Becoming hard-of-hearing a few years ago really turned my world upside down. Before the hearing loss, I was a real outgoing person in social settings. Now, I find myself being left out (unintentionally) of some great conversations. The reason I’m left out is because I cannot hear the conversation. In a group of people, instead of asking the speaker to face me during the conversation or ask them to repeat what they said, I nod and smile and play along as if I can keep up with the conversation. When the group laughs, that’s my cue to laugh as well (even though I have no idea what is so funny). If I am having a one-on-one conversation with someone – say the cashier at the grocery store or the waitress at the coffee shop, I will ask them to repeat what is said. If I cannot understand them after two tries, I give up. The reason I give up is because for some unknown reason, I worry too much about whether I’ll irritate them and/or frustrate them in their needing to repeat, repeat, repeat. My hearing loss, if you were to look at me, is “invisible”. You see, looking at me, you cannot see my hearing aid. I look like a person with no medical issues or problems, so why would I need you to keep repeating yourself?
This being said, I have decided to be more honest with myself and with people I don’t know re: my hearing impairment. I’ve decided that it is perfectly OK to tell the cashier, the waitress or whomever I’m speaking to that I have a hearing impairment, and could they please talk slower and speak up for me? I have tried this new-found approach just this week. I met a girlfriend for lunch, and I arrived first. I went up to the hostess and requested a table that was not located in the center of the restaurant (booths work well for me as far as blocking out noise in restaurants). I said “I have a hearing impairment, and it is better for me to sit at a table or a booth that is not in the open, but against a wall.” The hostess then took me to the quietest area of the restaurant and sat me in a corner booth (perfect!) as I waited for my friend. When I went to the grocery store later that day, the cashier asked me a question. I asked her to repeat it, but still no comprehension on my part. I then just said to her “I have a hearing impairment, and it’s very hard for me to understand what you are saying.” She then talked a little louder and slower and just asked “Coupons?” I got it that time! In my experience, I’ve also discovered that when you are honest with people and tell them why they need to repeat what they said or word it differently for you, they are more than accommodating in the request. I am learning to give people more credit than I did in the past, which has allowed me a more positive view of the world.