Have you ever been to a place where hearing loss was the norm rather than the exception? Where hearing aids and cochlear implants were on proud display as far as the eye could see? Where your hearing issues were a source of connection rather than division? I hadn’t, until I attended my first HLAA Convention last week. It was a wonderful experience to feel included as a part of a community because of my hearing loss, rather than having it make me feel separate or different. Overall, it was time very well spent. I am already looking forward to the next one.
The opening session was inspiring as HLAA presented an award to Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa for his amazing track record as an advocate for those with hearing loss. It was great to celebrate all the advances that have been made for people with hearing loss over the past 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) first came into effect, yet everyone acknowledges there is still so much more that needs to be done. While the Senator is retired now, his fight for those with hearing loss continues. We are so grateful to him for his efforts.
On Friday morning, there was an employment symposium that featured several companies that are leading the way in creating successful work environments for those with hearing loss. It is wonderful to see the strides that have been made, but many companies are well behind. I hope that people walked away from the symposium with ideas about how to ask for the accommodations they need in the workplace. At a minimum they are armed with best practices from other companies.
The most interesting part of the presentation for me was the notion that while most managers in the workplace mean well, many do not have a good understanding of hearing loss and its associated challenges. It is up to those of us with hearing loss to help guide them to the right solutions by being open about our hearing loss and asking for the tools that we need to excel in our job functions.
The exhibit hall was interesting, with most major hearing aid and cochlear implant companies represented. There were also several niche products on display. Most were offered at discounts, but there was no pressure to buy at all. I was personally intrigued by the phones that offer live captioning and will likely order one, especially since they are free with an audiologist note. Another interesting product allowed you to install a TV speaker into a lamp. That could really help with watching TV by bringing the speaker much closer!
But far above everything else, the highlights of the convention for me were the unscheduled conversations with old and new friends with hearing loss. It was wonderful to see how we all spoke clearly, faced each other, and repeated ourselves with no sense of embarrassment or annoyance. It was just the norm. I felt proud to be a part of this community of incredibly diverse, intelligent, and fun-loving people, most of whom I would never have met if it were not for my hearing loss.
Readers, do you feel a connection to the broader hearing loss community?