How to Advocate For Your Hard of Hearing Loved Ones
Mar 19, 2018
Your loved one may be adjusting to a hearing loss that has developed recently, or they may be living with a hearing loss they have had for years. Either way, being deaf or hard of hearing can present communication challenges in day to day life, and when you are witness to misunderstandings you may find yourself wanting to jump in and help them. But is this the best way?
Before you can find out how to help your loved one, you need to ask them the most important question: do they desire your help in the first place? You don’t want to overstep the line by speaking for someone who would rather speak for themselves, but there are other ways to be an advocate for your hard of hearing friend or family member. The best thing you can do is to have an open conversation with them about what they specifically need.
When is it appropriate to speak on behalf of a hard of hearing/deaf person?
This is a complicated question to answer. Every person with hearing loss has a unique relationship with it and has their own preferences about how to handle difficult listening situations. Additionally, every interaction is different and it can be hard to predict how someone will feel from one moment to the next.
If your loved one is in an awkward situation and cannot understand anything that is being said, perhaps while travelling or speaking to someone with a thick accent, they may be relieved to have your help in translating or answering questions for them.
A common situation for people with hearing loss is missing a ‘walk-by’ question such as “How is your day going?” or “What kind of dog is that?”. If your loved one has missed a question like this, it can be helpful to bring their attention to the fact that someone is speaking to them, with a gentle nudge. From there, they can ask the speaker to repeat their question.
But: in both of these cases, only step in if you and your loved one have an understanding that your help is desired in certain situations. What you want to avoid is the type of conversation where you begin answering questions for them, to the point that they feel excluded and have lost their sense of agency. Self-advocacy is always best, and most people would prefer to introduce themselves and explain their hearing loss when and how they want to.
A few helpful ways to support your hard of hearing loved one
Supporting your hard of hearing loved one can be as simple as letting them know they can rely on you. If you are going to be in a group situation together, such as a dinner party, ask if they would like to sit next to you at dinner, and let them know they can turn to you if they’ve missed something. You can also contact the host in advance and ask them to set up the party in a way that accommodates hard of hearing guests--such as making sure rooms are well-lit, keeping the music volume low, and setting up ‘quiet spaces’ for one-on-one conversations or alone time if things get too noisy in the main party areas.
When in doubt, just ask
If you are not sure if your deaf or hard of hearing loved one wants your assistance in communicating with others, the best thing to do is ask them. If you are in a public or group situation, take a private moment to talk to them about what they would prefer. An open conversation about your loved one’s needs will give them a chance to explain which things work for them, and which don’t. They may want your help in certain instances and not in others, or they may not require your help at all. The last thing you want to do is take away your loved one’s chance to speak for themselves, so make sure to have an honest conversation if in doubt.
Schedule a Consultation with House of Hearing
If you or a loved one is showing early signs of hearing loss, make it your priority to schedule a hearing exam with us at House of Hearing. While it might seem like a chore that can wait another day, early intervention is key to long term hearing and emotional health when it comes to hearing loss.