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Pardon? What? Nope. Can’t hear you.

7 April, 2010

I am currently deaf in one ear. Well, hearing impaired to be precise. It’s temporary (but please don’t ask for details). Anyhoo, my unexpected disability has helped me to experience the world quite differently and I thought – with the echos of Lisa Herrod’s impassioned, but much maligned, ‘diversity in UxD‘ presentation at Webstock rattling in my memory banks – I present my service and interaction experience of a partially deafened person.

My observations about my lack of hearing – two days in:

  • I feel responsible for people not knowing I can’t hear them properly
  • I feel embarrassed that I can’t completely hear people and so pretend I can by just smiling at them whether they’ve asked a question or made a rhetorical statement
  • I turn my full face towards people, and slightly incline my good ear towards them but in as subtle a way as possible so as not to draw attention
  • When I tell people I can’t hear properly I feel obliged to tell them the full story of why – that says more about me though – but I do feel obliged to explain
  • My senses aren’t heightened but my stress levels are because I can’t make out EMERGENCY…RUN!!!! sounds vs. someone dropping a book in the upstairs flat. This means I treat every unexpected sound as a potential RUN!!!! for at least a few seconds as I wait for the follow-up, as in NOWWWW!!!!!!! If there is no follow-up I assume it was naught
  • I look for visual clues in faces but I’m struck by how emotionless some people are
  • It’s very isolating – not just becuase all I can hear is my heart beating and blood pumping through one side of my head – it’s more that a chance encounter or comment in a lift is fraught with “I’m sorry?” “What was that?” or worse the three time “Pardon? Sorry? Nope, still can’t hear.” So I don’t initiate or join in.

From a service perspective I’ve experienced a couple of retail contacts I’d like to comment on. Let me point out now that upon reading this the earth will not shatter.

  1. Make it a not-big-deal for me let you know I can’t hear you
    When I worked in a shop we used to have a little cardboard folded dealy-o that you put on your till or counter that a deaf person could tap to indicate they were hearing impaired. I took little notice of it, and no-one ever tapped it – it was an art store and the hearing impaired were usually eccentric art ‘characters’ who shouted and expected your full/undying attention anyway. However, today in the chemist I could of used something to tap while the hush-toned chemist asked me about how I’d pay and fly-buys cards. I would have appreciated something I could just tap or point to – no fuss, no muss – let’s just get on with our day. Whatever happened to those signs?
  2. Every till should have the read-out facing the customers
    I can’t hear what you say, I can’t read lips, I can’t work out the price because it’s a prescription, and now I can’t even read the price because your screen faces you.  Plenty of shops have these sorts of tills, but even if a store doesn’t they could position the screen so that the customer could see the price. So simple, so empowering for the customer – any customer.  This would work for tourists too – can’t understand “trente-deux dollars et quatre vingt quinze cents” rattled off at speed? How about $32.95.

Tomorrow I have to talk to a telco about my bill (full charge for Feb because I bought the phone on the 28 Feb!! – there’s another service experience story). I shall internally observe a non-transactional more interactional service experience and report back. Perhaps I’ll even say “I’m a bit deaf in my right ear” and tap it.

By the way: The National Foundation for the Deaf has a nice friendly site. Who knew there was a Hutt Valley Tinnitus Society?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Meena Kadri permalink
    7 April, 2010 9:03 pm

    Deaf Aoetearoa ain’t bad either.

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