Creating a Visitable Home for the Holidays: Hearing Loss

Visitability is traditionally a concept that means creating a home that can be visited by people with mobility impairments.  This series of posts looks to expand this idea to include making homes visitable by people with a wide variety of common disabilities, functional limitations, or health conditions.  The key idea is that a home isn’t just built for one person or even one family, but should be welcoming to all people in the community who may want to visit.

The holidays are a time when the visitability of homes get tested. Grandma struggles to get up the steps to the front door, Uncle Jon trips over the bathroom rug, and Cousin Mary isn’t able to come because she is worried about how her child with autism will handle the crowd.  People often aren’t aware of the multitude of barriers that can make visiting others’ homes challenging, and often these barriers can stop some people from coming to visit altogether.

However, some simple improvements can be made to homes to increase visitability for a variety of people, making your home more welcoming to everyone.  While not all these ideas are true home modifications, they accommodations that are fairly quick and easy things you can do today.

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Top 5 Quick Ideas for Visitors who have Hearing Loss

Hearing impairment is in the top 5 disabilities reported in the US, so it is almost certain someone visiting your home this holiday season is affected. The Hearing Loss Society of America reports that about 20% of Americans report some hearing loss, with an increase to 33% of those over 65 years of age. 

Hearing loss can range from mild to profound. Most people with significant hearing loss wear hearing aides. The most common type of hearing loss comes with age and is the loss of hearing higher frequencies (higher pitches). 

Think about Social Interaction:

1.  Small gathering areas.  Open layout may be great for parties, but the amount of background noise can making it difficult for those with hearing loss to communicate and socialize. Create options for smaller gatherings that are away from the main crowd.  Ideally, this is a room enclosed with walls and doors to help block out background noise.  Set up seating to allow people to face one another as watching another person’s face can help to improve understanding of what others are saying (both by lip reading and through non-verbal cues).  Make sure there is enough light to see clearly.

2. Use soft materials.  Soft materials absorb sound and decrease background noise, which allows conversations to be better heard.  Soft materials can be in the room decor- things like carpet, curtains, and soft furniture- but also in specific areas- rugs on entryway floors, table cloths on the dining table, and felt pads on the bottoms of chairs.  Dining in large groups can be particularly challenging, so be creative in decreasing background noise in this setting.  Some people even choose to use paper and plastic dining ware to decrease sounds while eating.

3. Turn off the background music.  As lovely as Christmas carols can be, anything making background noise will make it hard for people with hearing loss.  This includes TVs, radios, music, but also fans/heaters.

4. Use technology.  If the family enjoys watching a sports game or favorite holiday movie together, offer to turn on closed captions.  Even better is to set-up several sets of wireless headphones for guests who may need them.

And a few safety things…

5.  Safety.  If you have guests staying with you overnight, please check if they need any additional accommodations.  Often doorbells, telephones, carbon monoxide detectors and fire-alarms can’t be heard (especially when hearing aides are removed at night).  Most of these devices have visual alert options that can be installed with minimal work.

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Open concept layouts can lead to too much background noise to hear well.

Smaller rooms with seating facing each other can make socializing easier.