Hearing Loss or Speech Impairment? Note these 14 Tips to Improve Communication.

September 28, 2012

struggles of a caregiverFor those with a hearing loss or speech impairments, communication with new and unfamiliar people may be little slower than usual; but is certainly not impossible. Following these strategies will help you and the person you are speaking with to understand one another better.

  • Before speaking, get the person’s attention. If necessary, tap him or her on the shoulder or wave your hand.
  • Look directly at the person and speak clearly. Speak normally. Shouting or exaggerating mouth movements makes speechreading (lip reading) more difficult.
  • Face the person you are speaking with and keep distractions (hands, cigarettes, food) away from your mouth.
  • Try to face a light source so your face isn’t hidden by shadows.
  • Listen attentively when talking with people who have difficulty speaking. Don’t focus on understanding each individual word. Try to understand the “gist” of the message. Wait for the speaker to finish, and then, if necessary, ask short questions to clarify what you heard.
  • Never pretend to understand if you don’t. People who are difficult to understand know that they are difficult to understand. It’s okay to ask them to repeat what they’ve said. Listen, then repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.
  • Don’t finish sentences for the person or try to hurry him or her up. This is demeaning and causes frustration.
  • Understand that speechreading for an extended period of time can be very tiring. Speechreading is a skill and requires intense concentration. So, try to converse in a quiet place with as few distractions as possible. Even under the best circumstances, only about 30% of what we say is “seeable” on the lips.
  • If someone has difficulty understanding you, be flexible and rephrase your statement or question. The person may not understand you because the words you’ve chosen are not easily seen on the lips. For example: “How old are you?” and “How are you?” look similar and could easily be confused.
  • Be animated when you communicate. Use facial expressions, body language, and gestures.
  • If you are still not understanding each other, be patient and use whatever means are available to help you communicate; write, show, demonstrate, use props or anything else at your disposal to get the message across.
  • Take time to listen and communicate. Giving up and saying, “Never mind” or “Nothing, it’s not important” implies that person is not worth the extra attention.
  • If you know a little sign language or fingerspelling, use it. If the person signs too fast, don’t be afraid to ask him or her to slow down.
  • If an interpreter is helping you communicate, talk to the person with the hearing/speech impairment and not to the interpreter.

Shelley Peterman Schwarz
Award-winning writer and author of 6 Tips for Making Life Easier books

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Shelley Peterman Schwarz

Shelley is a motivational speaker, an award-winning writer and author, and TV personality. She has published hundreds of essays, how-to's, service pieces, columns, and features on a wide variety of subjects. Her informative and upbeat writing and speaking has elicited many appreciative words from her audiences.

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