“Sorry, I didn’t hear that…”
“Sorry, can you repeat that for me please?”
Unable to sleep in the early hours of the morning an idea sprung into my head relating to something I’ve been wanting to put into words for a long time. This is something that’s been especially coming to my attention recently relating to my hearing loss and being in public spaces or even at home.
I have a moderate to severe hearing loss (since birth) and have worn hearing aids since I was only months old. Although I do have a definite hearing loss, particularly in higher pitch noises, I have found it’s not often case of not hearing rather the big issue is understanding what is being said. Although I struggle to hear high pitched noises, I can often hear a noise of some sort (for example being aware someone is speaking) but find it difficult to distinguish or process what is being said. I suppose the best comparison is with glasses wearers that they can distinguish basic shapes just not the details which can make it difficult to determine what the object is without the aid of their glasses. You can sometimes work out or guess what the blurred object is from the basic shape (in my case what word is the sound being heard) but not always.
This can make it very challenging in day to day life as I struggle to determine what is being said in conversation, or it may take a while to work it out, something which has often left me just awkwardly nodding far too many times not knowing what on earth I may have agreed to.
Throughout my life this inability to decipher conversations has hugely impacted me negatively and heavily impacted my mental health through the guilt of annoying people and embarrassment of being made fun of, or simply missing out on so many things socially, because of not being able to understand. At times it even gets to the stage where I avoid situations where I may not be able to understand someone, such as being in noisy environments, even just being out in public, and making phone calls where I cannot rely on lip reading.
I have found that the more understanding people are about my struggle to decipher speech the easier it becomes. I wanted to share some tips and advice that I have found help me in situations like these so more people can help be more deaf aware. Incorporating these small steps into every day life can help so many people whether they are deaf or have other auditory processing difficulties. Or even just to make understanding things easier for everyone!
1) Be patient. We may need you to repeat or reword phrases in order to be able to process and understand what is being said. The last thing we want to do is irritate people, that’s why all too often we just pretend to understand what has been said when in reality we have no clue. It hurts to have to miss out on so much so give us a chance and we’ll get there eventually.
2) Avoid covering your mouth when speaking and try to face the person you’re talking to. This enables them to be able to lip read which is a useful tool to help put together the puzzle pieces that make up an end sentence.
3) Try not to talk to fast or mumble. This makes it even more difficult to understand and gives no time to process. Try to speak clearly and at a steady pace, but you don’t need to speak slowly like dory speaking whale that just makes you look and sound weird to everyone around you and will probably just cause me to burst out laughing!
4) Get the person’s attention by tapping them gently or nudging them. On so many occasions people have accused me of ignoring them when I simply did not realise they were speaking to me (honestly I’m not ignoring!). It may seem obvious but by doing this it can also be a less embarrassing way of getting their attention without having to shout in their faces (yes I’ve had that done to me before…).
5) Something that I find often helps me if I’m struggling to understand something is the use of hand gestures or pictures and surrounding objects to give me more clues as to what is being said. Be creative or even try to learn some basic BSL (British Sign Language) signs such as those below (available to download at http://www.british-sign.co.uk).
This can be useful for people with any degree of hearing loss from mild to profoundly deaf and you never know when you might find it useful in everyday life so it’s well worth learning.
One tip for a fun way of learning at home is through learning songs through tutorials on YouTube. I’ve never formally attended BSL classes (the teacher stopped turning up after the taster session…) but I spent many years signing Christmas songs as fundraising for the local deaf children’s society. Through years of doing this I actually found myself learning a lot of signs (as well as the obvious festive ones) but through doing this you’d be surprised how much you can learn just as a starter (or if you find yourself needing to speak to Santa one day…). I’ll add some useful links to the end of this post!
Obviously different things work for different people. These are just some of the things that have helped me personally, but that doesn’t mean they’ll work for everyone especially at different levels of deafness and through different disabilities.
If you’d like to find out more about hearing loss and how to be deaf aware click on the links below:
Examples of BSL signed songs to get you started:
If anyone else has any tips or stories they’d like to share then comment below!