Shari Eberts: For deaf people, louder isn’t always better

Posted on January 30, 2017



I attended a fundraiser for Hearing Health Foundation a few years ago where Cyndi Lauper performed. At first, I was surprised at the choice of a rocker. Wouldn’t the music be too loud? Was that the kind of message a hearing loss organization should send? My worry was misplaced. The volume level was fun, but also safe, and Cyndi put on a great show.

I’m not sure Cyndi knew what to make of the reduced volume level though. “I don’t know why they asked me to play the music so quietly,” she said to the crowd in all seriousness, “since they can’t hear well, I thought they would ask me to play it louder!”

This statement made me laugh out loud, especially since she delivered it in her characteristic accent and style, but it has stayed with me all these years, because it is such a common misnomer — that making something louder solves all hearing problems. With hearing loss, louder is not always better.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Loudness is definitely an important component — whispers are killer — but once the loudness reaches a certain level, increasing the volume further doesn’t help and can sometimes make it worse. It is really the clarity of the sound that becomes important. And the context clues. Shouting is always counterproductive because it makes it much harder to read someone’s lips if they are distorted from yelling!

So what can help someone with hearing loss hear and understand better? Assuming the speaker is facing the listener, not covering his mouth while he talks and has done his best to reduce background noise, there are a few other things besides shouting that he can try.

1. Focus on speaking clearly. Try to not slur words together or speak very rapidly. While it may be fun, do not use different voices for comic effect. My kids like to talk in silly voices sometimes, but it makes it much harder for me to understand them.

2. Rephrase what you said. If I do not hear a certain word the second or third time, the chances I am going to catch it on the fourth or fifth try are very low. But a synonym might be easier to understand.

3. Spell a difficult word. Sometimes knowing the first letter of a word can make a big difference. Mention the first letter or write the word down. One of my friends sometimes uses finger spelling to help others understand a difficult word or name.

4. Ask the listener what would help. People with hearing loss usually know what works best for them. Just ask and they will give you some suggestions. Confronting the communication issues head-on can often make them less frustrating too.

Readers, do you agree that louder isn’t always better?

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com 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

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.

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