An Open Letter to My *Hearing* Friends: Talking to a Person with Hearing Loss
By Shanna Groves
Editor: Shanna Groves is the author of Lip Reader, a novel about a family dealing with hearing loss during the early 1980s. She blogs and speaks frequently about hearing loss issues and is actively involved with the Hearing Loss Association of America. For information about her books, blogs and speaking dates, visit: http://shannagroves.blogspot.com.
This letter is reprinted with Shanna’s kind permission.
I want to discuss an important difference we have-something that can impact our entire communication from this point forward.
When you were born, your hearing was normal. So was mine. For years, I took the ability to hear for granted. I listened to my car stereo several notches too loud and sat in concert arenas filled with the shrill sounds of guitars, drums and vocalists belting out tunes. As a college student, I worked in a noisy printing press environment without wearing earplugs. All the while, my hearing gradually suffered.
For the past eight years, my life has differed from yours. It’s all because of a diagnosis I received two months after my oldest child was born: I have progressive hearing loss.
What does that mean? Imagine losing the sensitive hairs that line the back of your neck, one by one. You wait and wait for them to grow back, but they never do. For some unknown reason, the hairs are gone forever. That has happened to my inner ears. The nerve hairs in the deepest part of each ear have been destroyed permanently. Cause unknown. Without these hairs, my ears are not as sensitive to sound as yours.
The first part of my hearing that disappeared was with high-frequency pitches-birds singing, kids screaming, phones ringing, and all soft consonant sounds (f, s, t, v). Gone. Permanently. I am deaf to these noises.
The inability to hear high-frequency pitches affects all of my conversations with you.
You: “Is the baby sleeping?”
What I hear: “Ha! Baby leaping.”
You: “What time is it?”
What I hear: “Whoa, I’m in.”
I have worn hearing aids for six years to help with hearing better. But please repeat after me:
HEARING AIDS ARE A HELP, NOT A SOLUTION FOR HEARING LOSS.
With my hearing aids, I can hear the phone ring and the kids scream and soft consonant sounds-most of the time. Yet even with the aids, I still can’t hear robins chirping over me as I sit on my backyard swing. Do I miss that sound? Yes. Every day.
I want to ask that the two of us find a way to bridge the gap between our hearing differences, to understand each other. So, here are my suggestions…
~ Please face me when you speak. My eyes have become my ears. I watch your lips move and interpret your facial and body gestures. That is impossible to do when I am in the driver’s seat and you are talking to me from the passenger’s side of the car. Let me stop the car or come to a stoplight so I can give you my full attention.
~ Quiet rooms are always the best place for me to hear you well. When this isn’t possible, I hear better in a private booth rather than at a table in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Better yet, pull me aside, look me in the eye, and speak slowly and with good articulation. Doing this will decrease the chances of you having to repeat yourself three times before I get it.
~ I don’t expect you to walk on eggshells if you are unsure whether I have heard something you said. It is much better to tell me that I didn’t respond to your question, than to assume I am rude, dumb or zoned out for not answering.
~ If any of my suggestions seem too radical, I’d like you to try an experiment. Wedge two cotton balls in both of your ears, then try to carry on a conversation in a noisy room with your eyes closed. Difficult, isn’t it? Welcome to my world!
By writing to you, I hope to provide insight that will help when we have our next conversation. You are a good friend for taking the time to read this letter. You’ve shown support in my hearing journey by taking an interest in what I write. Thank you for that.
As your friend, here is my commitment to you…
~ I promise to give you my full attention when you speak to me.
~ I promise to politely ask you to repeat yourself if I have missed something you said.
~ I promise to care about what you have to say because I care about you.