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People in our U.S. culture are generally sensitive to folks who struggle with physical disabilities. We don’t want to do or say anything that is embarrassing or hurtful. Usually we will just ignore any direct attention to a wheelchair, for example. Knowing what to do to offer any assistance, if appropriate, is easily seen. But hearing loss seems to be the most difficult impairment for hearing folks to readily acknowledge, accept and deal with.

If you have good hearing you face three problems when talking with a hearing challenged individual: the handicap is invisible; to communicate effectively this hearing loss can’t be ignored; and, other than speaking louder, which often doesn’t help, it’s difficult to know what will. Last year in their article, “Both Hearing Impaired: A Couples Journey,” Walt and Tiggy Shields acknowledged that it’s difficult to always remember the helpful and thoughtful ways to communicate.

“Even with us our best intentions for patience and clarity have led to failure, hurt feelings, frustration and discouragement.”

Are you perplexed about how better to communicate with your spouse, partner or neighbor who has the “invisible disability?” Here are several important tips to increase success for you and folks like me, even when I wear hearing aids:

  1. First catch my attention, then look at me when you speak so I can see your face and mouth. In this current pandemic, mask-wearing has obviously made comprehension an even greater challenge for me since I also get assistance seeing your facial expression and watching your lips.
  2. Speak clearly and distinctly. Slower helps. Many people speak too fast, too softly or they mumble.
  3. Re-phrase. If you say something several times I just don’t understand, please use other words.
  4. Let me know clearly when you change the subject (especially in a group setting) since I depend a great deal on context to understand a faster paced conversation.
  5. If you try to speak with me and I don’t respond, please know I am not being rude or ignoring you. I just didn’t hear (understand) you.
  6. Names of places, people and numbers are very difficult for me to understand.

Nearly two years ago, a small group of SaddleBrooke residents gathered to talk about the challenges they face as hearing impaired folks in a hearing world. In the months that followed, under the inspired leadership of Jennifer Jefferis, the Discussion Group for Better Hearing has offered support, education and resources via monthly (now Zoom) meetings, SB newspaper articles, speakers and advocacy. Through transparent and impassioned articles, six members have spoken about their journey and challenges, offering encouragement to people who face hearing loss (which statistically suggests one-third of our SB community) to become informed, proactive and seek help.

So, for YOU as part of our hearing community, thanks for reading. My understanding improves with your understanding.

To learn more about the Discussion Group for Better Hearing, contact Jennifer Jefferis by emailing jenjefferis4u@gmail.com or calling 360-909-6212, or Maria Menconi by emailing marialmenconi@gmail.com. For a Zoom meeting sign-up contact Maria. Upcoming Zoom meetings are Thursdays at 10 a.m. January 14, and February 11 and March 10.

Resource - Max K. Kennedy, November/December, 1986 issue of Shhh, published by Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc.


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