10 Everyday Challenges for People Who Are Hard of Hearing - and What Hearing People Should Know

Hearing folks, take a stroll in my ears. It’s a wondrous world that we hard-of-hearing people occupy. And it’s high time you learned about it.

1. “You’re a hot mess!” That’s right, I heard that. All it takes is a casual conversation along with my “mis-hearing” to alter the shape of reality and have me questioning everything. Just before the pandemic, I walked into a party and my friend said: “That’s a hot dress!” And rather than giving a twirl to show it off, I looked stunned, thinking she said: “You’re a hot mess!” Being hard of hearing is sometimes like living in Mad Libs — and it’s way more interesting than those in the fully hearing world.

2. See-through isn’t hear-through. Just the other day I was leaving the doctors office, and for the most part I know you don’t need to talk to the front desk unless you’re scheduling another appointment. So, I walked by, looked at her behind the thin sheet of protective plexiglass — just in case she did have something to say to me — and I stopped because she started talking. “What?” I asked twice before I said, “Sorry, I can’t hear that well,” and by then she already seemed annoyed. Honestly, I just left the office, my assumption was she was just being polite to see if I needed any help with anything else. Since the start of the pandemic last year and the beginning of additional safety precautions in stores, restaurants, doctors offices, etc, I can surely say: I hate those extra glass walls with a passion. You’d think a thin slice of plexiglass wouldn’t block much sound, but my ears are always begging to peak around the wall.

3. Sleeping without hearing aids: A blessing and a curse. Imagine sleeping in the pure bliss of silence. I’m guessing for the most part, that kind of bliss hardly exists for those who hear it all. Whether it’s the garbage truck in the morning, the train at night, or the neighbors next door, it’s never quite dead silent while you’re sleeping. That’s the blessing of sleeping without hearing aids — you take them out, and all of that extra noise simply disappears. On the flip side, the most important part of sleeping, is the waking up the next morning. Hearing your alarm, or your roommates in the kitchen, your family down the hall- anything to get you up and out of bed. That’s the curse. Most nights I sleep with one hearing aid in so I can wake up to my alarm, otherwise I’d be sleeping in till noon missing class, missing work, or missing plans with friends. Trust me, I’ve done it all.

4. Bathtub + plugged-in toaster = bad news. Being near water with hearing aids evokes the worst kind of fear, maybe not the electrocution kind of fear, but you get my drift. We all love the idea of a pool party. How about hopping on a boat, or a spontaneous kayak rental at the lake? Sure! Hearing folks don’t think twice about it, but I’m already 5 steps ahead in a mini freak-out — planning on where I’m going to hide my hearing aids when I take them off to go in the water, and oh the thrill of wondering who’s going to try and talk to me while they’re out. It sounds stressful, and the beginning usually is—until I embrace the hearing I’m left with. To be out in the ocean, surrounded by the waves, and birds and stillness is amazing by itself without all the extra sounds I might be missing out on. Fun fact: The cool thing about being in a pool: sound is amplified off the water, making it easier to hear!

5. The natural state of noise-cancelation: Just recently I was at a pretty loud cafe with my friend and I brought my noise cancelling AirPods with me, and she had the old wired Apple earbuds. She could hardly hear her meeting online without blasting the volume. The solution? We switched! Being hard of hearing is practically already a noise-cancelation device on its own. When I take out my hearing aids to put in the headphones, I just hear what’s going in my ears from the headphones. It’s perfect!

6. It’s me, not you, but kinda you. The first time someone told me how embarrassing it is to be blatantly ignored by me, I felt so bad that it wasn’t more obvious that I was hard of hearing versus just plain rude. I guess the slight silver lining is I give people an excuse to rephrase or take back what they said to begin with. Having hearing loss feels like automatic selective hearing. Unless I know I am in a conversation, it’s like my mind goes into my own world and all the noise and talk around me is just mumbling in the back of my ears until I choose to focus on the voices. I’ve never felt good taking advantage of ignoring people on purpose. Pretending not to hear someone is the opposite of what I crave to do everyday!

7. Please hold, my ears died. The dooming moment when your hearing aid battery dies and you’ve run out of batteries. Imagine you’re driving on the road and suddenly your vision cuts out. Scary, right? Or how about you’re cooking a huge meal for your family and your sense of taste and smell disappear. Now, imagine you’re in the middle of an important conversation and your hearing aid dies on you. I’ve gotten good at improvising as long as I can, but I’m even better at making sure I always carry batteries on me now. It’s also good to have a captioning app at the ready — thank you, Ava.

8. Repeating yourself can be annoying. We get it. It’s frustrating and it will kill your patience levels in an instant. It’s the same for us. You know how many times I’ve placed a special order for extra ranch or maybe whipped cream on my hot chocolate? And I struggle with repeating myself if the waiter or cashier doesn’t hear me. Oddly, I am absolutely awful at having patience towards people who can’t hear what I’m saying. It feels hypocritical to get annoyed at having to say something three times over when I ask for that from the same person multiple times a day!

9. SOMETIMES WE TALK LOUD! I’ve found this to happen most often with my dad who is also hard of hearing, usually on a day of bad hearing, or hearing aid technical difficulties. I’ll catch him mid story-telling speaking as though he is trying to out-talk a passing train or car siren and I’ll politely tell him, “You’re talking a little loud.” To which he’ll usually stop in shock with a tiny smile and then continue in a lower volume. I’ve caught myself a few times thinking I was whispering to someone next to me and it was really just a loud hushed voice. How quiet can you talk and still understand your own voice?

10. The Feel-Good Art of Listening. For those who can hear (you know who you are), hearing is a passive act. Perhaps it comes naturally. Being hard of hearing: hearing is most often focused and intentional listening. I’ve found myself being recognized by friends as the one who is always paying attention to conversation and in turn makes me a pretty good friend and ultimately the best listener. Next time you’re in conversation with a group, observe how often you’re hearing versus active listening!