25 Tips for Communicating with the Hard of Hearing

Published: November 25, 2020


The Administration on Aging website indicates that impaired hearing becomes increasingly common after age 50, affecting 23% of people aged 65-74; 33% of those aged 75-84; and 48% of those who are 85 and older. And these are considered conservative estimates.

The following 25 tips are offered to assist you if you communicate with someone who is hard of hearing.

  1. Whenever possible, face the hard-of-hearing (hoh) person directly and on the same level.
  2. Your speech will be more easily understood when you are not eating, chewing, smoking, etc.
  3. Reduce background noises when carrying on conversations—turn off the radio or TV.
  4. Keep your hands away from your face while talking.
  5. If it’s difficult for a person to understand you, find another way of saying the same thing, rather than repeating the original words. Move to a quieter location.
  6. Recognize that hard-of-hearing people hear and understand less well when they are tired or ill.
  7. Do not talk to a hoh person from another room. Be sure to get the attention of the person to whom you will speak before you start talking.
  8. If you are around a corner or you turn away, you become much harder to understand.
  9. Speak in a normal fashion without shouting or showing impatience. See that the light is not shining into the eyes of the hoh person.
  10. A woman’s voice is often harder to hear than a man’s, because of its pitch. A woman might try to lower the pitch of her voice when talking to the hoh to see if that helps.
  11. Speak slowly and clearly.
  12. If the hoh person wears a hearing aid, make sure that it has batteries installed, the batteries work, the hearing aid is turned “on” and that the hearing aid is clean and free from earwax.
  13. If the hoh person wears an aid, try raising the pitch of your voice just slightly. If the hoh listener is not wearing an aid, try lowering the pitch of your voice.
  14. If you know (or if it becomes evident) from which side the person hears best, talk to that side.
  15. Check to see that a light is not shining in the eyes of the hoh person. Change position so that you are not standing in front of a light source such as a window, which puts your face in a shadow or silhouette and makes it hard for the hoh person to speech read.
  16. It is better to speak directly face-to-face in situations where relatively diffuse lighting is adequate and lights the speaker’s face. This allows the hoh listener to observe the speaker’s facial expressions, as well as lip movements.
  17. Persons with hearing impairment can also benefit from seating themselves at a table where they can best see all parties (e.g. from the end of a rectangular table).
  18. Avoid abrupt changes of subject or interjecting small talk into your conversation, as hoh listeners often use context to understand what you are saying.
  19. Announce beforehand when you are going to change the subject of conversation. Doing so might avoid an unfortunate faux pas by the hoh listener.
  20. Sometimes hoh persons have “good” or “better” sides—right or left—ask them if they do. If they indicate a preference, direct your remarks to the good side or face-to-face, as they wish.
  21. If all else fails, rephrase your remarks or have someone whose voice is familiar to the hoh person repeat your words.
  22. Don’t talk too fast.
  23. Pronounce words clearly. If the hearing-impaired person has difficulty with letters and numbers, say, “M as in Mary,” “2 as in twins,” “B as in Boy,” and say each number separately, like five, six instead of fifty-six. The reason for doing so is that m, n, 2, 3, 56, 66 and b, c, d, e, t, and v sound alike.
  24. Keep a note pad handy and write your words out and show them to the hoh person if you have to—just don’t walk away leaving the hearing-impaired listener puzzling over what you said and thinking you don’t care.
  25. And finally, be patient.