If you have hearing loss, there is a lot that others can do to help you out. Whether it means standing directly in front of you to speak, refraining from calling out from another room, or speaking next to your “good ear,” others are usually more than willing to help you communicate effectively. In many cases, we simply don’t know how to help those in need, but a request is all it takes to make our conversations flow much more smoothly.
The only problem is that the responsibility lies with the person who has hearing loss to communicate about these needs, and sometimes that conversation can feel awkward. Disclosing hearing loss is crucial to making the process of communication function at a baseline of understanding, but it makes a big difference not only that you disclose hearing loss but also how you go about it. Communication experts have identified that there are at least three ways that people talk about hearing loss and other physical limitations that require accommodation.
Let’s look at each one in turn, considering the different ways that these disclosure strategies can help you make the most of your communication ability.
The first method of disclosure is not a true disclosure of hearing loss at all. Rather than telling someone you have hearing loss, you might simply ask for an accommodation. People who use this strategy are constantly asking others to repeat themselves, to speak up, or to come closer when they talk. Although these requests for accommodations can make the conversation work in the short-term, they are less effective in long-term relationships. When you see a person the next time, they might think that something else made it difficult to hear in your last interaction. Without the knowledge that you have hearing loss, others are not able to continue the process of accommodations in a durable manner.
Another method of disclosure that provides limited functionality is called basis disclosure. Those who use this method tend to simply explain that they have hearing loss, but they don’t proceed to describe what would help communication to go more smoothly. Without a recommendation for possible accommodations, others are left in the dark as to how to communicate. They might resort to speaking very loudly or simplifying their language in a condescending manner. They might avoid the conversation altogether, unaware of how to communicate. By simply disclosing the condition of hearing loss, basic disclosers can let others know that their condition is ongoing. Yet, without a recommended course of action, others might feel confused or uncertain what to do next.
The most effective way to talk about hearing loss is called multipurpose disclosure. This method does not only let others know that you have hearing loss but it follows up with a recommendation for how to help. When you explain what others can do to help, they will not only be able to assist in the short-term, but they will know that this kind of accommodation is necessary in the future, as well. As you progress into other conversations, they will be aware of your hearing loss and the need for a specific type of accommodation that suits you, whether that is raising the volume, standing closer, or another specific need. Others will be put to ease to know that there is something they can do to help.
Although multipurpose disclosure is the best method to allow others to help you with hearing loss, there is an important step you can take to help yourself: seek treatment. Accommodations only go so far in any conversation with someone who has hearing loss, and hearing loss can get worse over time. The accommodations that worked yesterday are not certain to work tomorrow.
If you have hearing loss, the best step you can take toward a robust solution is to schedule an appointment for a hearing test. This diagnosis will let our hearing health professionals know exactly what kind of hearing loss you have, as well as the right kinds of hearing aids to meet your needs. With your individual lifestyle and preferences in mind, our experts can use this information to help you durably fill in the gaps in conversation.