Guest column: How to speak to the hard of hearing

By Doug Jones

For the Sequim Gazette

I’m sure most of us have had the frustration of trying to communicate with the hard of hearing (HOH). Perhaps it’s a grandparent, spouse or a friend that can’t hear well.

Having been hard of hearing most of my life, below are some tips to help you communicate with HOH people:

Louder is not better.

The natural tendency is to speak more loudly to a HOH person, and this helps to a point. Volume is one of the things they are missing, but not the most important. Shouting at a HOH person is not only rude, but also mostly useless.

The first step is to get their attention.

If you begin talking before, they are “ready”, by the time they realize you are speaking to them, you are already well into your point. This is also what leads to the HOH person not knowing the subject matter, which further diminishes communication. So, step one, get their attention. Make sure they are ready to begin processing the sounds they hear. And yes, it is just “sounds”, they will then try to figure out what “words” these sounds might represent.

Make sure to restate the subject matter more than once.

It is not uncommon for a HOH person to pick up on many of the words in a conversation but have missed the first sentence which stated the subject matter. So, they may know it is “big” and “blue” but have no idea if it is a car or the sky. Pay attention to a typical conversation and you will notice after the first comments rarely if ever is the subject itself spoken of again.

Speak slowly.

When a HOH person hears “Loshed wins etha ag” They then must take a moment to figure out what those strange sounds might mean. It’s like an enteral rhyming game and may take quite a bit of time to come up with “I washed the windows with a rag.” Speaking slower allows them time to “translate” the nonsensical sounds to potential words. Proper names are particularly hard, it is almost impossible to associate a sound to an unusual name or word. You may have to spell it out.


It is frustrating for everyone involved and it is physically tiring for a HOH person to participate in a conversation. It is not a free-flowing effortless exchange, rather it is an exercise in solving a continual problem. Often this leads to HOH people tuning out, it’s because they need a break. When this happens keep the talk to a minimum, give them a chance to rest and catch up.

An indicator that the HOH person really isn’t understanding what is said, is they may dominate the conversation or change the topic.

That’s because what they say is the only communication they get, and they really don’t know what is going on. Gently bring them back to the subject at hand, it will be new to them.

• Of course, the HOH person must do their part, too.

Communication is a two-way street. If they have hearing aids, they should be courteous enough to wear them. They shouldn’t expect to get 100 percent of every conversation, they need to realize it is difficult for hearing people to change and stifle their preferred style and speed of talking. The HOH person should be appreciative of those who attempt to include them and acknowledge the efforts being made.

Doug Jones is Sequim resident.