I am the kind of person that is quiet until I feel welcomed in a group of people, and even then, I still am relatively quiet until spoken to.

Important information to consider:

  • I am deaf with cochlear implants. The cochlear implants are hidden beneath my long hair. I understand a person if the room is relatively quiet, the person speaks clearly, and if I understand the topic well enough to make guesses towards what the other person might say next.
  • Background noise, like other members of the group chatting, exacerbate the difficulty of understanding one person.

I am thinking of a situation where more than three people are present, all are hearing, and all do not know sign language enough to be able to communicate with me directly using sign language.


When you say that you need time until you feel welcome, how long does that usually take?

For me personally, it does not take long. Feeling comfortable in a group can take one to three group meetings, and might even take only one, if the group is especially compatible. (Easy to understand, understanding people, we are respectful of each other, knowledgeable about whatever we talk about, and relatable to each other by experience, age, knowledge, etc.)

How do I make it known to the group that I need a little more patience to communicate with?


4 Answers 4


Have you considered approaching one or more of your friends and asking them to learn sign language? Perhaps you could offer to teach them.

I would broach the subject with the person with whom you feel the closest connection. Start off by explaining how much you like the group, and how glad you are to be accepted as a friend by them. Then state the truth - that your hearing is a major problem for you in a large group or when the group is at a restaurant, etc.

Ask if they would be willing to help you better integrate with the rest of the group by learning to sign, and then ask them to sign for you when the background noise is too much. You might also ask if you could be seated so as to face most of the group when you guys go out. This would give you a better view of the faces and lips of potential speakers.

While I'd guess my hearing isn't nearly as bad as yours, I also struggle when there's background noise. Years of loud music has done permanent damage to my ears. I just tell people, "Hey, can you face me when you talk? Otherwise I can't hear you." 99% of the time people are eager to accommodate, especially since they WANT to talk to a willing listener, such as yourself.

Maybe this group of friends will pick up on the signing of the one friend and even begin to learn a little sign language, themselves. All of this seems appropriate to me. If my circle of friends included someone who needed a little assist in certain circumstances, we'd be happy to spend what is a small amount of energy to accommodate them, because it's also ensuring the continued presence of that friend, which is an accommodation to us.


Since you probably don't want to stand up and announce it, based on my general experience I can think of two ways of discretely but effectively conveying this information:

  1. Tell one or two people ahead of time. Tell one of the talkative people in the hopes that they will gossip this information onto others, thus propagating the information. Choose someone who will be respectful when conveying this gossip.

  2. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are having trouble hearing, or worse you suddenly find someone staring at you expecting a response, just be honest. Point at your ear and explain you have trouble hearing and "would they please repeat themselves?" (ymmv with regards to the actual phrasing you use, its up to you though since you know the situation better than I do)

  • 1
    Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? Why do you say to take this course of action? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer. We require that answers provide some sort of explanation for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that.
    – kscherrer
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 9:45

This is not necessarily an answer to your question, but it may help because it is relevant.

I have a friend that also is deaf with cochlear implants, and they learned sign language to help mitigating the trouble of communicating. Similar to you, in noisy situations they do not hear very well. For me, it helps a lot that I understand that they are hard of hearing so that when we communicate, I can make sure to look them in the eyes, enunciate my words, speak loudly and clearly, make it easy to read lips, etc... This is an immense help for them to understand what I am saying since I do not know sign language.

One thing that I have noticed them do, is that whenever they introduce themselves/are introduced to new people, one of the first things they tell them is that they have trouble hearing. It may seem to be a bit embarrassing for you, but it helps my friend to make it clear from the start that they need some extra attention to hear properly. This way, when they do not understand or hear what you have said, it is significantly less awkward to ask for someone to repeat it/speak up/go somewhere quiet to talk etc...

This also helps because if somebody new comes over and you are introduced to them, then the person you are talking to can inform them, or you can inform them. It may seem uncomfortable, but most people are very understanding and they want to be accommodating so that they can get to know you!


I have seen people with hearing difficulties -- not even as severe as yours, but difficulties nonetheless -- cup a hand behind an ear (to focus the sound better) when trying to listen to someone in a noisy environment. This seems to be a near-universal signal for "I'm having trouble hearing you" and does not require that you say something up front. Instead, you can wait for the situation to arise, cup your hand, and say something like "sorry, I'm having trouble hearing in here -- could you repeat that?". If it keeps happening, somebody might suggest moving to a quieter part of the room. Note: even if cupping your hand that way doesn't help with your particular situation, I still suggest doing it because it's a visible "having trouble hearing" gesture that people will understand. When you're ready to have a conversation with them about your hearing, you can get into more details then.

That said, in my experience (from the abled side for hearing and the disabled side for vision), it's usually easier on everybody if you go ahead and mention your disability early on. I had a coworker who was deaf in one ear, which he told me the first time I sat on the "wrong" side and tried to talk to him. Most people want to avoid causing difficulties for others but can only do so if they know that there's a problem and what to do to correct it. While people with mental or cognitive disabilities are not always received well, in my experience requests to accommodate physical disabilities are generally received well.

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