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What did you say?

People who are hearing impaired are all around us.

Some are quite obvious because they are wearing hearing aids. Some say "what did you say?" or "say that again" — a lot. Some are not so obvious, because they are only mildly impaired or refuse to acknowledge their deafness and refuse to wear hearing aids. Most don't realize the extent of their deafness and are missing out on many things, such as music, TV and the everyday sound of children playing or friends reminiscing. Some just have a very large vocabulary and can piece together what you have said until it makes sense.

Many wish they could hear better so they could know what's going on and participate in the conversation. Even after they get their ears cleaned, tested and hearing aids properly fitted, they often experience the disappointment of not totally hearing, but now it's for a different reason.

Speakers assume that everybody present can hear and understand them automatically. That is just not so. For various and obvious reasons, whatever you say will be interpreted correctly only if the listeners hear exactly what you say. You may have an accent that is foreign to the listener or you may use colloquialisms the listener has never heard. You may not speak loud enough or you, yourself, may be mumbling. Some speakers barely move their lips when they speak, making it impossible for listeners to lip read, which many deaf people do to some extent.

The remedy to this communication problem is simple. When speaking to a person who is hard of hearing, you can help the situation by:

  • speaking a little (not much) slower than usual
  • talking a little (not much) louder than usual
  • speaking directly to the deaf person
  • and most important, enunciate the syllables of each word

When there is a group of people talking, some other simple suggestions apply:

  • Talk one person at a time. Two people talking at the same time creates "noise" in the wearer's hearing aids. Imagine what it is like in a room where everyone is talking at once.
  • No yelling. This will shut down the listener's hearing aids. This shutdown occurs in all noisy areas to automatically protect the ears.
  • Do not dominate the conversation. Let other people talk once in a while. Even a deaf person may have something interesting to say.

If you follow these suggestions, you will be surprised how many people respond to your conversation, because they are now hearing you, not just nodding and grinning to make it look like they did.

Kenn Sorgatz lives in Medford.