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Deafness / Hearing Impairment

Hearing impairments affect people of all ages and range from mild to severe. Many older people (at least 25% of people over 80) have a significant hearing loss. Wearing hearing aids can help some, but not all, people who have a hearing loss. We tend to think that hearing aids "solve" the problems of hearing loss. Not so. Unlike glasses, which make things clearer, hearing aids make sounds louder but not really clearer. Most hearing loss interferes with a person's ability to understand speech, so people who are hard-of-hearing often also rely on lip reading (speech reading) to help them understand spoken language. Because of this, people have been heard to say "Let me put on my glasses so I can hear you."

People who consider themselves Deaf (with an upper-case 'D') regard Deafness as a culture with its own language—American Sign Language (ASL)—rather than as a disability. ASL is a visual language with its own grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. It is a complete language, related to French Sign Language, but not to English or other spoken language. It is based on spatial body movements, especially a person's hands and arms, and on facial expressions. Introductory information about Deafness and Deaf culture.

Assistive listening systems; personal listening devices for meetings, small groups and individual conversations (not to recommend a particular vendor, but the description is good); qualified sign-language interpreters (contact your local Independent Living Center); printed texts of sermons; TTYs; computers and email; relay operators; are some examples of accommodations that create an atmosphere which is welcoming and accessible to someone with hearing limitations.

Your local Independent Living Center may be able to answer your questions and help find qualified sign language interpreters. Local colleges, interpreter training programs, and deaf schools are also good interpreter sources.

Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) is a national organization of people who are hard of hearing. There are local chapters and support groups, experts and advisors. A state-by-state listing of HLAA chapters will help you find help in your area.

Remember, each person is unique, whether or not they are deaf or have hearing problems. Therefore, it is impossible to make universal statements about what will enable us all, in our diversity, to be welcomed through accommodation. As with all reciprocal relationships, it is always important and appropriate to ask the people being welcomed what will work for them.

Until you know someone with a hearing impairment, you may never have had any need to think about the key points that will make your relationship with this person easier and more relaxed. With the intent to create a welcoming and relaxed environment for everyone, here are some ground rules we should all keep in mind.

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Last updated on Wednesday, April 20, 2011.

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