With one in six Australians are affected by hearing loss no doubt you or someone close to you has experienced this invisible disability to some extent. Many people with hearing loss also struggle with anxiety, social isolation, depression and other mental health concerns.
Julia Gilchrist was born profoundly deaf and says there is a lack of understanding about hearing loss in the community, which means people often don’t know how to effectively communicate with their friends or workmates who are hearing impaired.
Julia says there are simple things people can do – whether it be at work, with friends or in the broader community like in shops and cafes – to minimise the powerfully isolating social effects of hearing loss.
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1. Face the deaf person and get their attention before starting to speak
It’s quite common for people to move around, turn their back or look down to check a text message while continuing to speak to a deaf person. This makes it tricky for the deaf person to keep up, irrespective of whether they speak or sign. If you do this by mistake, be prepared to repeat what you’ve said so the deaf person can contribute to the conversation.
2. Make sure the deaf person knows the topic of conversation
This makes it easier for deaf people to pick up on key words driving the conversation. Let them know when you’re switching to a new topic, especially if you want an opinion on something. If there are multiple things you want to cover, give a deaf person a head start by sending a Facebook message first, highlighting the key information you want to discuss.
3. Reduce background noise
If you’ve invited friends over offer to turn down the TV or iPod, or switch on the DVD captions. Have conversations away from noisy machines, like air conditioning units or coffee machines. If you’re catching up at a café or restaurant pick the table in the corner, not the table in the centre of the room which is surrounded by other people and their overlapping conversations.
4. Keep eye contact, use natural gestures, smile and relax
Eye contact helps to convey the feeling that you are in a direct conversation. The use of natural gestures and body language will help to communicate whatever it is you’re trying to say. Remember that you’re still just chatting to a friend, so smile and relax!
1. Shout or over-exaggerate your lip movements
Shouting can be offensive to anyone who has a hearing impairment. Over-exaggerating your lip movements when you speak also distorts your face and mouth, meaning your message gets lost, because your lips cannot be ‘read’ clearly.
2. Get frustrated and give up or say ‘it’s not important’ or ‘it doesn’t matter’
Don’t give up and dismiss the conversation, as you’re actually dismissing the person and that can be very disheartening for a deaf person. Re-phrase what you’re trying to say and respect why they need you to go the extra mile. People who are deaf are often visual learners, so try to demonstrate what you mean to see if that makes a difference.
Julia says the stigma around hearing loss has also had a significant impact on her career. She spent 10 years looking for fulfilling work and a supportive employer – applying for more than 200 jobs and working in 30 roles. Now employed by HCF, Julia says she has finally found an employer that offers her the support and flexibility she needs to be successful in her