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Communication Practices Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Personal advocacy

Tour of the Coffee Shop

Via the Hard of Hearing Person’s Perspective

By Chelle Wyatt

Good afternoon and welcome to a session of Hearing Loss LIVE!’s Tour Guide to the Hearing World. Join us as we travel through the land of the hearing, where English sounds like a foriegn language and people don’t look at you while talking. Also, there are also those curious people who mumble and others who talk 100 mph. Together, we will journey through the land of masks, dodge communication disasters and create more awareness. Pull up a seat and enjoy our tour through the land of the Hearies, who don’t always speak our language. 

My name is Chelle and I’ll be your tour guide. This tour is not only intended for our Hard of Hearing community, but our hearing friends too. Everyone can join us!

Chelle, short spikey brown hair with long bangs, pastel colored dress and denim vest with an empty coffee cup in hand. Her other arm is raised, holding a wand that is pointing down to the cup.
Got coffee?

Today’s guided tour is the coffee shop.

Once again, we are visiting another tricky environment for those with hearing loss. (It’s not always easy for hearing people during busy times either.)  Coffee shops are built for the eye and fast, easy cleaning. They are not built for the ears. The harsh surfaces create a lot of reverberation – tiny echoes of sound that bounce around. Hearing devices beware! Before going in, change your device’s program to noisy settings. It will help. Now here we go…..

The noise greets us as fast as the smell of coffee. There’s music and my HoH ears want to name that tune as the Road To Nowhere by Talking Heads. What do you think? You’re right, that’s too old timey. It’s probably something more up to date. However, in my head I’m already singing the lyrics to Road to Nowhere and I’m sticking with it.

The next noise to say hello to my hearing aids are chairs sliding – more like grinding – across the floor. Ugh! It’s a horrible sound, don’t you agree? You do agree!  Oh look! There’s our hearing friend Julia in agreement too. 

Julia excited to be with us today.

Other noise includes blenders, ice clunking in metal containers. The oven. Drive-thru speaker. There is a few others near the front talking above the noise level which adds to the noise. Right now it isn’t busy and that’s what most of us with hearing loss do; go at off peak hours to avoid the extra noise.

Have you decided what kind of coffee you want? Yes?

Let’s get caffeinated!

“How can I help you,” the cashier asks.

“First, you need to know I use lipreading so I need to see you to hear you.” I tend to use the sign for lipreading when I say that. It helps reinforce my need for the visual. Occasionally, this backfires if they know enough sign language to outdo me. (I know enough to get by but that’s about it.) I run into more baristas who know sign language than anywhere else I go.

Gestures!

She nodded. Oh good! No extra words, she gets it. Gestures mean so much to us. Don’t you love it when people point to things instead of talking in these settings? This is not always the case. There are the talkers. If that happens, ask them to keep it simple and/or add gestures. 

“Large caramel frappuccino please.” (Always give your full order so there’s less questions.) 

“Anything else,” she asks. I anticipate that question, it’s easy to decipher even though I basically hear “Any el” because of my profound, high frequency hearing loss.

I shake my head. (This keeps up the language of gestures.)

Then miracle upon miracle! She truly gets it. She didn’t ask for my name. Almost always they ask for my name and I have to explain at least twice that I can’t hear my name. I’m deaf in noise. It takes a little bit for that to sink with most hearies but this girl’s got it! Aren’t we lucky today? Step right up and place your order. 

Orders all done? Okay, let’s huddle up while we wait for our coffee. 

When you get the difficult hearing people here’s what you do. Tell them two or three times you won’t hear your name. For some reason, it takes a little bit for that to kick in. Let them know they need to get your attention visually instead. A little wave will work or raise the cup and nod in our direction. The cashier sometimes forgets to pass this information to the barista so it’s not always dependable, unfortunately. 

Picking Up the Coffee

Speaking of which, I think this may be my order. The barista yelled out something while turning away. We know it’s not my name but I bet he yelled out my order. Let me go check. 

Stopping the tall barista, I let him know I’m basically deaf. He turns back around to look at me.  “Is this a caramel frappuccino,” I ask. He nods and I use the sign for thank you.

Did you see that  spark of understanding in his eyes?  Knowing a few signs can go a long way. Now I’ll add a little extra instruction.

“The next 5 people are also hard of hearing. It helps if you look straight at us when calling out the order.”  He nods. Pass that information along! Let’s help each other out as much as possible. 

When you get your coffee, let’s regroup at that large table near the back corner where we can sit in a circular fashion. That’s important in groups, it helps us all to lipread.

What’s that? Yes, we all lipread to some degree, trust me.  When everyone has their coffee, join me there and I’ll give you a few more workarounds in the coffee shop. 

(Side note: If the weather is nice and they have a patio area, sit outside. It should be easier to hear. Today is a little warm.)

Communication Repsonsibility

Now that everyone is here, let me give you a couple of rules. Since this is a noisy environment, it’s up to you to stop me, or anyone else, if you can’t hear what was said. I’m giving you the responsibility to ask for a repeat. When you’re with me, it’s always a safe place to ask for repeats. Second, one person talks at a time. This gives everyone a fair chance to hear and be understood.

Let me share a few more tips on leaving a name…

  • A lot of us have nicknames. In noisy environments, Chelle can sound the same as Sherry, Terry, Carrie and Mary. When I can’t depend on lipreading, I give my name as Michelle. I have a better chance at hearing that than I do Chelle.
  • Ask them to put “deaf” in place of the name. However, sometimes they still call out “Deaf!” Go ahead, roll your eyes. It happens.
  • Have some fun! Pick a fun name of your choice; Darth Vader, Superman, Wonder Woman, Scarlett O’Hara. When they call out the name, you’ll see people laughing and that’s your cue! Waltz up to get your coffee! 

When it’s so busy I can’t hear, here’s something else I do. I stand at the coffee pickup area and read all the labels on the coffee when it’s close to my turn. I get funny looks from people coming up to claim their coffee but oh well. If I’m too passive my coffee gets cold. I tell them I can’t hear and I’m looking for my name.

If I went to the coffee shop more often, I’d use that mobile order app. Looking at names on those cups isn’t taboo.  

Any questions for your tour guide? Be sure to share your coffee stories and tips with me in the comments below. We all learn from each other!

Remember this, it is a hard environment for hearing people too. They wouldn’t get names so wrong otherwise! In this article, baristas talk about how hard it is to hear there. They also note that hearing customers do not talk clearly and get impatience when too when they have to repeat.

LIVE! Coffee Tour

Hearing Loss LIVE! will be doing live coffee tours. You can catch us in Cheyenne, Omaha and Kansas City as we travel to the SayWhatClub Convention in Nashville. On the way back, we’ll stop at Little Rock, Oklahoma City and Albuquerque. If you are in, or near, one of these cities let us know and we’ll stop for coffee. We love meeting others from our tribe. Contact us through our website.

You can share your hearing loss coffee stories with us in person.