Monday, August 13, 2012

How to talk to me on the phone

So, one of the many things about me that's notable is that I have hearing loss. My right ear's hearing is significantly degraded, and my left ear has lost much of its high-tone sensitivity (or my brain doesn't interpret high tones correctly; that's also a possibility, given how much of a mess it is in there) due to foolishness when younger. When going to rock concerts, wear earplugs. That will go a LONG way towards avoiding what's happened to me. Take similar precautions around firearms; those things are very loud, and will damage your hearing. Between the loss of hearing and interference from chronic tinnitus, I find it difficult to follow conversations. That's actually a big part of why I'm quiet in person; I don't follow the thread of conversation well enough to join in, because I literally can't hear well enough.

A game designer and generally awesome person I follow on Twitter by the name of Eddy Webb is significantly worse off than I am by way of hearing, and he recently posted a link to an article on "how to talk with the hearing-impaired". While the advice is good, it's very much focused on face-to-face interactions, and doesn't cover telephones. Telephones are a very much harder nut to crack, when it comes to hearing difficulties.

Here's my advice, in handy bullet point form.
  • Speak up. Don't shout, but do speak clearly and loudly. It helps.
  • Speak slowly. Don't let your words run together.
  • Sit up straight. This does actually make your voice clearer, makes it easier to project, and means I find it easier to hear you.
  • Minimise background noise. If I'm straining to pick you out over music, fans, engines, or similar, I'm going to have trouble.
  • Re-phrase. If I didn't catch what you said, take a moment and try different words.
  • Be patient. I really am trying.
Sadly, the biggest obstacle to easy telephone communication with anyone hearing-impaired is the telephone itself. Telephone transmission involves throwing away an astoundingly large part of the voice's spectrum, to save bandwidth. Someone with good hearing can cope fine, but the worse a person's hearing is, the harder they'll find it to correct for that.

The biggest thing you can do for me, in terms of communication, is to only use the telephone when absolutely necessary. I much prefer something that doesn't require I hold large amounts of unsorted data in mind at once AND strain to hear. But if you have to call me, the checklist above will make it less annoying for both of us. Because I've no doubt whatsoever that as frustrating as it is for me to struggle through a telephone call, it's just as frustrating for you trying to get the information to me when I seem bent on mis-hearing.


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  2. Google just pointed this post out to me. I'm going to keep this on hand and use it when I'm helping others learn how to cope with communicating with me. But I'm with you -- I generally much prefer text or email instead of the phone.


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