Telephone conversations are important to every part of our daily lives. We chat to friends, make appointments, order supplies, find out information, etc.. The list is endless. Some of those calls we initiate, some we receive. You probably remember the first time you talked on the phone as a child, the delight of hearing gran’s voice when she wasn’t even in the room! You also probably remember be allowed to “dial” the phone for the first time, the joy of finding out how the phone worked. The advances in technology have made the process of telecommunication faster, easier to navigate and far reaching. Gone are the days where you could immediately tell a long distance call from a local call by its cackling and scratchy tone. Those advances in technology have also included adaptations to phones to aid the hard of hearing.

Despite those changes, talking on the phone still presents a lot of challenges to the hard of hearing. Voices don’t sound clear. Words sound distorted. Other sounds overwhelm the person’s voice. It becomes stressful to make calls and to receive calls. We can feel isolated. Here are some suggestions to ease the process. Patience, persistence, a direct voice and a sense of humour all help.

For the hard of hearing person:

  1. Make sure your telephone is in a “quiet” zone, not near the TV , radio, barking dog, near an open window where outside noises can overwhelm the conversation. It is a good idea to be sitting at a comfortable spot. Have a pad a paper and pen/pencil and calendar handy to take notes and record appointments. Be focussed on the call and refrain from doing other activities at the same time. I have a bad habit of sipping on water when I’m on the phone.
  2. When initiating a call especially to an unfamiliar person, it is good to have your T-coil or any assistive devices on and ready beforehand. Some people find the speaker phone feature helpful. I find I miss info when I am fiddling with my aid or devices during the conversation. It is also a good idea to tell the person that you have a hearing problem and ask them to speak slowly and clearly. Try to direct the conversation by asking the person one question at a time and wait for an answer before asking the next question. It is easier to listen to and process shorter sentences and information bites. I find that even when I am talking to a person without a hearing problem, I find the person misses part of what I have said. I used to phone to make an appointment with my physio and I would give my name, who I wanted the appointment with, what day I wanted the appointment all at once and not once did anyone track all that info, so now I break it into 4 pieces. If you miss a spoken word crucial to the context, please ask the person to repeat that word or ask them to clarify that word. Ask them to use a different word. I often repeat what they have said and ask if that is correct. Yes, some people will be impatient, but you have a right to the correct information. So in turn you must be patient. You yourself must use a clear, strong voice and a sense of humour helps. When making appointments, I tell the person I am writing the information down and then I repeat it back. Always have the person summarize information and take the time to jot info down. Once the call is complete, take the time to write down other information that you remember.
  3. One of modern “conveniences” is the automated menus when you call a business: press 1 for this, etc. Most people are frustrated when having to go through the multiple menus: this is not a problem for just the hard of hearing. Be super patient. It is perfectly acceptable to listen to the menu several times before you make your choice. For a number that you are going to call again, like the pharmacy, write it on a list with the menu choice beside it. For some menus, there is a shortcut choice to talk directly to a person. Use that feature, if possible. If it is a person you will be dealing with again, sometimes the person will give you a direct number for your next conversation.
  4. If you are unable to understand someone’s speech, because of an accent or a certain pitch, I think is acceptable to tell that person and ask to speak to someone else. Some people won’t agree with me, so you will have to go by your own comfort level. I think it can be done in a diplomatic manner.
  5. When answering an incoming call, follow the guidelines above. Try to slow the conversation down into manageable information bites. I find when I answer the phone, the other person will just start talking without me acknowledging anything they have said. If it is someone I know, I tease them and have them repeat what I haven’t heard. If it is someone I don’t know, I tell them I have a hearing problem and the phone is very difficult and tell them what I have heard and ask them to repeat what I haven’t heard. People can be impatient but try to be patient with yourself and with them and see situations as teaching moments. Try not to let any situation make you feel that there is something wrong with you. Just because we have hearing problems doesn’t mean that we cannot do something. I always make a point of thanking the person when she/he has adjusted to my guidelines.
  6. Most of us have an answering machine. It is a good idea to have your outgoing message include “please speak clearly and slowly and please repeat your name and number”.

For the person talking to a hard of hearing person: This should almost be labelled under
“Telephone etiquette for everyone”!

  1. Speak clearly and slowly and directly into the phone. It is amazing to watch people talk on the phone while waving the phone about!
  2. Be in a quiet zone to make your call. Noises around you are often magnified over the phone and distort your voice.
  3. Try not to be chewing gum, smoking, eating, etc while you are talking. I know that sounds silly but again those things interfere with the clarity of speech.
  4. Identify yourself and wait until the person responds to you,
  5. Give small bites of information and always wait until the person replies.
  6. Avoid using contractions in speech. For example, it is very difficult to distinguish between “can” and “can’t” on the phone-much better to use cannot.
  7. If the person asks you to repeat info, be patient, ask what has been heard and repeat the info using different words if possible. Hard of hearing people are often frustrated when they don’t hear and lose confidence in themselves when communicating and they too can sound cranky and impatient.
  8. Summarize the information before the end of the call.

Author: Susan Gelinas