help. I’m learning not to mind if people aren’t willing to help.

3.  Some people think that the most important thing in managing deafness is not to be afraid to tell people that they have a hearing problem. They simply tell others that they are deaf and how people can help them.

4.  Many people said that they usually find that it helps to put strangers in the picture by saying something like, “Excuse me a moment whilst I adjust my hearing aid,” – a tactful way of saying they’ve got a hearing loss.

5.  Some people say that they’ve learnt not to be afraid to ask for help, or explain how people can help you. If people do not know how to help they never will help. 

They also said that it takes time to learn to ask for help and that they found it difficult at first.  Some said it has become easier over time.

6.  One person said “I don’t wait for problems to arise. I explain from the word go that I am deaf and explain how they can help. (Since people create different problems for me I sum them up quickly and give different explanations to different people e.g. “Please speak clearly”, and I try not to say “Please don’t mumble” as it sounds so cross!)”

7.  Some people suggest that if you are just beginning to lose your hearing it is helpful not to hide it.

8.  Some people wear a badge saying that they are hard of hearing or deaf.  One person said, “I find it helps to let people know that I might not hear them.”  (Please note that this would not work for everybody as advertising their deafness can make some people feel vulnerable.) Some people get over this problem by wearing the badge under their lapel and only showing it if they feel comfortable with the person knowing that they are deaf.

A variety of badges are available to purchase from Hearing Link .  Click on the following link to go direct to their online shop.

9.  Many people find that explaining the problem in the first place and explaining how to help often forestalls misunderstanding and irritation.

10.  I do not find my deafness funny, but it helps me if I can keep a sense of humour and so I try to laugh with others at myself.

11. Several people said that they felt that deafness is nothing to be ashamed of so they try not to apologise for having a hearing loss.

12. I am trying not to say, “If I don’t hear you please forgive me,” because it is something I can’t help. Perhaps I should change to, “If I can’t hear you please be patient and try again”.

13. Some people try to make a joke of their disability. For example, one person said, “When I am introduced to a stranger, perhaps at a social function, I say “If I do not hear you the first time, give me a good kick. But be careful where you kick me!” This usually gets a smile or laugh, and already I have made a sympathetic friend.”     (Note from Editors: Please note that this strategy might not suit everyone and there is always the possibility that this strategy can backfire and the person becomes the butt of other people’s jokes.)   

14. Many people say that they try to be cheerful, though it’s not always easy.

15. These suggestions are from several people. They said if they need help they try to explain how people can help them. (They try to ask tactfully and they also usually say that they are deaf/hearing impaired/hard of hearing/have a hearing loss.) For example:

  • If people speak too fast, I ask them to slow down.
  • If people slow down too much for me, I ask them speed up very slightly
  • If people speak too softly, I ask them to speak louder (but not to shout)
  • If people don’t look at me, I ask them to face me.
  • If people walk away whilst speaking to me, I ask them to stay in the same place.
  • If people cover their face, I ask them not to.
  • If I need more lights to be switched on for me I ask for more lights to be switched on.
  • If their face is in shadow, I ask them to face the light.
  • If people exaggerate, I tell them that I need ordinary speech but spoken clearly.
  • If people don’t speak with a natural rhythm, I tell them I need a natural rhythm but spoken a little slower.
  • If people mumble, I ask them to speak clearly.
  • If people shout, I ask them not to and explain it distorts their lip patterns for lipreading.
  • If I cannot understand people with a strong foreign or local accent/dialect, I ask them to repeat more slowly and possibly louder (or ask them to write it down).
  • If I don’t understand, I ask them to repeat.
  • If they repeat something and I still do not understand, I ask them to rephrase. (Please note that some people prefer repetition and some people prefer rephrasing. Some people prefer repetition first, and then rephrasing.)
  • If the pitch of peoples’ voices is too high or too low, I ask them to repeat. (I try to explain the problem as well.)

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16. Tactics that people have used to get the speaker to be more helpful:

  • I tell people that I am hard of hearing and that I can hear better if they look at me when they speak.
  • I tell people “I am deaf but I can lipread a little, so if you look at me when you speak I shall probably understand”.
  • I raise my voice and then the assistant looks up and keeps facing me.
  • I drop my voice so that the assistant cannot hear me without watching. Then I explain that is what it is like for me – “So please face me when you speak to me”.
  • I cup my hand around my ear. Not only does it increase the volume of sound going to my ear, it also saves explanations because many people understand what it means.
  • I find that when I say that I am lipreading that they are very impressed and try much harder to help me.
  • I find that if I say that I am lipreading they start to exaggerate and then I cannot lipread.
  • With the casual “one-off” encounter, I employ this tactic when a question has been asked but I didn’t “get it”. I look very thoughtful and say slowly, “Well…..” 99% of the time the questioner will answer it and say more about the topic. Once I know what the topic is I can then usually get in on the conversation.
  • I sometimes experience a feeling that a person near me in a queue or walking behind me has spoken to me. I always ask if they have spoken to me. Sometimes they say “Yes” and sometimes they say “No” but I always explain why I asked and very often a good conversation follows, so I feel that it is worthwhile letting people know that you have a problem. It is good for them and you.
  • A French lipreading group member says: “I’m sorry I’m French”, and then speakers become much more helpful and speak slowly and clearly.

17. I try to think, “I’ll follow some/most/part/half of it,” rather than “I’ll only follow some/part/half of it.” 

18. One person said, “I’ve decided not to curl up in a corner and take a back seat but to gather my strength and courage and fight it and battle on.”  

(Please note that it can take a long time for some people to reach this stage of feeling they can “fight it”.  Some people may never reach this stage.)

19. Another person said, “I have developed a thick skin. It has taken a long time, but it saves me a lot of pain.”

18. Some people say they are learning to ask more people for help and if people refuse they are starting to care less about it.

20. It can be useful to try to understand why some people do not help.  They may have their own problems that others will not help them with.

21. Some people try to smile and look pleasant even if they’re worried about how they are going to cope as a scowl can drive people away. 

22. Some people are naturally clear speakers whilst others are hopeless! But a smile usually helps, and encourages others to assist.                                                     

23. I try to think about other peoples’ feelings. I try to be as caring for them as I hope they will be for me.

24. One person said they found it helpful to think about others. “They like it when I ask after them and it’s often easier to follow what they say, because quite often it is a continuation of a story I already know.”

25. Some people said that they try not to look bored when they are unable to follow what is being said as other people resent it.  Instead they try to look happy and interested.

26. If all else fails, I try to keep my cool.  I have found there is no point in losing my temper as it can make the situation worse.  However, I have found in a few situations that losing my temper has actually helped.

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27. These following suggestions are from several people:

  • I try to make people laugh with me. You need a sense of humour.
  • I don’t let people laugh at me, I laugh with them.
  • I try not to panic.  Or at least even if I feel like panicking, I try not to let it show.
  • I try not to be annoyed if people shout or exaggerate. I assume that they are only trying to help. I then explain what they should do.
  • I try not to be afraid to tell people about my disability.
  • I am always prepared to ask for help if I am in doubt or confused.

28. Some people said they’d learnt not to be afraid to move nearer to the speaker if they cannot hear.  (Though you may need to explain why you are moving nearer!  Not everybody likes you invading “their” space!)

29. Some people find that if people are standing too close for lipreading they need to move further back and explain to the speaker that they need to be far enough away to see the whole face in order to lipread.

30. Some people train their spouse and/or a friend to clue them into the subject of the conversation. If they still cannot follow, they ask their spouse/friend to lipspeak, to let them know what is being said.

31. Some people say that they ask anyone who accompanies them to give the key word or words. Knowing the topic can help to anticipate what might be said.

32. Some people have said that if they are in a group and not really able to folIow what’s being said they stand and smile and try to look a part of it.  One person said about using this tactic, “It doesn’t help me to follow what is being said, but it can get me through till I find one person to talk to.”

33. Somebody said that in a group they get one person to explain what is being talked about.  Then they have more chance of being able to follow.

34. It can sometimes help when in a group to ask people to speak one at a time and to indicate who is going to speak.

35. One person said, “I try to keep smiling always. I try never to put peoples’ backs up by complaining or moaning (even though I feel so fed up with them all that I want to). I have found that this make people less willing to help. I also try not to make people feel guilty or uncomfortable as this also makes other people less willing to help.”

36. Some people have found it helpful to ask others to write things down for them when they are stuck. If they are taking notes at an important meeting (for example at the doctors) it can be a good idea to ask them to write verbatim so they don’t accidentally leave out anything important.

Several people said that it took them time to gain the confidence to ask people to write things down for them in this way.

37. Some people ask the person to write down key word(s) that they’ve missed and then they can usually follow after that.

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38. One person said, “If I am not sure, I’ve learnt not be afraid to ask for a recap about the subject under discussion.”

39. Some people always take their spouse or a friend along to help them with important interviews, but they never let them take over.  They make sure that they relay the bits that are missed as they come up and don’t let them say “I’ll tell you later” – they rarely remember to.

BUT: Other people say they’ve stopped taking anyone with them to important meetings (eg the doctor or the solicitor). This is because the speaker always ends up talking to them and the deaf person gets left out.

One person said, “I find it better to go by myself and they are forced to talk to me. I take pen and paper and I get the speaker to write anything down which I don’t understand. I also try to make myself never bluff. It took me a long time to go by myself but now that I have started doing it I realise how much I used to miss because the doctor, etc., would always talk to the person with me who would then forget to relay most or all of it.”

40. Some people have found it helpful not to be shy about getting people to write things down for them.   They also said that it became easier the more often they tried it.

41. Some people say that if they cannot hear someone they pretend they have not heard. 

However other people said that they feel that doing this could make them appear rude or stand-offish to the speaker and prefer to ask for a repeat or use another tactic.

42. Many people said they had found it helpful to be patient with difficult to follow or unhelpful speakers, because getting angry or impatient in return often makes things worse.

43. If people are unhelpful despite requests to raise their voice, etc, I keep persevering. If all else fails I ignore them.

44. If you are talking to another hard of hearing person “Do as you would be done by”, i.e. be patient and follow the rules of conversation such as speak slowly, use body language, be prepared to write down, etc.

45. Accents and dialects can be very difficult to follow but the more familiar the person becomes the easier their accent usually becomes to follow.  Brief acquaintances can be considered as “ships that pass in the night”. (See also Chapter 1, Section J, point 33 for other tips about accents.)

46. Grandchildren (and other young children) may be very difficult to follow, but they usually become easier the more one is with them. (Always remember that people who are not deaf often find them difficult to follow too unless they are constantly in their company. Sometimes the eldest grandchild will interpret for you! Grandchildren are never too young to be told that “Grandpa/ma/ auntie/etc can’t hear very well, you need to speak to him/her if you want him/her to understand you.” (See also Chapter 1, Section J, point 29 for other tips about small children.)

47. If a small child is learning to talk I am no longer embarrassed to ask for other people to help me out.

48. If I make a mistake when lipreading I explain about homophenes or say something like “I thought you said…… and it looks just like what you said”. I find that people have become much more understanding now that I have explained about homophenes (words that look alike on the lips).

49. Some people found it helpful to explain to people that words not only look alike but they can also often sound alike.

50. One person said, “I smile, or at least try to smile, when I get things badly wrong. Sometimes I have to force myself to smile but I find it eases the situation and makes the other person feel more comfortable and they are then usually helpful.”

51. If you can make someone laugh it is a help. I point out that there are a few advantages in being deaf – people don’t load you with unpleasant information, you get waved through census points on the road…. any more?

52. I try not to bore people by talking too much about deafness in a sad (or depressing, etc) way as it only drives people away.

53. I try not to get upset, or cross, when somebody shouts at me for not understanding or hearing. They’re probably frustrated too, so if I get cross it’ll probably make things worse.

54. If I’ve not understood and if I don’t know the topic of conversation I ask immediately at the end of a sentence. I don’t wait as it can make things more difficult if a lot has been said.

55. I try to speak to people as I would like them to speak to me. That is, I try to lead by example.

56. If there is a noise (e.g. a passing car or aeroplane), I ask the speaker to wait until the noise has finished before speaking or I ask them to repeat. I always try to explain that the noise blocks out their speech and that I cannot hear what they are saying.