Have you ever known someone who happens to be blind? Walking stick, seeing-eye dog, dark sunglasses, the whole enchilada? Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t – but I’ll bet you that you wouldn’t hand them something and say, “here, read this,” would you? Of course not; you’re not a dick. Well maybe you are, but there’s some things you just wouldn’t do to a blind person; unfortunately it’s been my experience that people don’t treat someone suffering from hearing loss the same way.
As many of you know, my fiancée has severe hearing loss in both of her ears to the point where she’s legally deaf without an assistive listening device like a pair of hearing aids, and it can be a real struggle to communicate in situations that involve strangers that are unaware of her disability. However, sometimes even after she tells someone, “I’m hard of hearing,” some people actually more or less ignore her for the rest of the conversation, turning to me and speaking about my fiancée as if she isn’t even there any more.
A lot of people get frustrated very quickly when it comes to dealing with someone who’s either hard of hearing or is completely deaf. All too often will they (sometimes literally) throw up their hands in exasperation and give up, which usually results in writing off the other person as a non-entity, displaying a complete and utter lack of patience, compassion, and empathy. I hate to break it to you, but nobody asks for hearing loss, either as the result of being born that way or having it thrust upon them later in life due to a genetic predisposition, so becoming frustrated with them for your own inability to communicate with them says a lot more about you than it does about the person suffering from hearing loss.
It’s really incredibly simple: when someone tells you they have a disability, don’t be a dick. If they tells you that they have difficulties hearing, don’t turn your back on them and then ask them a question, because you’re making it that much harder for them to hear you. If they tell you that the only way they’re going to understand you is if you let them read your lips, look directly at them and make sure you’ve got their undivided attention before saying something – and say it slowly and clearly, and without obscuring your lips.
Not only that, but don’t simply think that because someone’s wearing a hearing aid that they’ll be able to completely understand you like someone with undamaged hearing, either. Hearing aids are amazing devices, and they’ve come a long way with digital technology, but they’re still basically microphones attached to miniature speakers, and they’re nowhere near perfect. You still need to speak clearly to someone wearing hearing aids, especially in a crowded, noisy room – hearing aids amplify all noise, not just your voice.
And for fuck’s sake, if there’s a hearing person accompanying a deaf one, don’t talk to the deaf person through them, even if they’re translating what you’re saying into sign language. Look at the person you’re actually trying to communicate with; if they need help, they’ll turn to their friend (or if it’s like in my case, their fiancé) to either sign at them or lean in close and repeat it right in their ear. Yeah, it’s an extra step that will make it take a little longer to communicate, but it’s not that goddamn hard, is it?
A little thoughtfulness and empathy goes a long way, and costs you nothing but a few extra moments of your time. Besides, you should take a moment and be thankful, all you people out there that still have your hearing, as at the end of the day, when you go home after struggling through a conversation with a deaf person, you’ll still have your hearing; the other person has to live their life that way.
Oh, and certainly don’t mumble imprecations under your breath whenever you’re dealing with someone with hearing loss. Especially if they’re accompanied by someone with pretty good god damned hearing. You big fat inconsiderate idiot.