Let’s Start From the Beginning

So many times we think that people know how to talk to us. Different personalities prefer specific types of communication, and people with hearing loss require even a little more understanding. What most people with hearing loss do not understand, however, is that the burden of responsibility for communicating lies with US… not those around us.
Many think that those with normal hearing should know automatically how to best communicate with us. I am always amazed at this assumption, as even people with hearing loss vary in the degree of hearing loss they have! We need to start from scratch… and educate those around us how best to communicate. We should start from the beginning… and not assume that every person with whom we are in contact, will know how to communicate with a person who has hearing loss.
When I began my training at Fidos For Freedom, I was a “newbie” in every sense of the word. I’ve had dogs all of my life, enjoy dog kisses, and love to scratch an available tummy. (Terry doesn’t seem to mind this either – smile!) However, I didn’t even have a novice understanding of dog training when I began on April Fool’s Day, 2006! (No comments on that please – grin!)
I’ll never forget walking into the training center and being placed with my first “fido” to work. Her name was Tracy B., and she is a trainer – NOT a dog! They don’t ever put you with a dog at the beginning… that’s not fair to the dog or to the client! Tracy actually clipped a leash to her belt loop and handed me the other end of the leash. Imagine her chagrin when I looped my wrist through the leash and said, “Come on, Tracy!” (I had so much to learn!)
To give her credit she didn’t even shake her head and moan! I seem to recall that her mouth dropped open, but she hardly missed a beat as she said, “Ok Denise! You need to learn how to hold a leash!”
How to hold a leash? What’s the big deal about HOW to hold a leash?
The loop of the leash is to go over your thumb… so that a sudden pull cannot separate you from your dog. Who would have known, that all I would come to learn, would begin with… HOW to hold a leash?
I also learned that there are specific commands, and you don’t “make up your own”. My trainer, Pat, reminded me of this just this past week when she heard me talking to Chloe. No real commands were actually coming out of my mouth! You are to use your dog’s name, and you are to use specific commands.
Why do we forget this when communicating? I do it myself often enough, believe me! I am the one with a hearing loss, so I need to take it on myself to educate those around me. How I prefer to have people communicate with me, is not how someone else with a hearing loss may choose. I need to be specific, and not assume others know what I want and in what circumstances different ways work best.
If I’m in a noisy restaurant, I should say, “It would be great if you could hold the menu down. There is a great deal of extra noise in here, so I’m having to rely on what I see on your lips as well as what I catch with my CI”.
I was in JCPenney this weekend shopping with my daughter. I needed some “work clothes”, and I ended up buying only one small item for “me”. (Since we came home with a shopping bag full of things, guess what happened? Smile!) But as we were shopping she kept going to the other side of a rack of clothes to talk. I could tell she was talking because Chloe would prick her ears up and look at her legs on the other side of the clothing rack. I’d wait… and Kyersten would peek around with a “? mark” on her face.
“Excuse me? Sorry I knew you were talking, but your voice gets lost in this big place. Could you stay on my left please?”
Since she wanted to spend my money, she did so… and gladly! And remember… Kyersten LIVES with me! Few people know me better! However, it is still my responsibility to tell her WITH SPECIFICS how to communicate with me if I am having trouble.
How about communicating with people you rarely see? The cashier at Costco may only see me once a month. Several in there “know me” now because Chloe is hard to forget. However, when I get up to the register I politely inform them “how to hold the leash”. What I mean by that, is I carefully explain to them in two or three sentences that I have a hearing loss, and I need them to look at me and pause if they need to talk to me. They are always glad to do it, and aren’t at all upset about my disclosure. On the contrary, I am reasonably certain they appreciate it.
I have discussed with other chapter leaders of HLAA, how ironic it is that many times people with hearing loss are the worst communicators! We learn how to explain to others how best to talk with us, and yet when we are talking to someone else with a hearing loss we break all the rules! We loop our hand through the leash! We fail to face the person, forget to speak clearly and enunciate well, etc.
I have to “start from the beginning” a great deal. I often forget the very basics of good communication. Thankfully, I get a brand new day every morning. There’s nothing wrong with being reminded about what we should be doing out of habit. “Let’s start from the begining!”
Denise Portis
©2007 Hearing Loss Diary

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