Effectively share your message with those who are hard-of-hearing

When speaking publicly, consider these twelve tips to better communicate with the hard-of-hearing, deaf and deaf-blind.

According to the American Hearing Aid Association, there are approximately 30 million Americans with hearing difficulties that interferes with verbal communication – that’s almost 1 in 10 Americans. Hearing loss is second only to arthritis as the most common complaint of older adults. People with hearing difficulties often rely on visual cues to understand and ultimately contribute to any group discussion.

At an early age, Marsha Simmons, a friend and colleague developed adult onset hearing loss. Simmons is a very community-minded person and regularly faces communication challenges during public meetings. As she points out, “It’s difficult to recognize who has a hearing loss and to what degree they favor visual cues over verbal.”

Therefore, it is the responsibility of community leaders, chairpersons and others to be consistently cognizant of the hearing impaired when conducting any meeting or group discussion. It is highly probable someone in the room has a hearing loss and will miss important information interfering with their ability to contribute fully. Any accommodation you may incorporate into your presentation or meeting actually benefits everyone in the audience; the goal of clearly communicating is appreciated by all.

The Michigan Coalition of Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, which consists of agencies and organizations working together to improve accessibility and services for Michigan's deaf and hard of hearing people, offers a plethora of useful information. They suggest the following general tips to enhance communication for everyone.

  • Choose a quiet environment. Avoid communicating where there is a lot of noise or visual activity. If there is a television or radio in the room, consider turning it off.
  • Avoid standing in front of a light source when speaking. The bright light behind you (from a window or desk lamp) will make it harder to see your face. Make sure the light is shining on your face, not behind you.
  • Allow the person with hearing loss to choose their seating first. Most people know how the environment will help or interfere with communication.
  • Make sure you have the person’s attention before speaking. Waving a hand, or a light touch on the shoulder or arm, is an acceptable way to get attention.
  • Please be sure your mouth and face are clearly visible. This includes covering your mouth with a hand or piece of paper. Even a long mustache or beard may make “speech-reading” more difficult.
  •  Ask the person what will make communication easier.
  • State the topic of discussion as you begin. When you change the topic, make sure the listener is aware of the new topic.
  • Speak clearly, at a normal pace.
  • Repeat important statements and even re-phrase this information.
  • Do not shout. A loud voice may increase distortion or give the impression you are angry, without improving comprehension.
  • Be patient and take time to communicate. Saying “never mind” or “it’s not important,” causes the person with hearing loss to feel unimportant.
  • Be aware of fatigue. People who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or deaf-blind must work harder to communicate and this can be extremely tiring.

It is the speaker’s responsibility to help all participants understand the message they are conveying and to provide an optimal situation in which to partake. Communicating clearly by following the general tips noted above will enhance understanding for everyone.

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