Each person’s experience of hearing loss is unique, and it’s difficult to come up with a single rule to follow when it comes to communication. For some people, the only problem is background noise, so speaking one-on-one in a quiet location isn’t too much of a problem. Others hear distortion, so everything sounds a bit muffled when you talk. 

Still, other people are missing hearing in the high-frequency range, so they might miss out on the consonants that differentiate one sound from another. With such a variety of experiences, you might wonder how you can best accommodate someone with hearing loss, not knowing exactly what they are hearing. Although there is no single rule to follow, there are a few general principles you can keep in mind when you are talking with someone who has hearing loss. Keeping these in mind will make it easier to communicate and break down some of the barriers that you might be facing.

Accommodating the Setting

Many people with hearing loss struggle to differentiate the sound of a speaker’s voice from the rest of the sound in the setting, and there are steps you can do to make the setting more suited to conversation. First of all, if there are noise-making objects in the area that you can turn off, be sure to do so. Turning off a television or reducing the volume can help quite a bit. You might even want to mute the audio during your conversation. One of the best principles to keep in mind is that you need to stand close enough to the person to get the volume you need from your speech. 

Calling out or speaking from another room is one of the most difficult ways to be understood. Move yourself to the room where the listener is located to get an added boost on the volume of your voice. Standing directly in front of the listener also makes it possible for that person to see body language and facial expressions that assist in understanding speech. Many people watch mouth movement, even when they don’t realize they are “lip reading,” so try not to obscure your mouth with your hands or a face mask whenever possible. 

Accommodating your Speech

When it comes to accommodating your speech, you need to be careful not to overdo it. Some people with the best intentions end up speaking in a condescending manner. This type of speech can make the listener feel insulted or like you don’t understand how much they can hear. Rather than modifying your speech to the extreme, why not begin by asking what you can do to help? Each person has a unique experience of hearing loss, and most likely they will be able to tell you what will make it easiest to understand. You might be asked to speak closer to one ear or the other, or they might ask you to slow down your speech. Some people simply want you to raise the volume of your voice without otherwise changing how you speak. 

If you aren’t able to have this conversation about the right accommodations, a general rule of thumb is to try to make your speech slightly more discernible through volume, speed, and enunciation. If you know you have a tendency to mumble, try to pronounce your consonants more clearly. If you are a soft speaker, you can raise the volume a bit. If you are a fast talker, you can slow down to a speed that is easier to make out. Each of these strategies is a good way to accommodate a person with hearing loss, particularly when you can’t have an in-depth conversation about accommodation strategies. 

Making an effort to improve communication is as simple as making yourself attuned to the needs of the person with hearing loss, and you can do a lot to pay attention to how they respond to your speech. The best thing you can do to assist, however, is to encourage treatment for that hearing loss. Hearing aids step in to fill the gaps in language that are left by hearing loss, and that assistance is better than any accommodation you try to provide.