Needless to say it's difficult to be hard-of-hearing in today's society, and unfortunately myths and misconceptions are still common. Some communication strategies to bridge the gap between the hearing and the hard-of-hearing.
First of all, do speak clearly, distinctly, and steadily. Enunciate! Make eye-contact. It also helps if you say the name of your listener before you start talking. Don't yell if they can't understand you right away, this often does not help. Speak in a normal tone, and at a normal pace. Don't speak too fast or too slow as this makes lip-reading harder.
Don't say "nevermind" or "it wasn't important" and give up if your listener doesn't understand you right away. That's 10 times more frustrating for them than it is for you.
If need be, rephrase. Sometimes particular words are more difficult to understand than others. Don't repeat the same sentence again and again. Consider changing your method of communication if necessary and use body language to supplement your conversation.
And, most importantly, be patient. Want to get annoyed at a person with a disability? Imagine living with the same disability and cope with the feeling of your loved ones (or co-workers, people you meet in your daily life,...) getting annoyed at you for something you have absolutely no power over.
Don't think that just because someone is wearing hearing aids they will understand you. The sad reality is that hearing aids don't work wonders for most people with hearing loss.
Don't talk from another room or while turning your back to the person. It's helpful for an individual with hearing loss if they can see you while you talk and observe the movement of your lips. Make sure you have the listener's attention before talking to them.
Similarly, keep your hands away from your mouth while you talk. Thick beards and moustaches can also make it trickier for the person to understand you.
In this context, don't be surprised if your listener steps relatively close to you. This should be self-explanatory.
Lighting and background noise are of course also a factor. If you're for example dating a person who's hard-of-hearing, don't bring them into the humiliating situation where you keep talking to them in a dark room (think cinema, night-club,...). Having you repeat yourself all over again is not something your date will enjoy.
Hearing loss does not equal stupidity
People with hearing loss all too often face stigma. Therefore, don't mistake disability for stupidity or slowness. Just because someone can't hear you well does not mean the person is automatically less intelligent than you. Sabrina S. (name changed), a Luxembourg resident who has been hard-of-hearing since she was young, explains that "a hearing-impaired person is still quickly labelled as not very clever. 'Don't bother, she doesn't understand you anyway' is a sentence I have heard all too often." People need to find patience and consideration, Sabrina stresses. She adds that's it's common for the hard-of-hearing to isolate themselves because they are afraid of not being understood and laughed at. Even in family circles, other people are often happily conversing between each other and unconsciously leaving out the hard-of-hearing because it takes a little more effort.
Don't argue about turning off the subtitles when you watch a movie together. Subtitles are annoying? Try watching a movie with the sound turned off.
Don't laugh at your listener if they don't understand you correctly - it's humiliating. In this context, Sabrina S. explains that the hard-of-hearing are often laughed at and belittled for mispronouncing words, especially in foreign languages. It's extremely difficult to learn a new language for a person with hearing loss, and even the more frustrating if one is ridiculed despite putting so much effort into it. "People are often not aware how hurtful some remarks or jokes can be," Sabrina stresses.
Depending on the person, it's better to text or video-call rather than just phone them. To come back to an earlier point, it helps a lot if your listeners can see your lips and facial expressions while having a conversation. Don't expect your listener to hear you clearly on the cellphone.
Making Luxembourg more hard-of-hearing friendly?
Can these psychological aspects of talking to a deaf person be translated into legislation? Minister of Family and Integration Corinne Cahen is one of Luxembourg's politicians who most actively work on making today's world more hard-of-hearing friendly. In a phone interview, she explains that Daaflux is one of the Grand Duchy's non-profit organizations working in the field. There have also been several new (draft) laws in recent years. In 2018, the German sign language was for example officially recognised in the Grand Duchy.
In July 2019, the Chamber of Deputies also voted in favour of a new bill introducing an assistance scheme to foster a sustainable inclusion of people with disabilities, including the hard-of-hearing, at the workplace in Luxembourg. Cahen explains that this bill aims to maintain employment in the long term and increase the autonomy of people with disabilities at the workplace. At the same time, co-workers receive coaching and learn how to interact with a person who's hard-of-hearing.
Cahen is currently also pushing for a draft law that would, if passed, make public spaces and collective housing buildings more disabled-accessible. This would also benefit the hard-of-hearing. Cahen cites the example of a medical practice that's situated on the second floor of a building. If the new law is passed, there would have to be a videophone at the entrance of the building rather than a normal phone or buzzer. This would allow a person who's hard-of-hearing better to communicate with the secretary on the second floor.
A communication centre for the hard-of-hearing is also scheduled to open in Beggen in 2020.