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Interview with Marion Ross, Mrs. Cunningham from Happy Days

Marion Ross

February 27, 2006

Topic: Communication Strategies for Persons with Hearing Loss
Dybala: Good afternoon Marion, I appreciate you spending some time with me today.

Ross: Glad to do it, Paul.

Dybala: Just for the benefit of our readers I would like to go through some of your career highlights. Marion Ross is best known for her performance as Mrs. Cunningham on Happy Days, but her total television experience is much broader, including several hundred appearances on different shows including The Love Boat, Night Court, Touched by an Angel, The Drew Carey Show, Gilmore Girls and That 70s Show, to name just a few. She has been nominated for 5 Emmy Awards and has also been awarded a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. Marion is also the official spokesperson for the town of Marion, Illinois (

Now Marion, I have to be honest with you. Growing up, I was a huge Happy Days fan and so I hope you will please forgive me if I accidentally call you Mrs. C.

Ross: (laughs) That's no problem at all Paul, it happens to me all the time. Happy Days was a wonderful, wonderful experience and I would not have traded it for the world.

Dybala: Thank you! I am meeting with you today here at the Starkey Center for Excellence talking with people about their experiences with hearing loss. So often, the effects of hearing loss can be quite isolating and so we try to gather personal stories about this topic and share them with others on our web site. So would it be alright if we could talk about some of your experiences with hearing loss?

Ross: That would be no problem. I actually have a friend with hearing loss and so I am here supporting this person as they get tested and fitted with new hearing aids. Additionally, many of my friends have gotten some amazing help from Bill Austin and Starkey and so I simply wanted to come here and see everything! I was actually born not too far from Minneapolis and so it's also nice to come back and visit.

Dybala: Tell us about how your friend's hearing loss has impacted your relationship with them.

Ross: You know, the thing about hearing loss is that no one can see it. You simply can't look at a person and tell if they have a loss. Most people are so impatient and they just assume that the person with hearing loss is being rude, or they may even think that the person is slow witted, when in fact they simply can't hear!

Dybala: You're right, hearing loss is commonly referred to as an "invisible" disability.

Ross: Yes. I find that I will sometimes get frustrated with my friend as I forget they have a hearing loss. I have to constantly remind myself of that fact to make sure that I am communicating correctly with them. So, to answer your original question, I would say that sometimes my friend's hearing loss can add frustration and stress to our relationship.

Dybala: Have you ever gotten into an argument with your friend due to the effects of the hearing loss?

Ross: Oh yes, and sometimes it is over the silliest things, mostly it is due to a breakdown in conversation. I said this, but you thought I said that, or I didn't hear you. Even though these are really minor instances, sometimes they can add up and become a major one. This is why you really just have to be patient and try to communicate as effectively as possible.

Dybala: So what guidelines do you use for effective communication with persons who have hearing loss?

Ross: Well, they are really just a matter of trying to be extra polite to that person.

Dybala: Sounds interesting, can you give me an example?

Ross: Sure, you and I are sitting across from each other having a conversation right now. If I turned my back to you but kept talking, would you consider that rude?

Dybala: Well, sure!

Ross: Well, it would not only be somewhat rude, but for a person with hearing loss, if you don't face them, it makes it much more difficult for them to hear you and read your lips. This happens a lot more than you realize, you start to talk and then you get distracted and look around and before you know it, you're in another room! I think this happens especially when you are speaking to a close friend or spouse, you just get so comfortable with that person that you relax and don't think about these types of things. So, rule number one is, make sure that you face the person with hearing loss when you are speaking to them.

Dybala: Great example! How about another one?

Ross: Ok, well, do you think is it polite to shout at someone?

Dybala: Absolutely not.

Ross: Exactly. Shouting does not help if you are talking to someone who has a hearing loss, especially if they wear hearing aids. Shouting just makes things worse. What you need to do is make sure that you are talking at a steady pace and pronouncing your words properly. This will increase the odds that they can understand what you are saying.

Dybala: I love it! You are very correct that often the best thing you can do is to try and speak more clearly. Great examples!

Ross: Thank you!

Dybala: You know, I give this type of advice out to my patients, but I like the way that you have put it together in the context of simply being polite. It really ties it all together.

Well, sorry to say that we are about out of time, so I wanted to ask you one more question, as kind of message that you could give. If you had a simple piece of advice that you could give to a person who has a friend or family member with hearing loss, what would you say?

Ross: Be gentle. Hearing loss very often is such a gradual phenomenon that the person who has the loss is in denial. So you really have to be patient with them in getting them to come forward to get help. Even though it can be frustrating for you sometimes, it can be just as frustrating to them and so you need to be gentle and help them as much as you can.

Dybala: Great advice. I have to say for the record, that I know you as Mrs. C. and in my mind she was always one of the nicest, sweetest persons you could ever meet. I must say, you are even nicer and more wonderful to meet in person. It was a sincere pleasure talking with you today.

Ross: Well, thank you Paul, and the pleasure is mine.

About Starkey Laboratories

Headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Starkey Laboratories, Inc. is a worldwide provider of comprehensive digital hearing systems, including custom and standard devices, protection products, instrumentation and unique business solutions. Founded in 1967, Starkey owns the Audibel, Micro-Tech, NuEar, Omni and Qualitone companies and operates facilities in 24 countries. Starkey is the recognized world leader in the design and development of innovative custom digital hearing instruments.

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Marion Ross

Mrs. Cunningham from Happy Days