How to communicate with a person with hearing loss


By Lynette Snyman

Your driver’s license has just expired and the whole renewal process lies like a mountain in front of you. What a frustration!

Add a hearing loss to the challenge and we see a completely different picture.

You complete all the necessary forms and start queuing up to pass the forms. Your heart beats faster in anticipation. Once in front, one must speak – and hear – through the glass window.

You try your best at lip reading; the woman speaks louder, but you still can’t understand what she’s trying to say. Sweat pearl on your forehead. You feel embarrassed while people in line keep a close eye on everything. An impatient sigh slips out, some even try to lend a hand, but your privacy is gone.

After this is the turn of the eye test. Instructions regarding the process are again conveyed verbally. You hear the woman talking again, but can’t work out exactly what she’s trying to say. As expected, she speaks louder. You hear her voice loud, but not clear. She stepped closer, annoyed. You are getting more nervous and start to feel threatened. Heart beat now uncontrollable. The tears are near. You agree to take the eye test, even if you did not clearly understand the instructions. The eye test is failed, not because of a vision problem, but because of a hearing loss.

How many of us have not already ended up in the above situation? Communication through glass windows or plastic screens remains a huge challenge, especially for the person with a hearing loss.

Here are some guidelines on how to communicate with a person who has a hearing loss:

  • Maintain eye contact: do not turn your head away while speaking and avoid looking down at the computer screen or keyboard.
  • Make sure your mouth is clearly visible so the person can lip read and use normal – not exaggerated – lip movements.
  • Speak clearly, avoid muttering or mumbling.
  • Speak at a normal volume. Don’t shout. It makes sound louder, not clearer.
  • Speak at a leisurely speaking speed. Don’t talk too fast and skip words.
  • Good lighting is essential so that the person can see your face clearly.
  • Use diagrams or notes. Written or printed information, visible in a comfortable size, largely eliminates communication problems.
  • Use gestures and facial expressions to better convey the speech message.
  • Lynette is an audiologist and speech therapist. Visit Lynette’s website at