Lipreading Practice

What is it like to be hard of hearing

Primary Healthcare Net

April 2016

Written for Primary Healthcare Net

Written for Primary Healthcare Net April 2016 What is it like to be hard of hearing?

My name is Gloria McGregor and I have a profound hearing loss. I can only describe how I felt at first and how I gradually came to terms with it. Everybody’s experience is different. It is also different for those born with a hearing impairment to those who have an acquired hearing loss. Having taught lipreading for over ten years I can say that although everybody’s experience is unique there are some issues that many of us have in common.

Here is my story.

In my early thirties I noticed that people seemed to mumble a lot. (Some of them did!) At first it was hard to determine whether it was other people or my own hearing that was the problem. I found I was asking people to repeat things a lot of the time and I made terrible gaffes when speaking to people. I went to see a doctor who tested my hearing with a tuning fork and said that my hearing was as good as his. So I carried on. Then I went back to the doctor and was referred to a hospital specialist. There I was told that I did have a hearing loss and that I would need a hearing aid. My first hearing aids were useless because they amplified everything across the frequency range. This meant that I as I had very little high frequency hearing I had to have the volume turned up to maximum. I still couldn’t hear the children’s or ladies’ voices but turning over a page or putting things down on the desk sounded like thunder.

My hearing loss really affected my life because I was a primary school teacher. And I had three young children. Having taught infant children for several years and then gone back to being a junior children’s age teacher I had not really noticed too much of a problem in the classroom situation. This was to change. By now I was the headteacher of a Junior School. I found that I could not hear very well in the classroom when I needed to teach. This was especially obvious when children asked me for spellings. I wrote down what I thought they had said and frequently they would look puzzled and say “I didn’t think it began with that sound miss!” In assemblies I could no longer ask the children questions because I couldn’t hear their answers. I couldn’t even hear the adults.

Change was everywhere with new regulations and requirements being implemented in schools. There were many meetings and again I found that unless I was in the front row (not always possible) I could not hear what the speaker was saying. I certainly could not hear any questions from the floor.
In spite of this I remained a headteacher for thirteen years and also spent a year as an Advisory Headteacher with responsibility for Newly Qualified Teachers. This was a really rewarding role but again being in the classroom was a problem. Having had many interviews for the post of advisor/Inspector I decided not to put myself through this experience again. Frequently I could not hear the questions and I certainly could not join in with group discussions or the social activities which often formed part of the interview procedure. I didn’t tell people in those days that my hearing was so poor. I suppose I thought it would adversely affect my image and people’s opinions of me. There was little or no support – I took my own telephone into school in order to have a better chance of hearing telephone conversations.

I found it difficult in all areas of my life. Social events were especially difficult because I could not follow the conversation and often I would say things that had already been said some time earlier. People found it difficult when speaking to me and I found that often I was really just a bystander. I could not follow the banter and didn’t know what people were laughing at. I became more and more miserable and lost so much confidence that often I dreaded the social occasions that when I had my hearing I would have loved! On rare one to one conversations I could manage if there was no background noise but if it was noisy then even one to one was difficult to hear.
Eventually I decided that I could no longer cope with the demands of headship because my hearing was so poor. My hearing aids (I had two by now) were not very effective and the days of supportive equipment etc had not yet arrived. Leaving school when I was only fifty one was a traumatic experience in spite of the problems I had had. With retirement I went from having every moment filled to having to fill every moment. Now there was time to think about the impact that my hearing loss was having on my life.

I tried many other jobs trying to find a role for myself. I found that I was becoming very withdrawn and wanted to hide away instead of meeting people. I did not want to go to places where I would be in a noisy crowd. Social events were a nightmare. I was very depressed and I thought that I almost suffered from a persecution complex in that it felt as if people were deliberately leaving me out of conversations. I know this wasn’t true but that’s how it felt, like being sent to Coventry. I suppose I was going through a period of mourning for my loss and trying to come to terms with it. I decided that I must be more positive and I made myself go out even when I knew it was going to be difficult. We are our own worst enemies, we often say I can’t hear - this conveys the message that we live in a silent world. In fact unless totally Deaf the hard of hearing person may hear a lot of sound BUT cannot distinguish what it is. It is so frustrating to hear that someone is speaking but not to be able to make sense of the words and the meaning. It is not a question of shouting – this often distorts the sound and can hurt the ears if hearing aids are being worn.

It has been a long hard struggle to regain confidence which is the thing that having an acquired hearing loss really affects. Returning to teaching helped. Although I could no longer teach in a classroom I worked with many children who had specific learning difficulties. In a one to one, quiet situation I had fewer problems with hearing and the children knew they must speak clearly and look at me. I also worked as a learning support teacher in a private school and sadly through the death of a colleague I went from working four hours to four and a half days and running the department until a replacement could be found. Socially though I still found life very difficult.

It wasn’t until I retired again in 2000 that I found something that would help me to overcome so many obstacles.

What can the hard of hearing person do to help themselves?

The first and most difficult thing is acceptance of the hearing loss. I always felt that if tried harder and could concentrate more I would hear more effectively. This was just not true. It didn’t matter how hard I tried I could not hear!

Next comes an understanding of how to make it easier on yourself, by trying to make the situation more user friendly. Sometimes this is not possible but there may be something that you can do. Once I had retired I had time to go to lipreading classes. This was a lifeline!! One of the best things I have ever done. Also I took more time to research what hearing aids and other equipment was available. I bought new hearing aids about every three years and each new aid was better than the previous one. Technology is improving all the time. I had an old car because I chose to spend my money on my hearing aids. They had more of an impact on my life!
Through the lipreading classes I developed my lipreading skills and met other people who had the same problems as me and who understood what it was like to feel lonely in a crowd; to feel that you could almost hear what was being said but not quite; to feel anxious in so many situations from waiting to hear your name called in a waiting room to being in a very important social event and hoping you did not make a fool of yourself through poor hearing.

I began telling people that I had a hearing loss, something I would never have done previously, so that they would speak more clearly and look at me when speaking. Now I felt like a “hearing bore” because whenever I met anyone the conversation began with my explanation. Most people did help. A few just treated this explanation as a throw away piece of information and made no attempt to help me to hear them. This had a terrible effect upon my confidence and self image because it was as though I wasn’t worth bothering with. I know that other hard of hearing people feel the same. It is often just too much effort to speak to us in a way that we can hear. It seems to e easier to help blind people or those in a wheel chair because we know what to expect and how to help. Helping those with hearing loss or other those with mental disabilities is not so easy.
So coming to terms with your hearing loss and developing your lipreading skiils are two things that can help you keep yourself on track in coping in a hearing world

There are other things that you can do

Pick your best location: If possible arrive at meetings early and sit where you can hear (and see) best. Choose a position that's quiet and has good lighting. Most of us prefer to have our backs to a wall so that we only receive sounds from one direction. Where is it best for you to sit in different situations e.g at dinner party, in a restaurant egc. Try to find what places that are best for you to hear - we are all different so we need to experiment. If possible the room should have soft furnishings with carpet and curtains. The soft furnishings help to absorb background noise.

Don't Bluff! Many HOH people try to hide their hearing loss. This is a BIG mistake. It doesn't fool anyone. Tell people that you don't hear well. Face the person speaking and tell them that you will be reading their lips so will be staring at them. Most people are happy to help someone with a hearing loss once they are aware of it. Most of us have used the lipreader’s smile at one time or another. We use this when we haven’t heard properly and it’s a sort of non-committal smile that can used in many situations!

Tell people how they can help:

Ask   - them to get your attention before they start to talk.
- them to get your attention before they start to talk.
- that only one person talk at a time.
- that they make it clear when the topic changes.

Explain that you understand better if you can see their face and lips.
If you miss something, tell them what you DID hear and ask them to repeat the part you missed.

In noisy situations, suggest moving to a more quiet location.
All this means that you have to be confident enough to take control of the situation. It may be a good idea to take one or two points to focus on at a time until you feel able to say exactly what you need.

Preparation! Make sure you have (and know how to use) the best hearing aid and assistive technology you can get.(personal amplifiers). Don’t forget to ask if there is a loop system in the room and check that it is switched on. Check too that you know if there is a best place to sit for the loop system to work effectively.

Anticipate: if you are going to a meeting/for an appointment etc plan ahead for what questions are likely to be asked next such as "Do you want fries with that?"; "What is your date of birth?"; "What is your phone number?"; etc. When possible, provide answers to follow up questions in advance. For example: "tea with milk and two sugars please." (My website has a whole section on phrases that may be useful in different situations)

Attention: Concentrate on the speaker. Most people provide visual cues of what is being said through facial expressions, body language and lip movement. Learn to use these as effectively as possible. Remember lipreading is very tiring so take time out occasionally. Don’t try to have too many stressful situations near to each other.

Relax: The person you are speaking with may be afraid of you not understanding them. Let them know that your hearing loss is YOUR problem ... not THEIRS but that they can help you and then tell them how.

Campaign: Many public places (like hotels, churches, libraries, museums,stadiums, auditoriums, theatres, TV stations etc. even supermakets) should provide a loop system. When available, use it. When not available explain how important it is and that it may be required under disability laws. Few managers understand what is needed or most appropriate. Your courteous comments and advice may be welcomed. Frequently I find the loop system is in place but nobody knows how to use it. This needs to be addressed.

Never Give Up: Hearing is hard work for HOH people and it is too easy to just stop listening. Keep trying and don't hesitate to ask for clarification. We need to practise this – it is not easy to ask for help.

Thanks: Tell anyone who goes out of their way to help you understand how much you appreciate their help. This will make them more likely to try again.

Tips to help the lipreader

  • Tell the speaker that you lipread before you start the conversation.
  • Try and find the quietest place possible for your conversation.
  • Ask the speaker to stand or sit facing the light.
  • Try to sit or stand on the same level and between three and six feet from the speaker.
  • Find out the subject of the conversation as soon as possible.
  • Don't feel embarrassed about asking for things to be repeated or asking for something to be said in a different way.
  • Watch the speaker's whole face, not only the lips. Facial expressions and gestures will tell you a lot about what is being said.
  • Keep a pen and paper handy.
  • Stop the speaker as soon as you miss something. You may not be able to catch up again. Although sometimes something that you hear at the end of the conversation can make the whole sentence make sense. It’s a wonderful feeling when that happens I can tell you!
  • Give the speaker a copy of the top tips leaflet or a “lipreadingpractice” flyer.

How can the hearing person help? Make it easier for someone to lipread you and help to reduce stress

It is not difficult to be deaf aware and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

First try to be aware of the problems of not being able to hear very well. How anxiety can make matters worse and just take a bit more time when speaking to someone who is hard of hearing.

If possible:

  • Find a suitable environment with good lighting, away from noise and distractions.
  • Sit or stand at the same level and three to six feet away from the lipreader.
  • Face the light, or your face will be in shadow.
  • Gain the person attention and
  • Make sure the lipreader is looking at you before you speak.
  • Introduce the topic of conversation. Context is so important to the lipreader.
  • Speak clearly at a moderate pace, without raising your voice or over-emphasising your speech. Speak too slow and the lipreader losses the natural rhythm which is so helpful in recognising what is being said,
  • Use natural facial expressions, gestures and body language.
  • Keep your face visible. Do not put your hands near it or wear sunglasses, and do not turn away while you are talking. Try not to cover your mouth or too keep moving about.
  • Be prepared to repeat or rephrase something if the lipreader finds it difficult to follow you. If necessary be perpared to write it down . there may be some occasions when signing is appropriate.
  • From time to time, check that the lipreader is following you.
  • Be patient and take time to communicate properly.
  • If you have to call someone who is hard of hearing for an appointment, remember that they may not hear you so you may have to find them or have their name written on a card so that they can see it.
  • If you are talking to them when walking this can be difficult unless you are able to let them see your mouth.
  • Check that they have heard what you aid to them.
  • Remember that for very important meetings and if a person has a severe hearing loss it may be best to use a lipspeaker or to have a signer to help this person.

Technology has advanced dramatically over the last few years and with my hearing aids I now hear better than I did fifteen years ago. Also my lip-reading skills are good and this too has helped me to overcome my fear of meeting new people and new situations. There is still a need for greater deaf awareness but we have come a long way. With improved understanding of what it is like to be deaf and with new technology, those who have hearing loss can come to terms with their loss and look forward to a challenging and inclusive future in today’s society.



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