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Now hear this!

NOW HEAR THIS ! Hearing loss affects an estimated 20 million Americans, the vast majority of whom are adults who had experienced good hearing earlier in life. Specialists say that the hearing world can be made more sensitive to the nonhearing world by not only understanding the needs of the hearing-impaired, but also by understanding that there are two basic types of hearing loss (volume deficiency and sound clarity deficiency). By testing a person's ability to discriminate sounds, as well as sensitivity to loudness, the severity and type of hearing loss can be determined, says Dr. Steven Rauch, a hearing specialist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

The easiest way to understand the differences between the two categories, says Dr. Rauch, is to think of how you have to turn up a radio in order to hear it at all. Conversely, in order to clarify a radio signal, you simply adjust the tuning knob. This is why merely shouting at someone with a sound clarity deficiency is a frustrating (not to mention embarrassing) waste of time for both the speaker and listener. And although humans are not equipped with their own tuning knobs, there are steps that both the hearing-impaired and those with normal hearing short of enunciating clearly to the point of parody) can take to make for better communication.

For example, whenever possible, the hearing-impaired should try to hold conversations in areas with low background noise, restate what was heard to eliminate misunderstandings, and ask a speaker to rephrase a statement or spell out a word if it was not clear, even with repetition. Simultaneously, hearing people can communicate better if they remember to face the hearing-impaired person directly, avoid talking too quickly or using sentences that are complex and too long. Also, avoid eating, chewing, smoking, etc., while talking, and avoid sudden changes of topics.

Travel can also cause substantial inconveniences for the hearing-impaired, says Dr. Rauch. With care, however, disruptions can be minimized. First, hearing impaired individuals can request written confirmation on all travel and lodging reservations to ensure accuracy. Also, they could ask a ticket agent at a particular transportation boarding facility to personally inform them when it's time to board, as well as have an attendant tell them once they are on board of any announcements. Once at a hotel, they can inform the receptionist that they need special considerations with the telephone and fire alarm.

"Hearing impairment is an invisible handicap," says Dr. Rauch, who adds, "There are no seeing-eye dogs or white canes to inform others that you have a hearing problem." Therefore, he concludes, it is up to the hearing-impaired individual to take the initiative by informing others of his or her special needs to communicate and hear better.

For more information, contact either the Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc., 4848 Battery Lane, Suite 100, Bethesda, MD 20814, (301) 657-2248 or 657-2249, or the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Inc., One Prince Street, Alexandria, VA 22314, (703) 836-4444.
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Title Annotation:hearing impairment
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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