top of page

Listening Beyond Ears: How to Talk to Someone with a Hearing Impairment

We all want to connect and feel understood, and for someone with a hearing impairment, clear communication can be the bridge to that connection. Whether it's a colleague, a friend, or a loved one, knowing how to adjust your communication style can make a world of difference.

A woman touching a hearing aid on her ear. | ENT Family - How to Talk to Someone with a Hearing Impairment

How to Talk to Someone with Hearing Impairment

It's no secret that there are tons of internal and external communication barriers that exist for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Bridging them often requires just a slight shift in perspective and a few adjustments in our behavior. So, let's shed light on some things we should and shouldn't do when talking to someone with a hearing impairment.

What You Should Do

1. Get their attention visually

  • Do make sure you have the person's attention before starting a conversation.

  • If appropriate, use a gentle tap on the shoulder, a wave, or other visual cues to indicate you would like to speak.

2. Maintain eye contact

  • Do maintain eye contact and face the person directly when speaking.

  • This helps in conveying your message more effectively and allows lip reading if the individual is adept at it.

3. Speak clearly and at a moderate pace

  • Do speak clearly without shouting.

  • Enunciate your words and avoid speaking too fast, which can make it challenging for individuals with hearing impairments to follow the conversation.

4. Use gestures and facial expressions

  • Do complement your words with appropriate gestures and facial expressions to provide additional context.

  • This can enhance understanding and make the conversation more engaging.

5. Choose a quiet environment

  • Do choose quiet environments for conversations whenever possible.

  • Background noise can make it difficult for individuals with hearing impairments to focus on their speech.

A child with hearing aid learning sign language. | ENT Family - Listening Beyond Ears: How to Talk to Someone with a Hearing Impairment

What You Shouldn't Do

1. Shout, exaggerate, or mouth your lip movements too slowly

  • Don't shout as it distorts the clarity of speech and can be uncomfortable.

  • Enunciate, but don't exaggerate. Doing so and doing it too slowly may not necessarily improve understanding and may come across as patronizing.

2. Cover your mouth or face while speaking

  • Don't cover your mouth or face while speaking as it hinders lip reading.

  • Maintaining the visibility of your lips is crucial for individuals who rely on lip reading to understand the conversation.

3. Assume everyone uses the same communication method

  • Don't assume that everyone with a hearing impairment uses the same communication method.

  • Some individuals may prefer sign language, while others may rely on lip reading or assistive devices. Ask and adapt accordingly.

  • Sign language, as with any other language, is not universal.

4. Ignore the use of assistive devices

  • Don't ignore the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants.

  • Be aware of these devices and ensure that the person is comfortable with their use during the conversation.

5. Exclude them from group conversations or activities

  • Don't exclude individuals with hearing impairments from group conversations.

  • Make an effort to include them by facing them directly, and if needed, provide written information or use assistive devices.

6. Give backhanded compliments

  • Examples: "You're so articulate for someone who's deaf!" or "You speak so well despite your hearing loss."

  • Why it's wrong: These comments imply that someone with a hearing impairment isn't expected to be articulate or intelligent. They diminish their achievements and focus on their disability, rather than their individual skills.

  • Alternatives: Offer genuine compliments that don't rely on their hearing impairment. For example, "I love how you explained that!" or "Your public speaking skills are impressive."

7. Dictate their realities for them

  • Examples: "Oh, you can't listen to music? That must be so sad." or "I could never live without hearing everything around me."

  • Why it's wrong: These comments assume a universal experience of hearing loss, which is inaccurate. Every individual's experience is unique, and dictating their reality based on your own assumptions is dismissive and insensitive.

  • Alternatives: Ask questions to understand their perspective, like "What are some challenges you face with hearing loss?" or "What are some things people don't understand about your experience?". Actively listen to their answers without judgment or comparison.

Women talking to each other with sign language on a park bench.  | ENT Family - Listening Beyond Ears: How to Talk to Someone with a Hearing Impairment

Being an Ally for Inclusivity

Hearing impairment is a spectrum that encompasses various degrees of hearing loss, from mild to profound. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss. This condition not only affects an individual's ability to perceive sound but also influences their social interactions, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life.

With a little understanding and support, we can build bridges instead of walls, creating a truly inclusive future. Here are some key ways to be a champion of accessibility and show respect for the deaf or hard-of-hearing community:

  • Be an active listener: Not just to words, but to preferences. Everyone experiences hearing loss differently, so respect any accommodations requested, whether it's clear speech, lip-reading cues, sign language interpreters, or assistive technology.

  • Treat everyone with equal dignity: Just like anyone else, deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals deserve respect, kindness, and equal opportunities. Engage in conversation, offer assistance when needed, and avoid patronizing language or behavior.

  • Embrace open communication: Ask questions, clarify your understanding, and be patient if communication takes a little longer. If you need to repeat yourself, do so patiently and without judgment.

  • Support accessibility efforts: Advocate for accessible spaces, services, and resources. This could involve supporting businesses that provide closed captioning, encouraging sign language education, or simply being vocal about the importance of inclusion. Remember, accessibility features aren't about taking away from our experience, they're about adding to it for others.


Effective communication is and always has been a two-way street, but not all roads are paved the same way. As we move forward, let's commit to creating spaces where individuals of all hearing abilities feel comfortable expressing themselves. Let's celebrate the richness of diversity in communication styles and work towards a world where everyone, regardless of their hearing abilities, can participate fully and without barriers.


Les commentaires ont été désactivés.
Dr. David Eleff, Otolaryngologist/Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist at ENT Family in Hollywood, Florida.

This article has been medically reviewed by  otolaryngologist, David Eleff, M.D.

ENT Family Blog

bottom of page