Talking about Hearing Loss: Why Your Disclosure Method Matters

In Communication, Family & Relationships, Hearing Loss, Tips & Tricks by Dr. Michele Schultz, Au.D.

Dr. Michele Schultz, Au.D.

Dr. Schultz holds a Doctor of Audiology Degree from A. T. Still University, licensed in South Carolina and certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). She is a member of ASHA.
Dr. Michele Schultz, Au.D.

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Telling others that you have hearing loss can be hard. For some people it can feel like a sign of weakness or aging, while other people feel like it is intensely personal and private information. Disclosing your hearing loss does have distinct advantages however, and can help shape accommodations and make conversations and communication easier.

New Analysis

A new study from Duke University looked at disclosure strategies people with hearing loss use. After examining responses from 337 participants, researchers found three core strategies people use when managing their hearing loss and categorized them thusly:


Non-disclosure means a person does not mention the presence of their hearing loss or any accommodations that help them hear. Instead, people using non-disclosure will ask others to repeat themselves or speak louder.

Basic Disclosure

People who use basic disclosure will bring up their hearing loss and possibly talk about the source or reason for their hearing limitations. With basic disclosure, communication strategies and accommodations are not discussed outside the statement of hearing loss.

Multi-Purpose Disclosure

The most involved form of disclosure is multi-purpose disclosure, which also may provide the most beneficial types of responses. Multi-purpose disclosure means that a person with hearing loss talks about their hearing loss and also strategies and accommodations that can help them hear more fully.

Benefits of Multi-Purpose Disclosure

While all types of disclosure hold communication benefits for the person with hearing loss, multi-purpose disclosure may offer the most advantages. While multi-purpose disclosure involves the most personal information, it also proactively suggests the best accommodations for a person’s hearing loss. An informative and upfront approach, multi-purpose disclosure can be the fastest route to effective communication strategies. People in conversation with someone using multi-purpose disclosure are often very responsive and feel empowered to help maximize a person’s hearing through suggested strategies.

Benefits of Other Types of Disclosure

Of course, not every situation may call for multi-purpose disclosures. Quick, everyday interactions with strangers may be better suited for one of the other types of disclosure which are less involved and personal. While multi-purpose disclosure works well especially for people you will have involved conversations with, in some cases it makes the most sense to use a less nuanced approach, which can still improve comprehension.

Women and Communication

The Duke University study also found an interesting correlation with the way women approach their hearing loss. Researchers found women to be much more open to and adept at explaining their hearing loss to others, often employing multi-purpose disclosure. Statistically, women were twice as likely as men to talk about their hearing loss alongside accommodations to improve communication. The surveyed women also reported a generally positive reaction to multi-purpose disclosure saying it helped them feel supported and resulted in improved communication.

Disclosure Education

Disclosing hearing loss may feel uncomfortable to many people at first, but it results in improved communication and connection with others. Part of the recommendations of the Duke University study was to push education among people with hearing loss to help them develop disclosure strategies and become more open to suggesting accommodations.

In many cases, a person’s hearing loss is invisible. If it has not been treated, there is no visual indication that a person may have hearing challenges. Even when a person is treating their hearing loss with hearing aids, their devices are most often very discrete or virtually invisible to the casual observer. Without a visual indication of hearing impairment, disclosure becomes a more necessary strategy for effective communication with others.

Disclosing hearing loss can help make challenging settings more manageable, such as classrooms and workplaces. It can even improve conversations with family and friends and help people make more accommodating choices- meeting up at a quiet cafe rather than a bustling restaurant for example. While all disclosure techniques garner improved communication conditions, multi-purpose disclosure may have the best, most-lasting benefits.

Carolina Health and Hearing

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