Communicating with the Visually and Hearing Impaired

hearing-lossSource from 4imprint Healthcare News

The 2011 National Health Interview Survey reports that an estimated 21.2 million adults in America (greater than 10%) report either having trouble seeing—even when wearing glasses or contact lenses—or that they are unable to see entirely. And, approximately 20% of Americans report experiencing some sort of hearing loss—that equates to 48 million people. Although these sensory losses are most commonly associated with aging, they occur across all age groups.

Effective communication with those experiencing sensory limitations, such as hearing loss or visual impairment can pose some unique challenges to healthcare employees. Below are some tips that can help you and your staff better prepare by developing an awareness of some of the barriers to communication and ways to combat them.

Hearing loss
Hearing loss can range from mild to severe and can be attributed to anything including age, occupational hazards such as military combat and exposure to excessive noise at work, injury to the ear, infections and more. And hearing loss doesn’t just make things quieter, it can distort sounds and cause normal speech to sound jumbled and garbled.  

Try to be sensitive to patients who are hearing impaired. Instead of calling them by name from the waiting room, which they may not hear, extend the extra courtesy of walking out and tapping them on the shoulder to alert them you are ready to see them. Also, minimize background noise and be sure to face the person you are speaking to. Verify that the patient has indeed heard and understood you by watching for non-verbal cues like facial expressions and nodding.

The use of plain language, pictures and diagrams, and easy-to-read, written materials organized in a folder can provide a permanent reference to important information in case something gets lost in conversation. A pad for note taking and a magnet business card with important contact information should questions or concerns arise post visit can be helpful, too.

Visual impairment
A person is described by the National Federation for the Blind as visually impaired if his or her sight is bad enough, even with corrective lenses, that the person must use alternative methods to engage in normal activity. Here are some modifications that can be made to effectively communicate with the visually impaired.

Increase lighting in dimly lit rooms and approach the patient from their better vision side (if they have one).  Also, be sure to avoid shiny surfaces that reflect glare when possible. Print materials should be printed on a matte paper stock with sharp color contrast between text and background. Be sure to choose a large, easy to read type—and provide wide-lined paper and logo’d, felt-tipped pens or markers for easy note taking. Encourage your patients to wear their corrective lenses and discuss the importance of glasses being appropriately placed and clean. Provide a basket containing logo’d eye glass cleansing cloths to promote the benefits of clean lenses and magnifying glass bookmarks or cheater reading glasses to assist with reading fine print.

We hope these tips can help to bridge the communication gap when working with the hearing and visually impaired. Remember, improving communication with this population will make sure your efforts to provide excellent service and patient care will not go unnoticed. And your patients will thank you.

“Statistical Snapshots from the American Foundation for the Blind.” Blindness Statistics from the American Foundation for the Blind. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2013.

“Hearing Loss& Tinnitus Statistics.” Hearing Loss& Tinnitus Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2013.

Carlsen, Audrey. “The Real Sounds Of Hearing Loss.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 24 July 2013.

“Statistical Facts about Blindness in the United States (2011).” Statistical Facts about Blindess in the United States. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2013.

“The ASHA Leader.” Communicating Effectively with Elders and Their Families. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2013.