Communicating With the Hearing Impaired

High Frequency Hearing Loss

I try to remember to tell all of my students that I have a high frequency hearing loss. And always when I tell people this, I immediately say that, no, this is not from playing in loud bands. I had this hearing loss long before I started playing gigs.

Interestingly, from that point forward, the students typically try to speak louder so I can hear them. So today I would like to say that this rarely helps. There are things you can do to communicate more clearly to someone like me, which I will write about in this post, but talking louder is usually not necessary.

Eye Contact

The most important thing to do in conversations with someone with a high frequency hearing loss is to make eye contact. The way high frequency hearing losses work, I only get about half of what you are saying and my mind has to process the rest. How does that work? Well, the mind does a very good job of putting words into context. This is not something I have to try to do. It is an ability that we all develop as we grow. The difference between you and I is that I rely on that ability more than most people do.

So by making eye contact, you are giving my brain more data to work with.

This, by the way, is the reason why I have always dreaded talking on the phone. I have friends and associates who adamantly insist on doing everything over the phone and it stresses me out more than you can imagine. That’s why my life has been made better with the opportunity to do most of my business via email. But as I said, there are still a few die hard phone talkers in my life and the less I use the phone anymore, the more stressed out it makes me when I have to communicate that way.

Background Noise

Background noise is a major issue. I only hear half of what is said to begin with. Background noise reduces that amount to as low as 10% it seems. In the lessons, that means it’s best to do anything that makes noise before or after you try to talk to me. When your words are distorted by the competing sounds of crinkled paper or shuffling cases, I have much less to work with.

This is also why I won’t try to talk over a recording or over a Band in a Box track.

The biggest problem with background noise is that I will often THINK I heard what you said only to be wrong. There have been many times when students said something and thought that my response was entirely out of context from what they said. The way the mind works with its ability to “fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle” becomes a little more unreliable with background noise. It’s sort of like doing a jig saw puzzle with a twist. Imagine trying to piece together a puzzle that has had thousands of other random pieces mixed in with it. That’s what it’s like for me when there is background noise. I hear plenty, but WHAT I hear cannot be counted on.

If I ever respond to one of your questions in an inappropriate way, please feel free to verify that I understood you. I am never intentionally rude or anything like that. If I sounded like I was answering a different question or responding to a different comment from what you said, just say it again, maybe in a different way the second time.

Better Diction

Another very important part of communicating with someone who has a high frequency hearing loss is using proper grammar. Ha, I’m sure that comes as a surprise to most people! What does proper grammar have to do with hearing loss?

Well, the more you stick to proper rules of grammar, the better my mind will be at determining a context for those words. Using too many pronouns or contractions make it far more difficult for me to piece it all together. I know it makes people sound like walking text books, but speaking that way in our lessons will guarantee that I understand what you are saying.

Along those same lines, it’s also important to emphasize the consonants of each word. Pronounce the T’s with a pop. Make the S’s hiss. This kind of pronunciation offers my brain more data to work with and the results will be more accurate. What I hear will more often be what you actually said.

Not Always a Problem

I don’t want to give you the impression that my hearing loss is always a problem. Most of my students have been taking lessons with me long enough to know that I usually understand what they are saying. But I do think it’s important that you all know there is a problem and that sometimes I will misunderstand you.


About Eddie Lewis

Eddie Lewis is primarily known as a Christian free-lance trumpet player in Houston, TX. Eddie makes a living playing trumpet, teaching trumpet and jazz improvisation, writing trumpet music and authoring trumpet books. His second book, Daily Routines for Trumpet, is used regularly by thousands of trumpet players around the world. If you would like to purchase some of his CD's, feel free to visit our online music store at
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