If you work in a public-facing position in your community, you might have encountered someone with untreated hearing loss. Perhaps that person made it known to you that they have difficulty hearing. If a person makes a disclosure of hearing loss, that conversation makes it possible to offer accommodations and assistance. However, some people struggle to communicate without letting you know what they need. These people might even try to hide their difficulties with communication, pretending to understand when they are having trouble keeping up. Whether this masking is conscious or not, it can make it even more difficult to offer your help. What can you do when you are interacting with a community member who has untreated hearing loss? The first step is to open the door to better communication. Once you establish this trust, you can connect with as many resources as possible to accommodate these needs. Although these accommodations can go a long way toward improving the communication process, the only durable solution for hearing loss is to get treatment from a hearing health professional. Encouraging a hearing test is the best way to care for your community member with hearing loss in the long term.
Becoming an Active Listener
When you encounter someone in your community with hearing loss, the first thing you can do is to ask about their experiences. Start with the present situation, and see if the sonic environment is difficult to navigate. If you find out that it is hard for the person to hear in the immediate situation, then you can extend the conversation to find out if there are other difficult hearing contexts. In this conversation, it is crucial for you to ask open-ended questions and to become an active listener. Devote your full attention to the person and ask what you can do to help. Many people have a very specific sense of the accommodation strategies that are most helpful. For some, it is helpful to raise the volume of your voice or to speak more clearly. However, others will find these accommodations to be embarrassing. Make sure you listen to what the person needs and respond with the best care you can offer in the immediate situation.
Finding a Support Network
Once you have navigated the immediate situation, you can connect this community member with other resources that are helpful. Although you have the best intentions, the best care you can provide is to connect your loved one with an expert in the community who is aware of the range of available accommodations. If you are working in a public institution, such as a government office, school, museum, library, or other facility, then there is likely someone on staff who is aware of the available services. Hearing technology is advancing rapidly, and there are many services available to connect visual information with the audible. Providing textual information is one important step, and live voice-to-text captioning is now possible on smartphones and on videoconference platforms. If you discover that your community member has more advanced hearing needs, you can connect that person with the network of hearing professionals who are aware of the available services and accommodations.
Caring for a community member with untreated hearing loss means actively listening to their needs and connecting that person with available resources. However, the best thing you can do to support that person is to encourage lasting treatment in the form of hearing aids or other assistive technology. Accommodations can make communication easier in the immediate situation, but treatment is the only durable solution that is portable to other contexts in the future. The first step toward treatment is to get a hearing test. We will use that diagnostic assessment to understand that person’s individual profile of hearing ability. With that report in hand, we can recommend the right line of hearing aids to assist with communication. Today’s hearing aids are remarkably effective at amplifying important sounds while leaving background noise and other competing sounds in the background. This technology makes it possible to ease the communication process in a number of settings, including your future conversations with this community member. The treatment process begins by encouraging a hearing test!