Hearing Impairment

Hearing loss is a kind of physical impairment. It involves the total or partial loss to hear sound in one or both ears. There are many causes for hearing impairment but roughly they can be divided into two categories.

Conductive loss:

This occurs normally when the three tiny bones of the ear fail to conduct sound to the inner ear or when the ear drums fail to vibrate. Conductive loss is normally reversible it can be caused by a variety of reasons. Some of them could be infections (meningitis, mumps, measles etc), occupational hazards involving exposure to loud sounds on a day to day basis, presence of foreign bodies in the ear, ear infections, build-up of wax. A very common type of conductive hearing loss is otitis media.

Nerve loss:

This occurs when the nerve is injured by physical or other means. Most children born with impaired hearing have a neural loss however this can be acquired anytime during life by diseases, injury, toxic effect of drugs or simply by ageing. Neural losses are usually irreversible but a lot can be done in the form of compensation with hearing aids.

Hearing Impairment

Hearing Impairment [Illustration by Shiju George]

People with hearing impairments use all forms of communication for comprehension. They lip read, follow face expressions and hand gestures and use whatever residual hearing they have to understand what is being said to them. They tend to read the whole face from the shoulder up and are very aware of all small changes. Thus while talking to a person with a hearing impairment we must keep the following things in mind.

  • Talk at a normal voice level and speed.
  • Do not exaggerate lip movements while talking.
  • Use short words and sentences while talking rather than complicated sentences since they normally lack language skills.
  • While talking use a lot of gestures if the person does not only lip-read. (For somebody who only lip-reads, gestures can be distracting.)
  • Give verbal and non-verbal cues when giving directions.
  • Ensure that light is falling on your face and you can be seen clearly.
  • Avoid coming up suddenly behind a person with a hearing disability.
  • A hearing disability does not affect the intelligence of a person.Other than operations in certain cases the managing of a hearing loss involves using hearing aids and in certain countries learning a standardised sign language format. Although a hearing loss is a disabling condition, very few people seek help in this direction. By and large there is a social stigma attached to hearing aids that are looked upon as a sign of old age and deteriorating health.