Communicating with visitors who have hearing loss

Communicating with visitors who have hearing loss

There are approximately 11 million people registered with hearing loss within the UK, this is around 1 in 6 of us according to the RNID, these statistics reflect only those who have been registered as having hearing loss, the number in reality will be much higher.

If these figures show that 1 in 6 of us experiences a hearing loss then the probability will be high that as a tourist attraction or venue, you will be welcoming people into your environment who will require an adaption to the auditory presentation of both staff and venue settings.

People who experience hearing loss communicate visually and using physical gestures, people who live with partial deafness may also combine visual, physical gestures and the tonality of sounds to build a picture of their environment around them.

There are varying degrees of hearing loss, there can be mild to moderate, one side or both (bilateral), some people are unable to detect the deepness of male voices but can pick up the higher pitch of female voices for example.  You can’t always tell right away because not everyone choses to wear a hearing aid or some more advanced hearing aids slip inside the ear and have no external presence so it isn’t always easy to know.

How to support a visitor with hearing loss

Many people with hearing loss have learnt to lip read, this isn’t always a perfect science for them but they can pick up on the general lip formation of words by mixing what they read from the facial expressions, body language, hand gestures and if sound is there then the tonality and certain sounds around the lip formation allows the picture of the word to be formed.

So you can see from this that it is important that you face the person you are talking too, this is generally good etiquette anyway but in these situations it is critical. It is hard enough to decode what someone is saying if they are looking down which means it’s hard to read the lips, read the face and the tone is usually lower when we look downwards.  This and having to ask someone to repeat themselves as the queue forms behind can be uncomfortable for the visitor and not a great start for them.

  • If someone indicates to you in some way they they have hearing loss, make eye contact and smile. A smile puts someone at ease and then ask if they would like to use your loop system, your physical gestures such as when referring to the loop system will help someone easily understand what you are saying. Make a judgement on the background noise of the environment because if it is a crowded area then you may need to step a little closer or use more physical gestures. If the visitor is struggling to understand in the environment due to the noise then consider asking them if they’d like to talk somewhere quieter.
  • As you are continuing to talk to remain where they can see you.
  • If you sense someone has hearing loss and you want to ask them something, then get their attention first and let them settle their attention on you before you ask the question so that they can process the information. This can be done with eye contact and a smile, a small wave nothing fast, aggressive or intimidating.
  • When it comes to tonality, stay as you normally would. Unless you are asked to slow down, speak higher and so on, don’t. We get by learning the tonality of communication on a daily basis getting used to the normal tones of calm, relaxed, angry, agitated and anxious etc just like you do. It’s usually much easier if you speak within your normal tone and pitch range – unless otherwise specified.
  • When you are speaking to your visitor try to keep the conversation flowing so that find it easier to follow and don’t be afraid to lead the emotion to help them follow what you are saying this can be done through facial expressions.
  • Why not introduce some visual sign language and meaning cues to your areas? Or have this aids behind reception desk with common words on them so that they can be used for communicating.
  • The obvious one is always – if the individual has a carer with them, friend or relative; speak to the individual if it is them you are referring too. Living with hearing loss does not mean they can not make their own decisions.
  • Do not make assumptions, don’t assume the person is following every word or is processing the information you are saying at your speed. Sometimes it takes a few seconds longer for them to filter what you are saying, process it and then find the right response before giving you the response. Be patient, patience is essential here.

If you would like more support and information about how to train your staff in the highly effective techniques of body language communication, please contact Katie Clark.