Someone recently asked me why I use the term hearing loss in my advocacy work. I can’t remember if they preferred deaf or hard-of-hearing or some other term, but they took offense at my use of the word “loss.” It’s a fair question, and a very personal one since we all experience hearing difficulties in our own way.
People born with hearing loss may not perceive hearing loss as a loss because, as one person said to me, “How can you lose something you never had.” Some people proudly associate themselves with Deaf culture, using sign language to communicate. Others embrace deaf gain—the idea that deafness is a positive in their lives.
But for me, the term hearing loss feels right—because for me, hearing loss is a loss.
Hearing Loss Disrupted My Life
I first noticed my hearing loss in my mid-20s when I was in graduate school. Pretty quickly into the first semester I began missing things in class—a comment that was made as an aside or under’s one breath. Sometimes the entire class would burst into laughter, and I would be left looking around trying to figure out what was so funny.
It was a deep and powerful loss.
- A loss of freedom to converse
- A loss of confidence that I could walk into class and participate fully without accommodations
- A loss of energy because understanding speech now took so much work
Yearning for the ease of communication that had once been mine, I battled stigma, keeping my hearing loss a secret from everyone. This prevented me from asking for the assistance I needed. Eventually I began wearing hearing aids, but it wasn’t until I met other people with hearing loss that I felt less alone with my struggles. I learned that I didn’t need to shoulder my hearing loss all by myself.
There Are Silver Linings
Living with hearing loss is a challenge, but there are silver linings. Perhaps these are part of the deaf gain experience others describe.
The first is meeting people I would not otherwise have met. Holly Cohen discusses this in We Hear You, our hearing loss documentary. My hearing loss peers have become trusted friends and an incredible support network. These relationships make my life richer.
I have also developed greater empathy for others. Hearing loss is invisible, as are many conditions. I hope people will offer me compassion and grace when I struggle, and I try to give others the same benefit of the doubt. You can never understand all that a person is facing just by looking at them.
Lastly, hearing loss has given me purpose as an advocate. Every time I self-identify at a movie theater or ask for captions on a webinar, I am advocating for us all. The same is true for your efforts.
Despite the silver linings, there are times when I feel the loss of my hearing keenly. Like when I miss the punch line of a joke or feel exhausted at the end of a long day of meetings. Or when my tinnitus acts up and I notice my family reminding each other to speak up so I can hear. I might feel guilty or tired or sad. Thankfully, the loss is one that I have learned to accept.
Readers, do you think of your hearing loss as a loss?