The future role of the audiologist calls for a shift to that of the communication specialist. In order to help clients maintain successful communication throughout their lives, your role has to include helping clients advocate for themselves outside of your clinic. Improved communication and a plan for handling different situations are the first steps in self-advocacy.

Not just a hearing loss

Ida Faculty Member Sam Trychin famously said that people don’t suffer simply from a hearing loss, but from a communication loss. Technology can do a lot to help improve a person’s hearing, but other strategies need to be ready for the times when technology is not enough to improve communication. Every person with hearing loss has a different lifestyle. By discussing with your clients what situations they need to improve their communication in, you can draw up individualized communication plans for them. The sample questionnaire below, provided by Ida Advisory Board Chairwoman Louise Hickson, is an idea for how you can evaluate your clients’ difficulties, and what strategies they are already using.
The communication plan you draw up with your client will include a number of different strategies for different scenarios. The strategy below – also provided by Louise Hickson – is just one way for a person with hearing loss to address their difficulties to someone who may not be familiar with his or her condition.

Louise's example of a communication strategy:

  • Be willing to admit to a hearing problem
  • Be willing to explain the problem to other people
  • Be able to suggest ways they can help
  • It is common for people with a hearing impairment to want to “hide” it from others. This may lead to problems when you misunderstand something. The person you are talking to may think you are not interested, not paying attention, or not very intelligent.
  • One solution is to tell the person you have hearing problems: “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand what you said because of my hearing loss. It would help if you would speak just a little slower.”
It is important that family, friends, and/or carers are present when the person with hearing loss is working on their communication plan. Communication partners have insight into when a PHL is successful, and when he or she struggles to communicate. Communication partners are also key allies in supporting the client, and reinforcing the strategies. Audiologists should collect evidence and testimonials of their clients’ successes with hearing aids and communication plans. This evidence will serve as a useful illustration for new clients who may not have a clear initial idea of what work is involved in improving their communication.

Bringing people with hearing loss together

A hearing care professional isn’t limited to connecting with clients, or re-connecting clients with their families. Audiologists are also intermediaries who can connect people with hearing loss to each other. GROUP AR is an effective way to help clients strategize ways of coping with their hearing loss, to learn how to explain their hearing loss to others, and to offer emotional support to them and their communication partners by putting them together with people like them.
Beyond GROUP AR, consider facilitating support groups for family members, or at least be ready to refer them to someone else if they are having difficulty coping with their loved one’s hearing loss. This might mean in-person support groups, or an online forum on your clinic’s website or linking to another established online community. The HLAA, for example, provides information on local chapters as well as online resources where PHLs can find support. There is also the potential to run Group AR sessions online using Skype meetings or Google hangouts. The number of participants in each session can be limited the same way an in-person session would. This may increase attendance rates for those who are unable to attend in-person sessions because the meetings are at inconvenient locations, obligations at home, or limited mobility. It also increases the opportunity for communication partners to attend as well.

Feeling inspired? Add these ideas to your Future Plan.