In this article, London-based nutritionist, Jeanann Doyle talks about adjusting to her hearing loss, and learning the art of assertiveness.
I’m no expert on dealing with my hearing loss, but as I get older I have noticed that I do feel more at ease with being assertive; asking for support when I need to while at the same time try to support myself as much as possible. I have quite a strong independent streak in my personality so finding this balance has been a long but rewarding journey, but it is ongoing.
My hearing loss is severe in both ears and I rely on digital hearing aids and lip reading for communication. I speak as normal hearing people do, and I don’t use sign language as a means to communicate, so I don’t appear to have any obvious disability. My daily difficulties are often overlooked so I have to remind my colleagues, acquaintances and even my closest friends at times that I’m struggling to hear them. Often I pretend to have heard them and behind my frozen smile, my inner voice is screaming in frustration.
If you’re thinking ‘me too’, keep reading for my top tips for being assertive in everyday situations. These can be a big help for coming to terms with your hearing loss, and for making daily life easier and happier:
Customer Service Desks
When you’re at a customer service desk, it’s best to always start by telling the person that you lip read or that you have hearing aids so they are aware straight away. It saves you feeling anxious before you reach the counter and will help relieve the anticipation that you may mishear something which will leave you feeling silly.
I made a promise to myself to make a habit of this as I like to be independent as much as I can and rely on others’ support only if necessary. I feel proud of myself for having achieved just this one small step. Saying those five small words (“I am hard of hearing”) for the first time to a complete stranger was the start of my journey towards becoming more assertive. It gave me the stepping stones to keep practising my assertiveness for bigger and more challenging situations.
Noisy Pubs and Late Bars
Being assertive noisy pubs and bars has been a long and winding road! In my early twenties I had better hearing compared to now. I was able to leave out a hearing aid and hear someone if they shouted loud enough through that ear. Nowadays, I rely more on lip reading which requires face to face communication. I have to politely ask the other person not to keep shouting into my ear 20 times mainly because they are either drunk or in disbelief of my deafness.
I usually catch them lip reading to my friend later “Is she really deaf?”. Most new people I meet are happy to text what they are saying on their phone while I talk back to them, and of course others, having had few too many whiskies, take this as a request for their number so they will gladly take out their phones!
I will never forget a course I took which taught me the ropes of assertiveness in situations like this. It was run by City Lit College in London and was called Assertiveness with Hearing Loss. Imagine role-playing the scenario above and coming up with phrases and tips on how to cope in the situation with the support of a friendly group of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. What a fun, yet at the same time, emotional and unforgettable course it was! I came away with new strategies for other challenging hearing environments but also with the tools to carry on practising and embracing my journey of assertiveness with hearing loss.
It’s important to remember that you are the one who is likely to miss out and unless others know they cannot support you especially if they don’t know you. Some useful phrases:
- “I’m hard of hearing so I need to see your face to communicate with you.”
- “Just to let you know I’m d/Deaf so it would be really helpful if you could write what you’re saying on your phone as I find it quite loud in here.”
Noisy Cafes and Restaurants
Years of eating out in London’s bustling cafes and restaurants means that I now have it down to a fine art choosing my acoustic environment before even glancing at the menu! It’s best to choose tables shaped like booths as the high seats dampen out some of the noise, and try to avoid sitting at tables positioned near the wall where speakers tend to be positioned. These will only amplify the background noise in your hearing aids.
Choose well lit places. If the venue is dark, move candles to under people’s faces. When booking a table mention that you are deaf/HoH so they can pick a quieter spot for you. From my experience I’ve rarely been refused this. Ask to read the specials on a notepad and if you are a lip reader like me, try have your friends sitting on one side of the table while you sit opposite. This saves darting back and forth and ending up with neck pain plus feeling stressed and frustrated over trying to keep up.
By getting into a habit of practising these tips and letting your friends help, it’s also a good awareness reminder for them! I’ve now noticed some friends and family members asking the waiter for the quiet spot or asking me where I would like to sit which is always appreciated! My friends still forget all the time but I don’t blame them. There are no visual reminders to most people that I’m deaf as my speech is really good and I like to wear my hair down when I do social activities. I recently decided to only meet a maximum of three friends if going out for dinner as more than that can be quite difficult for me to keep up with lip reading – especially if there is background music or loud chattering (no escaping that in London!).
In the Workplace
As a nutritionist, my work involves a lot of moving around to different acoustic settings. I have done a lot of trial and error! In my one-to-one sessions with clients used to have my listening device on when starting out. I would explain to them briefly what it was and that it sends sound to my hearing aids so that I can hear them more clearly.
After a while my confidence grew and I didn’t use the listening device. Instead I always made sure I was in a quiet room, and let my client know I was lip-reading. All of my clients to date had no issues with this. Sometimes I think I worried too much in the past about their reactions when in fact it was just my own assumptions all along. When notetaking, I just listened for a while then paused them to take notes before asking them to continue.
Our staff team meetings are usually held in boardroom style with 14 of us around the table. At first I thought I could manage with lip reading, but quickly realised this was a struggle as I exhausted myself with the concentration and would get a migraine. I needed more support, and chose STTR which stands for Speech To Text Reporting. This involves having a support worker who types what’s being said using a special keyboard and the text appears on a tablet in front of me – just like as if I had subtitles whilst watching TV. This was a huge success and I found myself not only being able to keep up easily in meetings, but I had the chance to contribute to discussions. My manager also kindly reminds everyone at the start of meetings to speak one at a time for the support worker, and if it gets noisy, I put my hand up to remind the team and usually this helps! I began to use STTR for my workshops too which works out brilliantly. While I talk to the group, their comments and questions appear on the tablet for me to keep up with them as the workshops are quite interactive.
As a somewhat experienced but not yet successful online dater I’ve learned a thing or two about the online dating scene and how to handle the topic of my deafness! Initially I wouldn’t mention anything about my hearing difficulties on a first date. I didn’t think there was any point, as it was never certain if I’d see them again.
Once I got more into the online dating scene I realised I’d feel more at ease going on dates if the other person knew beforehand about my deafness. For me this was a new level of being assertive – scary at first but definitely worth it! One person’s reaction I found quite amusing: “Oh I’ve picked out a nice quite pub so you can leave your hearing aids at home dear”. (Imagine the reaction when I lifted my hair to reveal my hearing aid).
A few guys stopped texting once I told them about my deafness, but rather than wallowing in self-pity I saw this as a quick way of finding the genuine ones! I usually just tell them in a message beforehand now that quieter places are easier to hear, then when asked more questions I’m just open and honest. My tip to others is to be straight out with it and upfront about your deafness, otherwise you’re pretending to be someone that isn’t deaf/hard of hearing and your date may find out anyway eventually. Wouldn’t you prefer to be with someone who is understanding and supportive from the start?
At weekends after a long week at work and coping with the noisy, bustling city of London and it’s underground trains, I like to take out my hearing aids and enjoy the blissful peace of the pool when I go for my long swim. I do occasionally come across awkward situations when the pool instructor approaches me, or when other people try to strike up conversation in the steam room!
My tip is to tell the lifeguards and pool staff straight away that you’re deaf and any instructions need to be written if you can’t lip read them. A good way to check you’ve understood is to say back what they said. Most places allow deaf swimmers to bring someone with them, which is a good idea as this might make you feel more comfortable. Having said that if you use your eyesight sharply like I do and spot hands waving and people deserting the pool then you should get the hint and know what to do!
I always wanted to give Yoga a go but didn’t know how it would be possible if my eyes were supposed to be closed in class. When I warmed to it more, I thought I could just keep my eyes open and copy the poses rather than straining
to listen to the teacher. I soon realised that it was important to listen in too otherwise I would miss out things like breathing techniques and tips for holding certain postures.
I brought my listening device along with me to one class and the teacher encouraged me to keep bringing it with me. I explained to her if she could wear it around her neck as she moves about the room I would be able to hear her instructions clearly. She was in disbelief that I hadn’t been able to hear a word in class as my postures were really good, but only based on what I saw. So now she looks out for the listening device when I come to the class (another motive to keep up the yoga!).
If you have a listening device and want to do yoga, ask the teacher to keep it on their mat at the front of the class. For me it’s worked – six months on, I can listen with my eyes closed, completely switch off and I enjoy every minute of it. As a deaf person I have found yoga really grounding for me. It is teaching me to be mentally strong when faced with new challenges at work and in my personal life. Remember don’t be afraid to use your listening device outside of work – it can be great for meetings or at home. It also raises awareness for others and who knows, someone else in the class might be encouraged to bring theirs too! The same could also be applied to other fitness classes at your gym.
Keeping a Journal
I’m quite a big fan of stationary so having a personal journal is no surprise to the people that know me. As a way of dealing with my deafness I have for a long time, kept a note of strategies that I use daily and in the past to help me feel more assertive and in control of my hearing situations.
It’s a good idea to reflect on a difficult hearing situation that you come across, whether it’s in a noisy restaurant with a group of friends for a birthday, or at the bank trying to sort out finances through that annoying glass partition. Write down or have a think about what went wrong, how you felt afterwards and what you can do next time so it won’t happen again. Also, it’s worth jotting down useful phrases you can say, as this is something I usually struggle with myself. If you have ways around challenging hearing environments and useful phrases you can say so that others can be understanding and supportive, imagine how much more positive you will feel and more relaxed when the situation arises again.
I’m pretty sure that most of us with a hearing loss have more or less the same scenarios and I hope that you can find something useful from the ones I have mentioned here. Keeping a journal has helped me deal with my deafness and in turn has definitely helped me feel more calm and focused – particularly in new situations. I try to change things around at the start using current strategies, or if it is very new and challenging, I aim to keep calm, explain to those around me, and reflect on it afterwards for next time it happens.
How to Improve Your Assertiveness
It has been a long, challenging yet interesting road building my assertiveness and I’m still learning. This journey would not have been possible without endless support and encouragement from my wonderful and precious family, my hearing friends, my deaf friends, my lecturers, work colleagues and disability advisers.
My advice to anyone with a hearing loss is to always talk to someone about your hearing challenges. It’s OK to ask for support and you are not alone. Remember it’s something we cannot change nor choose to ignore. We need to learn to accept our deafness and then learn to live with it. Start like I did by being open to people’s questions – they need to learn from us to understand how difficult it can be. Only then can they try to help and support us.
Keep a journal of your thoughts and useful ways around the barriers of hearing loss. Learn to be strong about your deafness and be comfortable with being deaf and saying that you are deaf/hard of hearing. Trust me the more you say it the comfortable you will feel about being deaf and it will become part of who you are. Let it be just another journey to take and embrace. If a little wall comes up challenge it. If a big wall comes challenge it.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way
Need extra help?
- CBT is a very useful and successful approach to help challenge negative thoughts and find ways of having a more positive outlook on managing deafness.
- Hearing therapists help those who are struggling to adjust to their deafness and hearing loss.
- City Lit College continues to run a series of workshops and courses for deaf and HoH people to help them develop their skills and confidence. You can find out more here.
- Get a noise reduction programme and a loop setting fitted on your hearing aids. Your audiologist can do this. It was life changing for me.