I have a hearing loss. For me some accents can be more difficult to understand and anything that isn’t an accent I’m used to or well-enunciated can prevent understanding. Knowing the accent helps me access models I have so I can map what I hear to the word they mean. Is there a way to ask someone about their accent without being rude or making a big deal? Is there a way to do it without bringing up my hearing loss stuff? Some people think it’s rude or attention-getting to mention disability.
And it’s especially hard in this kind of situation – people routinely claim to be unable to understand accents when what they really mean is that they can’t be bothered because they don’t really think they have to listen to foreign or disabled people.
I have the same problem with my difficulty remembering names and faces and learning to pronounce unfamiliar names. It is genuinely difficult for me – and it’s experienced as a microaggression by people who routinely deal with people who can’t be bothered to think their names and faces matter.
There is a strategy I’ve found that does often help with certain types of interactions.In my experience, people are more likely to be accommodating if I am direct and concrete about it, sympathetic to the problem my disability creates, and unapologetic about the disability itself. Approaching it this way doesn’t always work, but it does work better than anything else I’ve tried. In practice, this means I:
- Mention disability explicitly, in a tone that suggests that it’s a neutral fact of life and not something shameful
- Say explicitly that I want to do whatever it is we’re doing (but *without* saying anything along the lines of “I’m not making excuses but…” because that’s *always* interpreted as “I’m making excuses but want to be treated as though I am not”)
- Say something concrete that will make it possible for me to do whatever it is we’re doing.
- "I’d really like to read this article, but I won’t be able to follow in class with this font size. Can you give me a large print or electronic version please?“
- "I have trouble with my hands and I don’t think I’ll be able to write this out – is there a way I can do it on my computer?”
- “I don’t understand social cues very well – are you interested in this topic too, or would you rather change the subject?”
I wonder if it would help to say something like “I want to understand you, but I have a hearing loss and I’m having trouble understanding your accent. I’ve found that it sometimes helps if I know what type of accent it is – would you mind telling me where you are from?”
I’m not so familiar with hearing loss and how people react to it, so I don’t know if that would work. But it might be worth considering. Does anyone who has hearing loss or auditory processing problems have advice on this?