Everywhere I go there are people with hearing loss, but they don’t want to be found. They will reveal once I do, but not before, and only to me — not more broadly. I find them at conferences, school events, lectures — always sitting up near the front, just like I do — but silent about the need for the speaker to use a microphone or to not turn his back to the audience. How can we change this mindset?
There are 50 million Americans with hearing loss, so it should not come as a surprise how often I meet other people with hearing loss. Whenever I mention my work as a hearing loss advocate, more often than not, someone will confess his own hearing loss or that of a relative or friend. This is usually done in a hushed tone with a glance or two around to see who might be listening, as if it were a secret. I understand, it used to be a secret for me too.
If hearing loss is so common, why do we still feel so lost?
1. Part of it is the stigma. There remains a stigma associated with hearing loss, more so than with mobility or other physical disabilities. Perhaps it is because hearing loss is often associated with aging. This is not actually the case, as according to Better Hearing Institute, 65% of people with hearing loss are below age 65, but the association remains. The stigma makes people reticent to disclose their hearing loss and to seek treatment in a timely manner.
2. Hearing loss is invisible. People with hearing loss don’t look a certain way. They are scattered throughout our neighborhoods and workplaces and probably spend most of their time with friends or family who don’t have hearing loss. That is why organizations like Hearing Loss Association of America are so important, because they help people with hearing loss find others in their local area coping with the same challenges. You can find a chapter near you here. Thanks to my local chapter, I now have several friends with hearing loss, who provide an incredible support network.
3. Hearing loss can be isolating. Sometimes people with hearing loss choose to withdraw rather than deal with the frustrations of communicating. This does not have to be the case! By alerting others to your hearing loss and utilizing best practice communication tips, people with hearing loss can enjoy a robust life filled with activities and social events. It takes extra work, but it is worth it.
4. The broader hearing loss community is not as united as it could be. Much strife exists among the various segments of the hearing loss community, particularly as it relates to the proper treatment of children born with hearing loss. The arguing between groups is frustrating and counterproductive. A more united front would be beneficial in so many ways — greater feelings of inclusion, a stronger voice with lawmakers to support advocacy projects like captioning, and better access for all.
Readers, how can we help the hearing lost be found?