Jacob S. Minor, MD, FACS Wellstone Ear, Nose and Throat

One of the odd things about modern society is the different amounts of respect that have evolved for

different types of disabilities. For instance, it would be considered extremely rude if someone who were

blind bumped into you at the store, and you gave them a hard time about it. The common exclamation,

“What’s the matter, are you blind?” immediately ceases to be acceptable if the person is in fact blind or

low-vision. Similarly, no one asks people in wheelchairs or on crutches to speed up when they are in the

way. But somehow, hearing loss has become acceptable for ridicule. Maybe it’s the false idea that if

people with hearing loss just paid better attention, they would be able to hear. Maybe it’s the fact that

speaking loudly sometimes helps, so it becomes natural to yell at people with hearing loss. But it’s

wrong. People with hearing loss deserve compassion and support, not insults and whisperings behind

their backs.

When speaking to someone with hearing loss, be in the same room as the person you are speaking to.

Turn off televisions, music, or other background noise if possible or move to a quieter area and get the

person’s attention before speaking. Do not have things in your mouth such as gum, cigarettes, or food.

Speak clearly and at a moderate pace and use facial expressions and gestures. Give clues when changing

the subject. Rephrase things when you are not understood and do not shout. Be patient, positive, and

relaxed. Talk to the hard of hearing person, not about him or her.

If you are hard of hearing, pick the best spot for talking. Avoid areas that are poorly lit and very noisy.

Plan for difficult situations and think about how to minimize problems. Tell others how best to talk with

you and pay attention to the speaker. Look for visual clues to what is being said and ask for written clues

of key words, if needed. Provide feedback for others that you understand or do not understand. Do not

bluff. If you don’t understand just let the other person know that. Provide feedback to the speaker. Let

them know how well he or she is doing, but try not to interrupt too often.

Hearing loss is a challenge for all of us, because communication is so important. It is also a challenge to

our egos and pride, because everyone wants to be heard and no one likes being ignored. We too easily

lose patience when others do not pay us as much attention as we feel we deserve. Hearing loss is also

difficult, because it can be an invisible disability that some people want to hide. Realize that the next

time someone who looks perfectly normal doesn’t hear you, they may in fact have a hearing disability.

And try to have more compassion with your family members with hearing loss most of all, because

kindness to the disabled reflects the goodness of our Maker.

Dr. Jacob Minor is board-certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology. He practices at

Seton Medical Center Harker Heights.

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