Shari Eberts: My tips for staying safe when out and about

Posted on January 16, 2017

I hear the giggles, the squirms, the muffled “Shhhs,” but the location of these sounds is a mystery. Are my children hiding in the kitchen? The bathroom? One of their bedrooms? I am pretty certain they are on that side of the house, but where precisely is unclear. We are playing hide & seek.

I walk past their hiding spot, and giggles erupt, but I don’t see them. I reverse course and walk right by them again. Hysteria ensues. My hearing loss makes it hard to pinpoint the location of the sound. I think that is their favorite part.

I am happy to play along with their games — they eventually give away their hiding spot when a limb or butt pokes out as they squirm — but in life, difficulty knowing where a sound originates can be a serious issue. Even a dangerous one.

Sometimes not knowing the location of a sound is just a minor nuisance, like when I am standing in the lobby of an office tower waiting for the elevator to arrive. I hear the “ding” announcing the elevator’s arrival, but is it to the right or the left? I can usually follow the crowd, but if it is just me, I swivel my head back and forth until I find it. No big deal.

Other times, it is more annoying. “Mom, mom, come quick!” she calls, but I don’t know where she is from the sound of her voice. “Where?” I ask. Her reply of, “I’m here,” does not provide the information I need either. Without a more specific location, like “my room” or “the kitchen,” it is hard for me to “come quick!”

More dangerous are things like crossing the the street, or walking in a crowded parking lot, or even strolling in the park. I can’t tell where the loud truck is coming from, or if there is a car pulling out of a parking space to my left. And the bikers that come up from behind in a flash in the park scare me to death! They assume that I have heard them coming and just buzz right by. It makes me cringe to think what would have happened if I had chosen that exact moment to step to the side.

Despite the difficulties, hiding in the house is not an option! Here are my tips for staying safe when out and about, even if you have trouble identifying the location of sounds.

1. Use your eyes. Look once and then look again. And don’t forget to look behind you or around the bend. Your eyes are your best bet for identifying possible hazards.

2. Make sure you have an unobstructed view. When it is cold or windy I like to wear hoods and hats to block the feel and the sound of the wind. But when I get to a street corner, I move the hood out of the way to get a better view. One time I didn’t, and my son had to yank me back to safety.

3. Observe as you go. Be alert to your environment as you walk. Are people slowing down at the street corner or speeding up? Are the walkers in front of you shifting to one side of the path suddenly? These extra clues can help you gather information your ears are missing.

4. Do your research ahead of time. Are you going to a park or walkway where bikers are allowed? See if they have a special lane or area just for pedestrians that might be a more fun place to stroll.

5. Ask your companions for backup. Make sure your friends and family alert you to any strange noises in the area. Hopefully, they are already in the habit of doing that, but it can’t hurt to remind them if you are heading into a more challenging situation than is typical.

Readers, can you tell where sounds originate?

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter

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