Why Is It Still OK To Make Fun of Hearing Loss?

“Do you mind if I switch seats with you? I have a hearing loss and it would help if I had a better view of the speaker,” I asked a well-dressed man at a recent lunch meeting. “What?” he replied with a smirk, not because he didn’t hear me, but because he was making a joke. Seeing my grim smile in return, he continued, “I guess you have probably heard that one before.” That is an understatement.

If I had asked him to switch seats because I had trouble seeing or because I was recovering from surgery and needed extra space for my bandaged foot, I don’t think I would have gotten a joke as the reply. In this modern world, where making fun of people based on race or religion or mental stability is no longer tolerated – and rightly so – why is it still ok to make fun of hearing loss?

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog


I believe it has to do with the stigma surrounding hearing loss. You can read more about that here. People with hearing loss are often seen as “old” or “slow” or “rude” or “out of touch” and “not worth the time.” People sometimes complain to me how frustrating it is that their aging mother or father can’t hear them, or that they have grown weary of constantly repeating themselves, and I can understand how they must feel. Hearing loss is hard on the entire family. But I don’t like when they tell me they wish their loved one would try harder to hear. Can a blind person try harder to see?

Maybe I am being too sensitive. As Tracy Morgan once said,

“We need to learn to laugh at ourselves because when you don’t laugh, you cry. And I don’t feel like crying.”

Source: Brainyquote.com

I agree, but the fact remains — hearing loss is the last disability where insensitivity is still socially acceptable.

Is this because hearing loss is often associated with getting older? Statistics tell us that this is not actually true. According to the Better Hearing Institute, 65% of people with hearing loss are below age 65. Also, 20% of teenagers now experience some form of hearing loss. But the association remains. You can find more hearing loss facts here.

I recently attended a conference, where the topic of growing older was on the agenda. One of the speakers, Lynne Spreen, blogs frequently on the topic of ageism. In her talk, she shared several examples in which older folks were portrayed poorly. For example, in the tablet ad below, how would you feel if it said, “A tablet so simple even a woman can use it.” Or, imagine replacing the word old in these ads with the name of a racial or religious group — it would transform the sentence into a slur! You can read her original post here

So what can we do to break the stigma of hearing loss?

1. Keep talking about it. While much has been written lately about the fading stigma of hearing loss now that wearing Bluetooth type devices on the ear is commonplace, I’m not sure I am convinced. If hearing loss is still the punchline of a joke, the stigma remains.

2. Refute the stigma by leading our vibrant and engaging lives with our hearing loss and hearing devices proudly on display. Encourage others to do the same.

3. Educate the public about the challenges of hearing loss and advocate for public policy changes instituting accommodations for people with hearing loss in public spaces and including hearing devices in insurance coverage.

4. Advocate for ourselves by demanding the accommodations we need and commending those businesses who provide them.

5. Vote with our patronage. There are 50 million people in the United States with hearing loss — this is a lot of potential consumer spending. Frequent businesses and service providers that are hearing loss friendly and avoid those that are not. Be sure to tell these businesses why you do or do not use their services.

Readers, do people make jokes to you about your hearing loss?

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80 thoughts on “Why Is It Still OK To Make Fun of Hearing Loss?

  1. Totally agree with you, though I don’t mind a good laugh at myself from time to time (it helps to clear the mind) but I don’t like others laugh at my supposed funny hearing loss. Laughing at some funny situations due to my hearing loss is perfectly fine for me, but laughing about my hearing loss is not oke. It is serious and needs to be taken seriously!

  2. What did you say to that crass man? Just curious.
    The quote from Tracy Morgan is poignant, because he has experienced the full range of What It Means to be Human (and thank God he is still alive and seemingly well.)
    The fact that people with hearing loss are stigmatized at all is appalling. Second, to stigmatize them due to a perceived similarity to older people is equally appalling.
    Thanks for enlightening us today. I’ll share this everywhere.

      • I have to tell you that the prairie dog greeting card was met with nervous laughter at the conference we both attended. I stopped in my presentation, stunned that the audience didn’t seem more offended. As I analyzed it later, I think they were shocked, uncomfortable, and not sure what to say. But they actually did laugh. Which shows you how much work lies ahead.

  3. Not to mention the fact that human beings seem to have this persistent need to make fun of somebody! I wish I understood that. A very fine post. As someone who gets jokes about hearing and old age — even from supposed allies — I thank you for it. Maybe change is coming In the meantime, yeah, we can only laugh.

  4. Hi Shari! Good for you for continuing to share the news about the stigma against hearing loss. As you know I too wear hearing aids and I’m only 60 years old. I continually tell people I wear them and make them a normal part of my day and I love to see the surprised looks on their faces when I do. That’s because as you say, people equate hearing loss with older age and I don’t think I reflect that at all. I do believe it is largely connected to ageism so the more of us that speak up against it the better. Times ARE changing…but slowly for sure! ~Kathy

  5. Thank you for sharing this information, I never realized people thought it was okay to make fun of hearing loss. How rude! I’m sorry you ever had to deal with that.

  6. What a GREAT and informative post! It definitely raised my awareness. This is much smaller in the scheme of things, but I have a facial recognition disorder (prosopagnosia) and often re-greet people I have every reason to know well. It’s AWKWARD. In the scheme of things, though, it’s manageable. But trying to explain that it’s a real thing, that I really DON’T recognize them despite our kazillion prior conversations, is weird. I still try …..

  7. Such a great point to all of this article. I grew up severe hearing loss, I would get all the comments like that, and not just kids picking on me (making gestures at my head with mocking sign language) in mainstream school but even adults in public would treat me like a burden, a crutch of a child. Comments constantly like, “Never mind it’s not important.” or, “Oh, I’ll tell you later”, or “you heard me!” or when I asked to have them repeat what they said they would just repeat it but louder at me like they were yelling at me and frustrated. I had a 75PTA and no hearing aids and went through my first half of my life that way until I was in my 20’s and got hearing aids and had surgery on one of my ears. Early detection, therapy, treatment, advocacy is all so important.

  8. Thanks for this article; it’s a subject I’ve also written about frequently. However, I don’t agree that most people think it’s OK to make fun of hearing loss. When people offer up a ‘what’, it’s usually not meant to be unkind, but as a simple offering of humour. People who don’t have hearing loss simply underestimate its impact.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Gael. I love reading your perspectives on these issues on your blog. Maybe I am being too sensitive, but unkind or not, I think these types of jokes perpetuate the stigma…

  9. I’ve been hearing impaired since birth, got my first aids at 29, and am now a hearing specialist by trade. I’ve been wearing and fitting hearing aids for close to 8 years now. It is shocking to me the number of people that make rude jokes to my face when I tell them I am hearing impaired and/or a hearing specialist. It is shocking to me the number of patients that come in making fun of hearing loss when they have it! Personally, having dealt with this all my life, I get angry and a bit confrontational.

    I tell people making fun of my hearing loss to my face, “Would you go up to someone in a wheelchair aid poke fun of them for not being able to use their legs? Then why do you feel it is acceptable to do that to me? My hearing loss is also a disability and just as much beyond my control.” Or if they have glasses, I call them out on it, “Look at you four eyes, you can’t see! Har har har. How’s that feel to ya? Not good? Well then don’t do that to me!” They often stammer and are quite embarrassed, and GOOD! Shame on them for being so rude and insensitive, and for perpetuating the culture that treats hearing loss as something to be ashamed of and made fun of. It’s not right and it needs to change NOW.

    So long as society continues to view hearing loss as shameful, the butt of a joke, and people who have it as “less than” compared to others, we will never solve the issue that causes 75%+ of those with hearing loss to just live with it and ignore the problem until it gets deteriorated to the point of unbearability. By then, so much speech understanding has been lost there’s only so much that we can get back. The best time to treat hearing loss is as soon as it starts happening, which helps us maintain better speech understanding and brain function even as the loss continues to deteriorate. Without amplification, our brain deteriorates due to auditory deprivation, increasing our risk of dementia, causing social isolation, depression, anxiety, embarrassment, paranoia, worsening health outcomes across the board, and leading to earlier mortality from all causes. For those of working age, they earn between $10k-$30k less than normal hearing counterparts. It’s NOT a no big deal type of problem, and I’m very tired of people treating it that way, telling me that “they hear fine” and they can “get by” without getting any help.

    It breaks my heart to see so many people who put off hearing help for many years, who wait until the problem is so severe, and spend all this money to try and get back to 100% but they can’t get anywhere close because they allowed the problem to get too bad before they ever got help. Then it’s always the “fault” of the hearing aids for “not working” and never the responsibility of the patient who waited too long before they ever got help.

    People also need to realize that when we put hearing aids in, we are NOT HEALING THE EARS. The damage in our ears still exists, we are simply trying to bring sounds up into their awareness, and trying to manipulate the sound to give them the best chance to understand it possible. Until such a time as medicine is capable of healing the damage in our ears, hearing aids will always only be our second best option after having normal hearing, and it will always be more difficult for us to comprehend because of the distortion in our hearing that still exists. That’s reality, folks. We need to comprehend it, understand it, and be proactive about dealing with the realities of hearing loss and the treatments and accommodations needed to deal with it.

    Stop making fun. Get YOUR hearing checked (at least once every 5 years as an adult, and every other year after you hit age 50). Get help AS SOON AS YOU DEVELOP A HEARING LOSS, because your best hearing for the longest period of time is achieved by getting help early and maintaining the essential sound stimulation your brain needs to understand the world. Finally, if you witness anyone poking fun of hearing loss, speak up. It is just as unacceptable as making fun of someone for being paralyzed, blind, of a different race or religion, or otherwise disabled or different.

  10. My daughter has had a hearing loss since her early teens. In December she had Cochlear Hybrid surgery. This is relatively new (the hybrid) in the U.S. and can take up to a year for her to get the results she needs. And this will still not be normal hearing but hopefully an improvement from what she had before. Hearing loss is not a joke and is not only for the elderly. If anyone would see their child go through this struggle as I have, they would never joke about it.

  11. And then there is the other silly questions asked: ” what part didn’t you hear?”

    Umm, how am I supposed to know what I did and did not hear from your sentence. Actually I may have heard some of it, but what if i heard it wrong and so please just KINDLY repeat the whole sentence.

    On Saturday i came through the Canada/USA boarder via car, the customs officer was facing away from me, staring at his computer while asking me questions, i finally said “I am sorry, I have hearing loss in my left ear and i didn’t catch what you asked me. (heck at the border crossing i WANT to make sure i am answering yes when it should be yes and no when it should be no and not vice-versa)

    His response was to give me a dirty look and say “what part didn’t you hear” How am i supposed to know what part I did not hear! that is the problem, I knew he was speaking but could not hear him.

    Love your blog Shari and hope you don’t mind that i have re-posted a couple of them to our blog also.
    Keep up the awesome work!

    • I have a canned reply for people who ask “what part didn’t you hear?” I respond with “the part where you were just speaking.” (Yeah… wait for it…. ahhhhhh… the light goes on.) I say it nicely, in a level, conversational tone. I don’t try to be snarky, but simply to make the point. If I just told you I missed it, how would I possibly know what I missed? Ohh. Right.

    • This is so often a huge part of the problem, it’s not just my hearing loss … diction and clear speaking, civility and proper communication are a thing of the past. A doctor asked me about my hearing loss while mumbling into a computer facing away from me. YES, I have hearing issues when YOU mumble.

      • I recently made an appointment with an ent for an ear infection. He had me remove my hearing aids, put drops in my ears, then cotton balls.
        Then he started asking questions, etc….that was my last visit to that ent.

  12. Making fun of someone with a hearing loss is very rude. Those of us who are hearing impaired need to be advocates and educate others. I share an office with another woman. Her desk is in front and mine is in back. People tend to stand in front at the door and talk and I can’t hear well from that distance. Plus there is a partial wall dividing the room which I believe prevents my direct microphone from picking up the sound. I generally ask people to please come into the room if they need to talk to me because I have a hearing impairment. When I asked one gentleman to do that he made a joke about it and it was if he didn’t believe me. I felt very annoyed. Perhaps I am being too sensitive but when someone speaks up and asks for a little consideration because of a hearing loss it seems others could be a little kinder.

  13. I have been invited to present a workshop at the Hearing Loss Association of America Convention 2016 entitled “Laughing with Hearing Loss”. You can read the description at http://www.hearingloss.org/content/2016-schedule – mine is the last workshop on Saturday, June 25th.

    In addition to researching humor therapy and gathering materials for my workshop, it has been a privilege to correspond with cartoonists from all over the world, many who are hard of hearing or have family members with hearing loss. They have been able to translate some of the absurdities of life into cartoons that enables people to laugh WITH them.

    In reply to the title of the article, it is NOT okay to make fun of hearing loss. But that does not mean hard of hearing people should be humorless about it either. Hearing people making a joke about it does not necessarily perpetuate a stigma about hearing loss.

    We bond through the shared experience of mutually finding something amusing, and it adds to the enjoyment of life. Laughter is a social activity that connects people and can diffuse awkward situations. It can be an appropriate response to challenges which are not inherently amusing, relieving stress, helping us to cope, and it feels good. Being able to look at the humorous aspects of living with hearing loss in a positive way can improve your sense of humor.

  14. I disagree. Everyone should just lighten up. Obviously the guy in the example did not know what to say. Maybe he could have said it better but he wasn’t being mean. And don’t ask for favors until after you know there is a problem. And yes I do have hearing aids plus glasses

  15. Thanks for this!

    Just had a conversation today with HR and my new boss about my hearing impairment. I transferred internally to a new department with all new employees. My old department knew I was hard of hearing as I had informed them in a meeting. My new department does not and they have already made some derogatory gestures.

    I hate the same old tired ass jokes! You should have told him, “How original?”

    I was either born with diminished hearing or it occurred at a very early age. I’ve been this way my whole life. I wasn’t born old. When people makes comments about how they understand because their hearing is going, now that they are getting older, I get perturbed because having good hearing all your life versus not having good hearing, learning to speak, having a speech impediment, trying to learn every subject in a large classroom, and then joining the workforce is a big difference to becoming hard of hearing in your later years. Having it for 52 years versus becoming HOH at 52 years it a BIG difference! Not that I don’t sympathize because I do. And we should not have to lighten up. Living with my hearing impairment is not a joke. I don’t have a choice in the matter. It is who I am.

    The only ones who truly understand are those who are HOH or deaf. Everyone else, please be seated.

    • Let me share one more example.

      During the meeting with approx 75 – 100 people last week, a supervisor got up to speak and said he was “practically deaf” in front of everyone. There was laughter among the group (which includes several managers/supervisors). I think this was because he was sick with sinus cold or something like that.

      Saying “you are practically deaf because you are suffering from a temporary cold or sinus congestion when in reality you probably don’t even qualify for a mild hearing loss is disrespectful to the HOH and deaf community. In addition, deafness is permament. And it really isn’t a laughing matter. I truly think if he went deaf in one day, he probably would not be laughing about it. But then the joke would be on him.

      In additional, we wouldn’t say we have a speech impediment if we twisted our words while speaking in a meeting among our coworkers or say that we are practically crippled while standing in front our employees, especially if one of our employees were sitting in a wheelchair in the meeting. Or say we are practically another ethic group or race, or practically straight or gay. So saying your are “practically deaf” is not cool.

      I have lost 50% percent of my hearing and if I lose another 25% I will be almost deaf and I don’t even say I am practically deaf.

    • (Jumped here from a link on PicnicWithAnts) — In reply to the comment by OneWomansChoice:

      Really not trying to make it sound like a “who’s got it worse?” competition: Although I don’t have to struggle with hearing, I can r-e-a-l-l-y relate! I’ve been working with the attentional spectrum disabilities community for over 25 years (and consider myself The ADD Poster Girl) and, as much as I appreciate publicity about attentional issues, I can’t tell you how much all the recent books about how TOUGH they think it is when those symptoms appear as the Baby Boomer population gets older *really bugs me.*

      The text below is from one of my older posts [Got Memory?]. Replace a few of the terms below with those relating to hearing loss vs hearing impairment from infancy or childhood, and I’ll bet you could say these things yourself:
      . . . I have to tell you that it’s a real challenge to drum up sympathy for these Johnny-come-lately functional fears and struggles, or admiration for their optimistic resolve, knowing that the authors were able to write from a backlog of decades of functional ease that most ADD/EFDers would trade ten years of their lives to have experienced.

      It is ESPECIALLY hard for me to join the applause of the columnists and talk-show hosts when I realize that these authors haven’t a clue about what might have happened to the trajectory of their lives if they’d never been able to count on functioning one whit better than they do on their worst days now that they are older and less cognitively nimble.

      * Would they have the wherewithal to go trotting from interview to interview, financial and otherwise?
      * Would they have been able to jump through their educational hoops?
      * How about the negative impact on their relationships, their credit scores, their abilities to keep their home-fires burning, and the hit to their self confidence?

      Forgetting about the past, let’s take a look at the climate surrounding their struggles in the present tense.

      * Nobody’s ridiculing their experiences or their desires for control of their relatively new symptoms;
      * Nobody’s suggesting they wouldn’t have a problem if they just tried harder, or really WANTED to do what they say they suddenly find difficult.
      * Nobody’s accusing them of hyperbolizing or of drug seeking behavior.

      *ALL* of which those of us with ADD/EFD have had to contend with for our ENTIRE lives.

      In common with your community and the subject of this article — my community is laughed at and about ALL the time! You can barely watch a TV show without being exposed to some supposed-to-be-funny reference to ADD as a comment about some kind of stupid behavior or thought – so you are not alone in your frustration!!

      (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
      – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
      “It takes a village to transform a world!”

  16. Those of us with some degree of hearing loss must assume some responsibility for the attitude that it’s OK to make light of people with hearing loss. We have been too silent for too long. I am relatively new to this discussion but it doesn’t take long to realize that there is a serious imbalance in attitude toward deafness to whatever degree one might have and other disabilities. I am encouraged by the current on-line discussion from people like you, Shari. A lively exchange along with an active advocacy for the hearing impaired is essential to real change.

    It isn’t easy to have to speak up for what you need in a restaurant, a train or airplane or even a discussion in which you want to participate. When enough of us speak up, the joke will be over.

  17. I recently started my German Blog, Ich bin Schwerhörig, na und? in english as well I’m hard of hearing, so what? (www.hardofhearingweb.wordpress.com). And I linked your blog on my page Other Blogs/Websites, if that is oke with you.

  18. hi.. you made a good points but we need to accepts the fact that we hearing impaired should learns how to laugh at some of our jokes in the situations we gone through in our daily life and maybe the isolated one will proudly accepts who they are. #bless

    • I agree that keeping your sense of humor is critical. A lot of funny things happen because of hearing loss, but the joking should not be a knee jerk reaction in my opinion. Thank you for your comment.

  19. Hi,
    There is no right for anyone to laugh at other people disabilities. People sometimes are cruel and insensitive.
    Bring awareness is important. Some of the hearing loss can’t be corrected by wearing the hearing aids.

    Thanks for the post!

  20. Hope you don’t mind I’m sharing a link to this article on my blog picnicwtithants.com
    I wanted to let you know before it came out just in case you don’t want me to publish is.
    It is a posts about some great articles I’ve read lately.

    I’ve been talking about this post for a days, thanks for writing it.

  21. Thank you so much for writing this post, especially your five tips about breaking the stigma of hearing loss. My sister is going deaf very slowly and I definitely think that she needs to learn how to be a better advocate for herself. However, what should she do if certain accommodations aren’t made for her when they should be?

  22. I hate when people say “what” and they actually heard me. As someone with hearing loss, I understand what it’s like to be on the other side, and how scary it can be to ask someone to repeat themselves several times. So whenever other people, whether normal hearing or not, ask me to repeat myself, I usually try to be kind and answer them as many times as they need. When someone doesn’t actually need that clarification, they’re taking advantage of me patiently replying time and time again. Not only that, but it feels like they’re mocking me. Is that what they feel I sound/act like when I don’t hear them and ask for clarification? It’s not funny; it’s rude and very hurtful.

  23. Yea people that make fun of hearing loss really don’t know what it’s like at all. Problem is most people will get it as they get older.

  24. I have been hearing impaired for most of my life. It started out as mild to moderate; thirty five years later it is now moderate to severe. I just want to add that In my past experiences hearing impairment has been a useful gauge with reading first impressions of other people’s character. It makes a great warning sign as to how toxic and small they are as people. All their silly and ignorant deaf jokes. Its so moronic! There are so many loving people out there who understand and care. And those nice people are the ones we get to hang out with.

  25. I have hearing loss. My problem is that I can only afford very cheap hearing aids and they make my ears stick out and I look like an idiot. I also have rotten teeth, so when I talk to people I tend to not open my mouth much because my teeth are black and my mouth smells horrible.

    People tease me about this and I know I don’t look nice, but it is soemthing I can not help.

  26. I have seen Costco hearing aids. What happened is that I have been hearing impaired since I was little. My parents always just got me used hearing aids and they were the big kind that fit behind the ear, so my ears permanantly stick out. I’ve never really held a job for more than 2 years, so I don’t get insurance and can only afford big behind the ear ones. What I don’t like is that I have no friends and I really don’t mix in with other people, so I stay to myself. It’s hard sometimes.

  27. I would NEVER mention anyone’s weakness, whatever it was. It really burns me when I’m criticized for not hearing what someone has said, and they haven’t accomplished one-tenth of what I have. Instead of ragging on me to get a hearing aid, why don’t THEY get a four-year degree with a B average (in 4 years), have a job with a top-secret clearance for 21 years, pay off three homes early, and that’s just for starters? Sometimes my parents were the meanest of all…they never let me forget about my loss. They’re gone now, and they should be damn grateful I did their eulogies in view of their verbal and emotional abuse.

  28. my daughter likes to remind me that I should get a hearing aid, “because it annoys people who can hear normally.- (like hself I guess she means_ – too bad. ‘m not “totally deaf and have to constantly apologize for my lack of”normal” hearing.-guesss I have to save up money in order to be able to hear like “normal” people.

    • Hearing aids can improve your ability to enjoy communication and relationships, which is a great reason to give one a try. Making fun of hearing problems is not OK, however. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  29. To add to stupid/rude comments from other people…after having my brain tumor removed, which resulted in total hearing loss on one side, my friend stuck his finger in my ear and, in turn, I pushed it away. He then proceeds to ask “I thought you said you were deaf in your ear, how did you know my finger was there?”

  30. I’m 18 and I lost part of my hearing due to a horrible ear infection almost a year ago, which, combined with an already-existing auditory processing disorder, really lowered my ability to understand people. I’m lucky enough to have kind friends and an understanding and loving partner who will accommodate me, but my parents (especially my mother) and many other people I talk to still get mad at me for “not listening to them” when in fact they’re on my bad side and facing away and I can’t hear them at all. The worst thing about it is feeling like I’ve lost the right to complain or be angry about what happened to me, because I feel like the ear infection was all my fault for being less careful than I should have been and my hearing loss is really only moderate and in one ear so I’m not “allowed” to feel bad about it, even though it also took away my ability to swim ever again (and I love swimming more than anything) along with my hearing. I’ve had a couple of people make fun of me and I’ve very bluntly told them how not okay that is, but I don’t know if it still happens behind my back. It hurts.

    • So sorry this happened to you. It is quite an adjustment. Have you tried a hearing aid in the bad ear? It might make a big difference in your ability to understand speech. Making fun of hearing loss is never OK. Thank you for sharing your story.

  31. Thanks for the excellent article, Shari! I am very interested in stigma and why people who are blind or who have trouble walking receive more sympathy and consideration than people who have hearing loss. Your story reminded me of a good friend of mine who, whenever I visit him, at some point starts mouthing words without making any sound. It’s supposed to be funny but I don’t find it funny at all. And the irony is that he has hearing loss himself but not as severe as mine. Whenever he does this I smile weakly to be polite but the next time I need to find a response that is not rude but that gets the message across that this is not OK.

    • Very frustrating and hurtful. Maybe tell him that it hurts your feelings when he does that and ask him to stop. Short and to the point. Then move on. I hope it works. Thanks for your comment.

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