Shopping while HoH (Hard of Hearing) presents some challenging communication scenarios. Our attention and eyes are focused on the task at hand and we are less aware of what is going on around us. Being spoken to when our attention is elsewhere often catches us off guard. The good news: Shopping also provides unlimited opportunities to practice at finding effective ways to navigate those tricky situations. And remember, if you avoid situations that trip you up, you’ll never get better at handling them.
Julia: The most important thing I can advocate for when shopping as the hearing partner, is to businesses…please provide training for your employees that includes best practices for helping someone with a hearing loss. Most of what they need to know is common courtesy and a few simple tools. Sensitivity training is often overlooked and this helps everyone! In other words, inclusion. Training could be as simple as:
- Always have paper and pen
- Simple gestures
- Have some speech-to-text app on your cell phone or ask the customer if they have one
When shopping with my grandmother we didn’t have much trouble with clerks looking at her and speaking to her. Keep in mind she never let anyone know she had hearing impairment, and in hindsight, it may not have been the right approach. When she was stumped trying to lipread, she would look at me and I would repeat changing the sentence up a little (a trick I learned for my circle of HoHs). This worked well for us, but we never had to face the MASK.
Chelle: The mask had us HoHs scrambling to learn to communicate again. Shopping today is very different than it used to be. I could lipread pre-COVID and get by most of the time. With masks, the best I can do is predict what comes up in routine situations. Gesturing seems to be the biggest help with masks. Let people know that helps.
I also use my phone and turn on my speech-to-text app. Some hearing people want to learn more, as they encounter HoH people all the time. Because of masks, hearing loss is more visible and possibly becoming more recognized.
When it comes to checking out, I have to see the total. Numbers get mixed up with my hearing loss. I look for monitors with the total. Cashiers have been helpful in turning their monitor for me to see. Totals have been written down for me before me too.
When shopping, I have a focus on what I’m doing which means I’m not as aware of my surroundings. Another shopper may be trying to get my attention and I won’t know it. Someone will say, “excuse me” wanting to get by and I didn’t hear it. When it finally gets through my tunnel vision, I’ll let them know I don’t hear well. I used to say, “Sorry” but I’m trying to break that habit. We can’t help that we have a hearing loss no more than someone can help being blind. No apology should be needed.
Part of shopping is usually going out to eat. Restaurants have terrible acoustics because cement, tile and steel are easier to clean. This is bad on hearing aids, especially with all the background noise. It’s hard on speech to text apps too. With the pandemic, sometimes there’s plastic shields between booths and that helps a little. It is a complicated environment so a few quick tips are:
- Read the fine print and find out what’s included before the server asks questions.
- Give your complete order, including sides, salad dressings, etc.
- Eat at off peak hours to avoid all noise.
- Choose a restaurant where you know the routine.
- Be upfront about your hearing loss and tell them what you need from them.
Michele: Shopping taught me a lot about informing others of my hearing loss, my needs, and it is one of the ways I chose to learn to self advocate effectively.
There came a time in my 40s when I began to feel as if I was losing my independence. After a drastic hearing dip, and an entire year of unsuccessful hearing aid trials, I found myself leaning too heavily on my hearing husband and children. I hated the way it made me feel. My audiologist didn’t offer any help, other than a catalog with equipment for people with hearing loss (PWHL), so I decided it was up to me to figure out how to navigate a world I could no longer hear.
After the kids left for school one morning, I headed to an out-of-the-way shopping mall—I didn’t want to encounter anyone I knew—and went into every single store to practice telling sales people that I couldn’t hear. I tried labels (Hearing Impaired, Hard of Hearing, etc.) and found they failed to tell people what they needed to know about how I hear and what I needed for communication. I could visibly see the confusion on their faces as they tried to figure out what the labels meant. By the end of the day I had some results that I could take home with me and mull over. Better still, I became desensitized to stumbling and fumbling by the end of the day. The more I faced my discomfort, the less embarrassment and humiliation I felt at not hearing what someone said or getting tongue-tied while asking for what I needed.
By taking control and setting up the very scenarios I feared, unbeknownst to me, I was practicing exposure therapy, and it worked!
What I learned:
- Labels don’t work well, but using them is a personal choice that is never right or wrong.
- State your truth! Mine is: “I’m a lipreader and I need to see you speak in order to hear you.”
- When entering a store, tell the first salesperson you see what they need to know about you: “Hi, I’m deaf and won’t hear you unless you get my attention first. You can tap me on the shoulder.” Let them know you won’t hear them through the dressing room door.
- In the grocery store checkout, tell the person what they need to know at first eye contact. Anticipate routine questions (paper or plastic?) and instruct before being asked.
- We all have bad days when we aren’t at our best. Cut yourself a break.
- If someone is rude and makes a wrong assumption, let them sit within their own discomfort for a moment; it’s how they learn from the experience.
- Don’t apologize for being HoH or deaf.
HoHoHoH, Christmas Gifts for the Hard of Hearing
Below are the links for the technology Chelle talks about in the upcoming video podcast on Monday.
- TV listening systems
- Living room hearing loop, example: Oval Window Microloop III
- FM, Infrared and Bluetooth TV listening systems are also available. You can shop online using keywords: tv listening devices. Be sure to read reviews before buying and compare prices.
- Personal amplifiers:
- Alerting systems, for hearing the phone ring, doorbells, smoke alarms and more. Example given: SquareGlow and be sure to look at HomeAware by Sonic Alert. I know of several people who use this system too.
- Speech to Text app subscriptions
- Neosensory Buzz Band uses haptics for your environmental sounds. “Feel sound on your skin. Buzz captures the sound around you and translates it into rich vibrational patterns.” Visit their website for more information. Neosensory is offering a 10% discount on the Buzz band, here is the promotional code: hearlive
We hope your holiday shopping is a fun experience rather than something you dread. If you’re looking for more ways to make shopping less stressful, feel free to contact us. Happy Holidays!
View our companion podcast here.