Community Connections: Accommodating Hearing Loss

Community Connections: Accommodating Hearing Loss

When you encounter someone in your community with untreated hearing loss, how do you respond? Although you might want to help, it can be challenging to know what you can do. If the person discloses to you that hearing is an issue, then it is easier to work toward solutions. However, those who do not admit to hearing loss are more difficult to help. Although you might have the best intentions, their resistance to assistance can be a powerful barrier in the communication process. Particularly when this community member acts as if hearing is not an issue, you might feel powerless to improve the situation. What can you do to help the wide range of people in your community with their individual experiences of hearing ability and needs? The following are some important ways to approach these connections with people in your community, emphasizing open communication and the wide range of resources that are available. Beyond these approaches to immediate accommodations, the only lasting solution for hearing loss is to get treatment from a hearing health professional, so you can make that reality part of your conversation, as well. 

Open Communication

When you begin to discuss hearing loss, you might feel uncomfortable raising the possibility. Particularly for those who are unwilling to admit to hearing loss, that conversation can feel uncomfortable. Open communication is the key to establishing trust and working toward a shared solution. Begin by asking about specific experiences in the present situation. If you noticed the person asking you to repeat yourself or saying “What?”, you can ask if it is difficult to hear in this place and time. By keeping your observations and questions grounded in the present tense, your community member may be able to lower some defenses. If this person admits that the present situation makes it difficult to hear, then you can ask if there are other situations that are difficult, as well. It might come out that there are specific features of the sonic environment that make it hard to hear, such as background noise, crosstalk from other voices, or competing music. With this information in the open, all you need to do is to ask how you can help. Find out what will make your communication process easier, and do your best to meet these needs. 

Connecting with Resources

If you find out that your community member has untreated hearing loss, there are resources that can help. If you are interfacing in a public institution, such as a government office, school, museum, or library, accommodations are available for a wide range of needs. In some cases, getting information in writing will be sufficient to transmit the necessary facts. You can get this written information in hard copy form or through an email or website that provides what is needed. In other cases, live voice-to-text captioning can be helpful. This technology has advanced greatly, and you can use this feature on your smartphone or in videoconference interfaces to provide visual information alongside the audible. For those who have more advanced hearing needs, there are other options, as well. For instance, telecoil hearing loops provide a direct stream of audio from a microphone to a headset or hearing aids in many public locations. Simply look for the telecoil icon on a sign and ask the accommodations specialist for more information.

Encouraging a Hearing Test

Communicating about hearing needs and connecting with community resources are two great ways to accommodate those who have untreated hearing loss. However, these accommodations can only go so far. The only durable solution for hearing loss is to get treatment from a hearing health professional. We will begin with a hearing test to determine the individual needs for assistance. Then, we will recommend the right hearing aids to match those needs. If you can encourage your community member to get a hearing test, that diagnostic assessment will open the door toward a future of lasting support for these needs. We will guide your community member through the process of treatment to make your next encounter easier and more enjoyable for all involved. You can even offer your support through this process as a valued community member and ally.