A few weeks ago I was introduced as someone who is deaf. I was taken aback and so was the person introduced to me. It was a very awkward moment, at least for two of us and for a second neither of us knew what to do. I got to thinking about introductions and the best time to tell others that your companion is deaf.
The short answer, unless you have agreed to this approach ahead of time, is you don’t! It is a better idea to let the person with the hearing loss share this information. As I now have a cochlear implant, I love telling people about it but I want to be the one to do it.
I was in my thirties before I was comfortable telling strangers early in the introduction stage that I had a hearing loss. Situations like the one described above were extremely uncomfortable for me. Introducing someone by announcing that they are deaf removes the choice from the person with a hearing loss. It can also be misleading. I remember just a few years ago someone introducing me as a person with ‘a little hearing loss’. I think she was trying to be kind but I don’t have a ‘little’ hearing loss. I am REALLY deaf!
Another reason for not leaping in with this information is, inadvertently or not, you immediately label the person and with a characteristic that is only a part of who she or he is. We are much more than our hearing loss. It should not be the primary identifier.
We generally know not only how best to describe our deafness but of greater importance, what helps. “Speak up” doesn’t always work, especially for good lip readers. Sometimes when others speak more loudly, their mouths become distorted and it is more difficult to lip read as a result. For me, speaking without covering your mouth and using your normal tone of voice is much better. I will let you know if I need help and what help I need.
The key issues here are clarity of message and choice. If the person you are with prefers that you explain to others that he or she can’t hear, that’s good. Otherwise, let us do the talking.