How Can We Make Our Hearing Loss Less Invisible?

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.

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

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?

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22 thoughts on “How Can We Make Our Hearing Loss Less Invisible?

  1. My poor hearing is constantly visible when I use my assisted listening device with a directional microphone, waving it around at a reception or conference around a table. (It’s a Phonak “Roger” pen; I think there are other similar devices on the market.)

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  2. As far as “reminding” your communication partner that you are “HOH”, that is a losing battle and adds so much to the exhaustion factor.
    You can reduce your exhaustion level, by wearing the button, or holding up a sign, each time the speaker looks away from your face.
    Believe me, I wear the button every time I leave the house.
    People can’t avoid seeing the button and I don’t need to remind them, over and over and over again, that I have hearing loss.
    Really, you oughta give this a try. YOu’ll make your life easier; you’ll make your communication partner’s life easier.

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  3. I’ve found I’m more open with announcing my hearing impairment (yes it’s definitely an impairment !!!!) as I’m getting older . When I first started wearing hearing aids at age 14, I had long hair and no one knew but the aids would whistle and buzz from feedback, I would cringe! Tinnitus is a whole nother nut to crack and it’s a beast to live with at times . Hearing loss and tinnitus should not even go together but weirdly they do ! Would love to learn about some meditations methods for tinnitus .

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  4. Hi Shari

    Great pointers.

    I find that having short, close cropped hair that makes my BTE hearing aids, tubes and moulds easy to see takes away some “invisibility” for me.

    If I need to I have no problem at all in reminding people that I need to see their faces for facial expressions and lip reading.

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  5. Shari,

    As always, great, helpful information. I already printed out the cards and am going to cut them down and laminate them for my mom. And I am ordering a coupe of pins. I find I can use a pin when shopping or in restaurants where the waitress stands across the table from me and reads the specials!

    By the way, where did you learn lip reading? Is it something you take a class for like you do for signing, or was it on your own? Thanks.

    Mike

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    • Thanks Mike. They do have some classes, but they are few and far between in my experience. I think I just picked up it up gradually over the years as my hearing loss increased. Thanks for your comment.

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  6. Hi Shari,

    My oh my how the world has changed! My hearing loss journey began in 1968 after I suffered an inner ear injury and complications. I was just 16. At the time, the only device that worked for a severe loss was the case and cord body style hearing aid. Back then, audiologists were rare and didn’t dispense hearing instruments if you could find one. Often, we’d have to see someone in an optical shop, a pharmacy or simply someone’s stand-alone office. Generally, hearing aids were large, noisy, visible and high maintenance. Worst of all, having a hearing loss was associated with advanced age, reduced mental acuity or some sort of shame. We were referred to as “deaf” or “hard of hearing”, easy to ignore, targets for abuse. Indeed, many of the stereotypes began in those dark days. Back then, batteries would not last long and they advised us to turn the volume down when we could, hence the term “turn up your hearing aid”! Since the microphones were in front, you’d hearing nothing from behind, little from the side and inconsistent/undependable sound from beyond 6 feet. If a person had “nerve loss” as many did, it’s no wonder that conversations were filled with “huh”, “How’s that?”, “Come again?” etc. etc. It is also no wonder that hearing aids went unworn in dresser drawers. Better to deny/ignore your hearing loss than to be ostracized, or made fun of.

    Flash forward, today, my sleek new pair of RIC aids are almost invisible and provide mostly adequate power for my “bad ear” and a worsening loss in the other. I apologize to everyone for the unfortunate stereotypes we caused, and smile if someone does not notice my hearing aids. I won’t be wearing a button or passing a card and hope you can understand why.

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  7. This is interesting indeed. There is no crutch, white cane, wheel chair or other outward sign of disability to warn or announce to others any special need we may have. I am reminded of Paul Strand’s famous photograph of a woman standing against a dark wall with a large sign hanging around her neck with BLIND written on it. It’s one of the most arresting photographs I know of. But I don’t want to go to that extreme.

    Frankly, I have never considered wearing a button or sign to announce my condition. My BTE hearing aid along with an opposite CI with its sound processor and head piece offer considerable notice that something “different” is going on with me – yet even that doesn’t always work while in winter’s cold all that is covered with a knitted cap.

    I went to a meeting not long ago and soon after I sat down a woman came up and sat next to me and began signing vigorously and speaking very clearly. I smiled and thanked her for speaking clearly and that I did not sign, and that I was understanding her perfectly. She wanted to know if I needed help understanding during the meeting. I appreciated her effort.

    The “ear” symbol in your blog logo, Shari, would make an excellent lapel pin to wear. I have looked for such an item without any luck. It seems to be a universal symbol for hearing loss. I’d love to have something like that. Small, but clearly an ear symbol. Do you know of anything like that?

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  8. 1. is very hard for me generally with people I don’t know or in situations that are new. Happily though, Ive realized finally that talking about it actually takes it *off* the table as an issue for me more efficiently than anything else.

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