Living Well with Hearing Loss

Maximizing communication and improving the lives of individuals with hearing loss

Communication breakdowns can occur anywhere, to any one - 1/20/2015

The other day I went rock climbing with some friends and I was reminded of the dangers of miscommunication and the need for appropriate repair strategies in order to ensure the safety of others.  

When climbing a rock wall, one person climbs while another person belays (holds the other end of the rope in case the person climbing falls).  It is important for the climber to communicate to the belayer about when they are taking a rest, if they need more slack in the rope, or when they are ready to come back down.  If there is a miscommunication there could be a plethora of safety issues, such as the belayer allowing too much slack and the climber unexpectedly falling and hitting the wall.  

I usually do not have a problem communicating while I climb, but on this particular day it was rather crowded at the gym and it was difficult to hear.  In addition to the background noise, my partner who was climbing at the time would always try to talk to me while facing the rock wall, instead of turning his head to look at my face.  Needless to say, we experienced a few communication breakdowns that resulted in me belaying him down the wall when he really had just wanted to take a rest.  

This experience caused me to reflect upon the fact that communication is often difficult for people without hearing loss, and thus an actual hearing loss can only be expected to exacerbate an already challenging situation.  The bright side is that this situation could have been easily managed, if the climber had just known to turn his head and face me before speaking.  Not only would this have allowed a direct line of sound but it would have also allowed me to use visual cues and possibly read his lips.  

I believe that raising awareness about communication strategies, which are easy for everyone to participate in, would be a great service to the community as a whole, especially when addressing day to day safety concerns.

Submitted by Jaclyn Hellman