According to Statistics Canada, more than one million adults across Canada reported having a hearing-related disability. This number is 50% greater than the number of people reporting problems with their eyesight (StatsCan, 2002). With this many people reporting some type of hearing loss, it leaves friends and family asking the question…. How can I effectively communicate with someone who has a hearing loss?

Difficulty following conversations, especially in groups or in environments with a lot of background noise, can be very challenging for someone with a hearing loss. Unfortunately, people with a hearing loss often withdraw from the conversation or avoid these events all together. Here are a couple of tips to help facilitate conversations with someone who has a hearing loss:

Tips for the talker

  • Make sure you are face to face and close to the person. Look at them while speaking.
  • Speak at a slightly louder volume. Don’t shout…it distorts the sound.
  • One-on-one conversations are much easier! Avoid having important conversations with a group of people.
  • For group conversations make sure only one person speaks at a time.
  • Repeat or rephrase if they do not hear you the first time
  • Avoid eating, chewing gum, or covering your face when speaking to them – it can distort the sound
  • Avoid rapid topic changes – this can make it difficult to follow the conversation
  • Keep your message short, simple, and to the point

Tips for the person with the hearing loss

  • Advocate for yourself! Let people know you have a hearing loss and what they can do to make it easier for you to understand
  • Pay attention to the ‘non-verbal cues’ (facial expression, gestures)
  • Let the person know exactly what you did not understand (e.g. ‘I missed the last word’) instead of just saying ‘what?’
  • Use any hearing devices you have (hearing aid, FM system etc)

Tips to create a good listening environment

  • NO background noise! Turn off the radio, tv, etc.
  • Sit close to the person you are speaking with
  • Communication is easier in well lit, distraction free environments
  • If conversing in loud environments, for example, a restaurant: try to choose a quiet restaurant, request a table in a quiet area (e.g. away from the kitchen, big groups, washrooms) and use the ‘one person speaking at a time’ rule.

If you, or someone you love, suspect they have a hearing loss, consult an audiologist. And always remember, despite any challenges you may experience, there is always a way to laugh, have fun, and make the most out of your interactions!

Carla Montgomery, M.H.Sc. SLP(C)
Speech-Language Pathologist, Reg. CASLPO

The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada