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How to handle communication in water sports when the hearing devices come off

communication in sports

If you are an avid water sports person, you may find it challenging to communicate in a group setting when your hearing aids or cochlear implants are stored away in a case. 

As a barefoot water skier, I often find myself in situations where my hearing aids are riding in the boat cup holder and I can’t hear a thing when I’m out on the water. While many of today’s hearing devices are water resistant and even waterproof–there’s no practical way to keep hearing aids on at 42 mph. (Besides–the roar of the motor makes everyone deaf, anyway–advantage, me!) 

Read more: Navigating 50 States as a Deaf Barefoot Water Skier

Here are some of the ways I communicate when on the water (and in the boat): 

Gestures

Yes, good old gestures–they work. I find that when I gesture, it helps remind others that I’m deaf. Since I can’t hear the driver when I’m sitting in the water 75 feet from the boat, we’ve developed ways to communicate over the distance. So no matter your sport, create common gestures so that you can bridge the communication when you can’t hear a thing. And remind folks to tap you on the shoulder or connect visually when they want to communicate. 

Sign Language

If I’m working with someone that I’ll see over and over again–it helps to teach them at least the basics of fingerspelling and some signs. Fingerspelling is a wonderful way to spell out words that are missed or misunderstood. People can easily learn it in a day and use it in many situations. 

Phone Apps

These days most people have a smartphone and most are used to using voice-to-text apps. On the iPhone, I can pull up Notes or Evernote and have people speak into it. iPhone6s and newer have Enhanced Dictation feature–which allows real-time voice-to-text. I was in Nashville recently and another person introduced me to Deja Voice, another real-time voice-to-text app. If you use other apps–leave a comment and share below! 

Move Those Lips

For those who have the skill of lipreading/speechreading, it sure helps when people slow down just a tad from their normal 20,000 words-per-minute speaking. Ask people to slow down and face you when speaking–and to take turns if there’s more than one in the group.  If you can’t lipread for the life of you–be upfront and frank with others–switch to something that works for you. 

The Old-Fashioned Stuff

Yup, the good-ole paper and pen (or pencil, when around water) works. Of course, if you’re white-water rafting, you’d be wise to seal it in an Otterbox or Ziplock bag. 

What are some ways you’ve worked through communication challenges? 

Karen Putz

Karen was born with normal hearing and became hard of hearing after a bout of illness in elementary school. At the age of 19, she tripped over a wake while barefoot water skiing and cartwheeled into the water. She thought she merely had water in her ears, but being deaf was here to stay, thanks to a wacky gene in her family. Becoming deaf turned out to be a blessing; after she dried the tears, Karen decided to embrace life and a whole new world opened up.


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