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Tips for people with hearing loss navigating services and public spaces

I’m Beth and I’ve had a moderate-severe hearing impairment in both my ears since I was born. My parents discovered it when I was five, and since then, I have worn hearing aids and have become a masterful lipreader! My lived experience has shown me that navigating public spaces – for work or play – can be incredibly daunting for those with hearing loss. This can be severe enough that anxiety can stop deaf people like me from going out at all. So I want to share my tips to help people with hearing loss overcome these challenges and find ways to experience joy in going out!

While I am a natural introvert, I have an active lifestyle and I enjoy seeing friends, embracing cultural experiences and possibly most of all – eating out! However, because of my hearing loss, I often feel reluctant and slightly anxious about the unknown; Can I get there safely? Will I be able to hear properly? What if I miss something? Will I become exhausted from lipreading? Worst of all, will I feel like it’s been a complete waste of time?

Beth with a marathon runner

Filled with all these questions, I find that a bit of planning goes a long way to helping me feel like I want to go out, empowered to do so, and ready to have a great time just like everyone else. Whether I’m going to the cinema, theatre, a restaurant, or even to the doctor or hospital, this can make a really big difference to my experience.

To start planning, I usually start by asking myself this key question:

What can I do to make my experience easier when I go out?

 I often break this down into more specific questions:

  • Is there anyone I can make aware of my hearing loss, so they can help me?
  • Is there any further information I can read, that would help me?

By asking myself these questions it helps me to imagine the best possible experience, and to start seeking any support I might need to make it happen, in advance. I’d encourage anyone with a hearing impairment to ask themselves these questions when they are planning their trip out.

Having asked myself this question, I’ve found a number of approaches and resources particularly useful for preparing, during and after my trips. You can find all my best tips for people with hearing loss below.

Preparing for the trip

  • Check AccessAble’s online Detailed Access Guides I’ll look at the Guides to:
    • View photos of the space, to see whether it is open plan (which can make it noisier), whether there is good lighting for lip-reading, carpets to help with acoustics, and whether there are outside seating areas – as these can have better acoustics (no echoing) and natural light during the daytime.
    • Find out whether there background music which can make it harder to hear – this is listed in the bullet points under the Venue in the Accessibility Guide for the venue.
    • See whether a theatre or cinema offers subtitled viewings or captioned or signed performances (under ‘Facilities for Hearing Impaired persons’) – often I also look at which shows all subtitled screenings in the UK.

Screnshot of AccessAble Accessibility Guide for a restaurant venue showing picture of inside and bullet points relating to accessibility of the venue.

  • Be aware of peak times – remember that restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and public spaces may be busiest on Fridays and Saturdays, so I try to avoid these times if I want to have a quieter experience, or consider going in a smaller group so that I can lipread more easily.
  • Read up in advance –  if I’m booking a restaurant, I’ll often check the menu in advance so that I’m not trying to make a choice while following a conversation with friends on the night. For the theatre, I might read a synopsis of the show which will help me follow the plot more easily.
  • Book guided tours for small groups – I often check the size of the group for a guided tour (which is often available on the venue booking site) – less than 10 people is preferable. I know that if there’s more than that, I’ll need to be particularly proactive about staying at the front near the speaker throughout.
  • Contact the theatre or cinema direct – to see whether there are accessible seats at the front, to book subtitled performances, or to find out about discounted rates or concessions for bringing a companion with me.
  • Take ear defenders – if I’m going to a live concert or show, I’ll take earplugs with me, as any sound above 80 decibels can feel very loud and risks damaging my hearing.

During the trip

  • Let them know I’m hard of hearing – when I arrive, for example signing in at reception for a doctor or hospital appointment, I’ll let them know I’m hard of hearing. If my name is going to be called and there is a risk I’ll miss it, I give them my mobile number so that they can ring me. If I’m at a museum or going for a tour, I make sure I tell the tour guide so that they can speak more loudly, and make sure I’m at the front before they start talking.
  • Ask for a chaperone – if I’m attending a medical appointment and may not be able to hear everything – for example if the doctor is wearing a face mask, I ask them to lower it so that I can lipread, or to have a chaperone or someone who is happy to translate or repeat things for me so that I can hear. I also ask them to write things down that I don’t hear.
  • If things aren’t working, ask if you can change seats – in a restaurant, if the background noise is too loud or lighting too poor, I explain that I’m hard of hearing, and ask if they wouldn’t mind us moving tables to somewhere quieter or better lit – musical chairs!


  • Buy a guide book or pick up a leaflet - often using the money I’ve saved if there was a disability concession for my ticket. This will help me fill in the gaps if I haven’t heard something!

 A photo of the National Trust guide book for Cragside, which I purchased from the gift shop after my trip there. They were also available to buy at the reception, to take around on the visit with me.

All of these strategies make the biggest difference to my experiences of going out! I hope my tips help demystify navigating public spaces for deaf people and those with hearing loss, educate them on the support available, and help others with hearing loss find renewed confidence in travelling and going out.

AccessAble Ambassador