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Face to Face: Facilitating the conversation with the hearing impaired

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — If you’re familiar with the popular “Charlie Brown” TV specials, you know the sound the Peanuts characters’ teacher, Ms. Othmar, makes whenever she speaks: “Wah, wah, wah-wah-wah.” Even with the help of hearing aids, people sometimes sound like Ms. Othmar to the hearing impaired.

People with hearing loss often have a hard time hearing consonants and other speech sounds transmitted at high frequencies. This is typical in the Air Force, where Airmen commonly work near or on extremely loud flight lines, firing ranges and other noisy areas where prolonged exposure to constant noise can cause hearing loss over time.

A person with hearing loss requires hearing aids to help transmit sound to the brain for processing, since hearing someone speak is different from understanding what they’re saying. Hearing aids can’t give anyone superhuman hearing or restore their hearing to normal levels, but they can help tremendously.

Hearing loss affects 35 million Americans, but the Hearing Loss Association of America offers four ways to overcome this communication barrier: let the person with hearing difficulties see your face, find a quiet place for your conversation, don’t shout and be patient.

Face to Face

Face the person you’re speaking to. Since twenty percent of understanding speech comes from reading the speaker’s face, it’s possible for a person reading lips to get the overall context when he or she can’t clearly hear every word. Meetings and classrooms present some challenges, especially when people turn their heads to speak to someone else. You might need to make accommodations so a person with hearing difficulties can better understand your conversation. If you’re not face to face, consider a video chat instead of a phone call.

Find a Quiet Place

Take the conversation outside or to another room. Turn off the TV or other sources of noise before starting a conversation. Use visual cues such as gestures or writing something down while you’re speaking if you can’t find a quiet place.

Don’t Shout!

Speak at a volume that makes it easier for a hearing-impaired person to hear you. Avoid shouting, since loud speech amplified through hearing aids can be painful. Sudden loud noises, especially unexpected loud noises, can startle people who wear hearing aids. Ask the person if they understand what you’re saying and have them repeat what was discussed to close the communication loop.

Be Patient

You might need to repeat yourself or reword what you’re saying. Using entirely different words to convey the same message can make all the difference when it comes to understanding what you’re saying.

People with hearing loss can facilitate the conversation, too. They should tell you whether or not they can hear you and confirm the topic of conversation to relay understanding. They should tell you whether you need to speak up, slow down or rephrase a comment. They should also position themselves to hear better or ask whether it’s possible to move to a different location to speak.

Hearing aids don’t solve all communication problems caused by hearing loss. Be honest and let the person you’re conversing with know if you don’t always hear what they’re saying. If you think you should have your hearing tested, contact your Primary Care Manager to arrange an appointment with the Audiology Clinic.

It might be uncomfortable to admit you may have hearing loss and need to wear hearing aids, but you won’t be chatting with Ms. Othmar when people talk to you.