Disclosing Your Hearing Loss: Why You Should Tell People You Can’t Hear

One of the more frustrating aspects of hearing loss is the constant need to explain it.  Frustrating it may be, but disclosing your hearings loss is vital to maintaining healthy relationships with the people around you.

Before I begin, I’m going to confess it took me a long time to get to the point that disclosure came naturally.  I didn’t know what to say.  I was afraid of ridicule or rejection.  Even though I did nothing to cause my hearing loss, I felt shame.  Eventually I realized that not disclosing my hearing loss caused more embarrassment than admitting it, and so I began telling people.

If you are late-deafened like me, and your speech has not been affected by hearing loss, most people aren’t aware of your hearing challenges.  Even if they can see your hearing devices, they may view them the same way they view eye glasses.  Here is a list of things deaf people do– that YOU might be doing too–  and why we need to tell others we can’t hear.



we behave differently.

Many of us compensate well enough to mask our hearing loss, but not quite well enough to seem “normal.”  Most people don’t understand why you behave the way you do.  Hearing loss is the last thing on their minds.  Many of these situations are examples from my own life.

Attractive Lips

we lip read. 

Why you should tell them:  When we lip read, we stare intently at other people’s lips and eyes, or stand a little too close to get a good look at their tongues. Your body language may be misinterpreted as flirtatious, and it may be confusing people.  If the other person isn’t attracted to you, your romantic overtures could seem creepy.  On the other hand, if they respond in kind, it can be embarrassing for both of you.  By being proactive in disclosing your hearing loss and need to lip read, you can avoid those awkward times when lipreading is mistaken for sexual attraction.

We appear to ignore people. 

Why you should tell them: They have no clue why you sometimes give them the cold shoulder, and it makes you seem moody.  If your hearing aid or cochlear implant has a noise cancelling program that minimizes noise behind you, while maximizing sound in front of you, it is possible that your inconsistency in hearing may lead them to believe you’re ignoring them.  They don’t understand why you answer when they talk to your back sometimes and not other times. Also, no one remembers you hear better on your left or right side.  All they know is that you sometimes ignore them.  By disclosing your hearing loss, they may not take it personally.

We don’t laugh at jokes.

Many people tend to drop their voices at the punch line.  Puns can be exceptionally confusing to people with hearing loss and to lip readers.

Why you should tell them:  You seem to have no sense of humor, or worse, you seem slow on the uptake.  

dead cactus
.©2010 Andres R. Alonso / WUSTL.

We laugh at the wrong times.  

Someone says their cat just died.  You hear (or lip read) their cactus died.  You laugh and say, “I KNEW that would happen.”

Why you should tell them: You appear to be the most insensitive person they ever met!  It is much easier to explain that you misheard if they already know you have hearing loss.


We use sarcasm accidentally.

Say someone doesn’t thank you after you’ve performed a favor of some kind.  You hear them mumble something as they’re walking away, and you assume they thanked you because that would be the normal thing to say.  YOU say, “You’re welcome.”  But it turns out, they didn’t thank-you; they said something else.  Now you’ve made them feel impolite for not thanking you, so they turn around, apologize and thank you.

Why you should tell them: You’ve implied they were rude. You seem petty and sarcastic.  However, if you’ve already disclosed your hearing loss previously, you can explain you behavior as a simple misunderstanding, because you didn’t hear.

We avoid the telephone.

Luckily many people like to text, but some still love to talk on the phone.

Why you should tell them: They think you’re avoiding them when you never pick up, especially if you gave them the cold shoulder recently, or didn’t laugh at their joke.  When disclosing your hearing loss, you can let them know that you prefer texts or emails.

We answer the wrong questions.


(A mostly true conversation.)

Him: “Have you seen my coat?” 

Me: “Last I saw, it was in the closet.”

Him: “WHAT!?! Why would my COKE be in the closet?”

Me: “I saw you put it there yesterday.”

Him: “What are you talking about?  I just opened it.”

Me: “And you didn’t see it hanging in there next to mine?”

Him: “WHAT?!?”

Me: “It’s right next to my BLUE one.”

Him: “My coke ?!?!?!”

blue coat

Why you should tell them:  They’re wondering if you’re crazy.  It’s much easier to explain you thought he said, “coat,” not “Coke” if you’ve previously disclosed your hearing loss.

We accidentally repeat a point someone else just made in a meeting, OR we ask the same question someone else just asked.

Does this ever happen to you? You ask a question and the response makes it clear that the question you asked was already asked and answered by someone else?   “Thank you, Kim, as I just explained to Michael moments ago, . . . “   Embarrassing, right?

Why you should tell them:  You seem inattentive or possibly daft.  By disclosing your hearing loss, the assumption will be that you didn’t hear, not that you weren’t paying attention.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather people know that I can’t hear than having them think I am bad-tempered, insensitive or daft.

As hard as it seems at first, disclosing your hearing loss will make your life easier, because after you tell people, they will cut you some slack if you need a repeat.  You’ll be off the hook when you avoid the phone.  No one will get upset when you don’t say hello.  They will understand you misheard if you laugh about their cat dying.  They will know to exercise a bit of tolerance where you’re concerned.

Have any of these things ever happened to you?  How did you deal with it?

To read more about the benefits of disclosing your hearing loss, go to Michele Linder’s post, Yin Meets Yang





Navigating A World That Assumes You Hear: How to Deal With Not Being Able to Hear

By Michele Linder


At whatever stage in life you came to hearing loss, it’s likely no one gave you any specific information on how to deal with not being able to hear. No one instructed you on what to expect, how to react, or what to do to make communication easier. There’s no required Hearing Loss 101 class.  There’s no orientation for newbies that teaches you how to navigate through difficult hearing situations.

          There should be.

I recently posted a great article to our SayWhatClub Facebook Page that I read on The Mighty, a website that publishes “real stories by real people facing real challenges”. In the article, To the Girl Who Saw Me Struggle to Communicatethe author describes a process she’s gone through “hundreds of times” throughout her college career—standing in line at the bistro in the busy student café rehearsing her order before it’s her turn at the counter. 

         “I’ll admit to wondering… if this situation is something she’s dealt with “hundreds of times”, why isn’t she better at it?”

I’m going to break this simple scenario down for you. I spent several decades letting these very simple situations turn unpleasant, frustrating and awkward.

          Yes, I still assess situations that are new to me.  I rehearse, and use my super powers (lipreading, anticipatory and observation skills, etc.)  I do all I can to make things go more smoothly.  No longer am I on pins and needles waiting for what can, and most likely will, go wrong, because–

I tell people that I can’t hear. 

Don’t be afraid, just do it. And, however you say it is fine… for me, I say “Hi there… first, let me mention that I’m a lipreader and I need to see you speak, so please don’t look down while talking or I won’t be able to read your lips.  Lipreading is great, but it doesn’t always work, so I may need you to write down what I can’t hear.”, as I hold up my trusty pad and pen. That may seem like a mouthful, but it’s pretty much a given that anyone behind a counter—wait staff, check-out or bank clerk, etc.—is going to talk to you while looking down, so clue them in at the start of things and they’ll know better.

And, speak up when you foresee a problem. 

If, when you place your order, the counter person asks for your name, let them know you’re not going to hear them call you when your order is ready. Ask for a plan B.  If they make a workable suggestion, great! If not, offer a solution of your own—“I’ll stand over there and watch for you to wave at me when my order is ready, but if I miss it someone needs to come over and get me.”

          If something does go wrong and you miss a cue, and the aggravated guy behind you taps you on your shoulder and rolls his eyes…

Keep your cool.

Because the minute you freak out, all the skill in the world won’t be of any use… you’re now so flustered that any ability you had to figure out what’s being said goes out the window.

And, do let rude people knowin as nice a way possiblethat rudeness is not helpful.

It’s not something they would want from others, so thank them for getting your attention. Tell them you’re deaf and sometimes miss things.  Also tell them the aggravation and eye-rolling isn’t necessary or appreciated.

          If you need justification for calling them out…

Consider it a teaching moment. 

Express your hope that when they next encounter someone that seems to be not paying attention, consider that they might also be deaf.

          “If you do lose your cool, for whatever reason—someone has made you feel “less than” or you’re embarrassed at not hearing and panic—consider this…”

It’s not your fault that you can’t hear. 

Stop buying into the misconception that you’re inconveniencing the world because you have different communication needs.  

          Stop pressing your lips tightly together and glancing at the scuffs on the toes of your black Converse low-top sneakers. No amount of fiddling with your hearing aids or wishing will produce an answer to the mysterious unknown question you didn’t hear. It will never magically appear out of nowhere in written form.  But you can…

Have them write it down, 

thereby creating your own magic! Hand over your paper and pen, and say “You’re going to have to write that down, I’m not getting it… thanks.” Don’t pose it as a question, simply offer instruction for what you need.

It’s empowering when you realize you don’t have to leave difficult hearing situations to chance. When you actively participate in finding ways to make things play out as smoothly as possible, you’ll likely not need a gentle and helpful soul to swoop in and clue you in… you’ll be able to handle the situation yourself before it turns unpleasant.

However, as the author states, she was having an incredibly stressful week.  She was feeling extremely insecure, isolated, and alone with regard to her hearing loss.  We all know how that feels. It’s normal to have bad days when we feel vulnerable and don’t handle situations as well as we could. So, there’s no need to beat yourself up about it. 

          “It’s certainly not my intent to beat the author up in any way, either. I’m really glad she gave the world a window into what life is like with hearing loss. We’ve all had encounters where we’re not in the frame of mind to be our own best advocate.  Sometimes we’re just tired of explaining. Her article made me think about my own bad days, and how far I’ve come in my fifty-seven years.  What I’ve learned along the way has made me stronger and a better person.”

Hopefully, on those bad days you’ll be as lucky as the author was at crossing paths with a particularly tuned-in person who took it upon themselves to step in and help, and who didn’t make a big deal about it.

Sometimes we, and others, can make hearing loss out to be a bigger deal than it needs to be.

          Yes, it is a big deal that one whole sense is not working the way it was designed to work and it affects almost everything you do, especially how you communicate. However…

Take charge! 

Actively work on ways to eliminate what makes a situation unpleasant. Think of it as instruction that increases your self-sufficiency, which in turn makes you feel more capable. And, capable is what gets you out in the world to enjoy your life more.

Live more, isolate yourself less.  Join SWC for more ideas on how to advocate for yourself.

          Most people with a disability want to remain independent and self-sufficient and to feel capable.  Don’t you?

Show Me Your Ears

Fellow blogger and hard of hearing advocate, Lip Reading Mom, has a great campaign going this month called Show Me Your Ears. (You can also find her on Facebook.) She has received pictures of all kinds of ears, hearing aids and cochlear implants. I love the idea of coming out with our hearing aids and not being ashamed of them. There are too many cool hearing aids out there now to hide them.

A few years ago, I attended a graduation party. I was in the kitchen with several people I didn’t know so I told them I was hard of hearing, that way they knew they might have to repeat. Conversation slowed as if they were embarrassed for me so I told them I had really cool ones! I whipped one off my ear and showed it to them; translucent red with black trim. When I looked up, all mouths were hanging open. They couldn’t believe I shared my hearing aid with them. I laughed! The look on their faces was priceless. They asked more questions about hearing loss after that. I hope I showed them hearing loss is nothing to be ashamed of.