Hearing loss is invisible. It cannot be seen, especially if someone is trying to hide it, which many people with hearing loss still are. When I mention my hearing loss to others, many times, the person will reply, “But, you don’t look deaf.” This always makes me laugh (once I stop rolling my eyes in annoyance), because hearing loss does not look a certain way. People with hearing loss come in all shapes, sizes, and are of all ages, races and creeds. In fact, 65% of people with hearing loss are under the age of 65.
Since it is invisible, hearing loss is easily overlooked, ignored or not taken seriously. Nobody would deny someone in a wheelchair needing assistance opening a door, but requests for hearing loops or captioning are sometimes met with resistance. Hearing loss is just a normal part of getting older, people think. No big deal. They are wrong.
How can we make our disability more visible so that we can ask for and receive the accommodations we need, whether that is simply asking someone to face us when speaking to us or something more significant, like captioning or CART?
Here are my suggestions. Please share yours in the comments.
1. Talk about your hearing loss.
Since our hearing loss is not visible, it is up to us to provide information about our hearing loss to others. At the beginning of a large group meeting, or even when meeting someone I find hard to hear, I mention my hearing loss right up front. This gives me the chance to explain how the group can help me hear — looking at me when they speak to me, not covering their mouths, and speaking clearly and a moderate pace.
Once people know, they are often more understanding about swapping seats to give me a better view of the speaker or repeating something important that was said.
Being open also takes the pressure off having to hear everything perfectly. And that is quite a relief. Also, if people know I have trouble hearing, they are less likely to think I am rude or not paying attention to them if I mishear something or make an odd reply to a comment or question. They are more likely to simply try to ask me again.
2. Ask for what you need.
Be as specific as possible in detailing which communication best practices work best for you. For me, seeing the person is critical so I can use my lipreading skills in conjunction with what I am hearing. Ask to be seated in an advantageous place to minimize background noise and other distractions. Request that speakers use the microphone when addressing large groups and ask people to speak one at a time. Everyone will benefit from these common courtesies.
3. Make the invisible more visible.
Some people like to decorate their hearing aids or CIs to make them more noticeable. Others wear buttons proclaiming their hearing loss for all to see. I googled and found several sites like this one that sell inexpensive pins with clever sayings. Consider carrying a card which indicates that you have trouble hearing that you can use for traffic stops or other face to face interactions. See an example of one here.
4. Remind and remind again.
Be prepared to remind people about what you need. And then remind them again. Without the visual indicators, it is often hard for people to remember to keep their voices raised or alter their typical speech patterns. This is the case for people you just meet, but also, sadly, for family and friends. Cupping your ear with your hand is a good way to remind someone to speak louder without disrupting the flow of the conversation.
5. Keep a positive attitude.
If you are comfortable with your hearing loss, others will be too. Try to use good humor if you miss something, and people will feel better about repeating things in a way you can understand. Be sure to laugh at the mishearings — some are hilarious.
Hearing loss can be exhausting, so maintaining a strong energy level is important. Get enough sleep, eat well and exercise to keep your brain sharp. I use daily meditation to help with my tinnitus and to manage the frustration that I sometimes feel about my hearing issues.
6. Embrace hearing loss advocacy.
The more people know about hearing loss, the better understood it will be. Advocate for yourself and encourage others to do the same. Educate others about how they can best communicate with people with hearing loss. Every interaction you have — whether it is asking a restaurant manager to lower the volume of the music or requesting a caption reader at the movie theater — is an opportunity to help spread the word.
Engage with other people with hearing loss through organizations like Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) and others. HLAA runs monthly chapter meetings in many locations and works at the national level to represent the voice of consumers with hearing loss in Washington D.C. and elsewhere.
Readers, how do you make your hearing loss more visible?