Chronicle of a deaf audiologist

How is hearing loss different from vision loss?

Hearing loss is different from vision loss in a number of ways. One significant way that hearing loss is different is that, with hearing loss, we have to ask other people to change their behaviour. Asking other people to adjust the way that they communicate is not a comfortable place to be, at times.

In a conversation, both people need to take responsibility. The fact that you have hearing loss doesn’t make it ‘your fault’ when the conversation breaks down.

BUT, we do have a job to do. Our job is to teach other people how to communicate with us. Don’t just say “What?!” or “Pardon?” when you can’t hear. If you say “Pardon?” 99% of the time, the talker is going to repeat the sentence verbatim.

Research at the University of Iowa found that people who use more specific repair strategies (rather than just asking, What? Pardon?) tend to be perceived as more competent and friendly.

Why would that be? Because you are helping to carry the responsibility of repairing the communication breakdown and don’t make the talker do all the work.

I will give you some examples of how you can be more specific.

Firstly, admit to having hearing loss. Then,

  • Repeat the part of the message that you did understand. This will show the talker that you are engaged, and that you are trying.
  • Then ask the talker to choose between two possibilities—did you say “4?” or “more?”
  • Or, ask them to indicate the topic of the conversation. “I’m not sure I am following. You are talking about…?”

Be as specific as you can. What can they do to help you?

Other examples are:

Please slow down.

Please look at me when you speak. I need to be able to see you in order to hear you.

Can we move to a quieter place?


  • Photo credit:  © Alan Fortune

    Sandra Vandenhoff

    Dr. Sandra Vandenhoff is an audiologist with hearing loss, founder of HEARa, Hearing Rehabilitation teacher, and Canadian author, who does not remember saying on her first day of wearing hearing aids: "Mom, I can hear my shoelaces!"

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