How You Can Help Combat Hearing Loss Stigma

My recent HuffPost Personal article “In ‘And Just Like That,’ Hearing Loss Is The Punchline Of The Joke… Again” explains why as a hearing aid wearer, I am angry about the way hearing loss is portrayed in the “Sex and the City” revival. I was thrilled HuffPost published the piece to help raise awareness about the issue and to help refute some of the stigma-causing behaviors featured in the show. But what HuffPost didn’t include, were practical tips that we, as people with hearing loss, can use to help refute the stigma of hearing aids and hearing loss. See below for an excerpt from the piece, but read until the end to see my suggested action steps.

Why does hearing loss remain the punchline of the joke?

Hearing Aid Negative Stereotypes Abound

The show has been an incredible disappointment in many ways, including its portrayal of hearing aids and hearing loss. For a show that aims to celebrate the lives of people in their 50s, this was a huge misstep.

Here’s the dialogue from the first time we see hearing-aid-wearer Steve on screen:

“Steve-o, long time, no see. What’s new?”

“Hey, I got hearing aids. I’m an old-timer now.”

Later in the scene, Stanford turns to Steve and says, “Steve, would you ever just leave Miranda? Oh, boy.”

“What? What he say?” is Steve’s reply. 

And later, Miranda whispers to him during a performance, “Tell your son to stop.”

“What?”

I guess it didn’t take the actor long to learn his lines.

The media buzz picked up last week, with major entertainment publications reporting that Steve’s hearing aids were inspired by the actor, David Eigenberg, who recently began using hearing aids in real life. It’s a great idea—art imitating life—but why did the writers do it in a stereotyped and negative way? By all accounts the actor is very pleased with his hearing aids. Why doesn’t Steve seem to get the same benefit?

Perhaps it has to do with the lingering stigma that still surrounds hearing loss. Stereotypes for people with hearing loss include being seen as “old” or “slow” or “rude” or “out of touch” and “not worth the time it takes to communicate with them.”

In And Just Like That, Steve embodies all these qualities. Not hearing the question — check. Looking befuddled and out of it — check. Being dismissed when he is not able to participate — check. Steve personifies everything we hope not to be. Shame on the the writers for propagating this negative and unrealistic view of people with hearing loss.

Read the full article here.

How Can We Break the Stigma of Hearing Loss?

What can we do as people with hearing loss to help beat back the stigma?

1. Normalize it. Discuss your hearing loss like you would any other characteristic about yourself. If you are comfortable with it, others will be as well.

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

3. Learn to live well with your hearing loss. Read books like my upcoming book Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, co-authored with Gael Hannan, and share them with your family and friends so they can be better allies. 

4. Educate the public about the challenges of hearing loss and advocate for better communication access. Our hearing loss documentary We Hear You aims to do just that.

5. Advocate for yourself by requesting the accommodations you need to communicate well and commend the businesses who provide them. Call out those companies and entertainment venues (that’s you And Just Like That!) that fall short.

6. Vote with your feet. According to Hearing Loss Association of America, almost 50 million people in the United States have hearing loss — this is a lot of potential consumer spending. If people with hearing loss are not treated with respect, take your business elsewhere.

And just like that, I changed the channel.

Click here to read the full story on HuffPost. If it resonates with you, please share it widely to help build momentum for articles about hearing loss in the mainstream media.   

Readers, how often do you see hearing loss used as the punchline of the joke in the media you watch?

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18 thoughts on “How You Can Help Combat Hearing Loss Stigma

  1. Excellent writing – repeatedly drawing attention to the trivialization of hearing aid users in entertainment (I have seen several other sitcom instances over the past several months).

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for your comment.

  2. Mr Magoo couldn’t see and his nephew made his windshield prescription lens which helped him drive. Which I don’t understand how he did that but he did .My hearing aids help me communicate I don’t know why some people don’t get that.Maybe some of same people who are in denial of their own hearing loss.People and their egos right?

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Hearing loss continues to be stigmatized and portrayals such as the one in ‘And Just Like That…” don’t help. We need to point it out when see it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. I apologize if I did not make myself clear about comment about Mr Magoo.What I meant is that we used to laugh at Mr Magoo and that we now know that this is insensitive to people with visual impairment. We should recognize this same insensitive behavior toward those like ourselves with hearing impairment. I think it is a positive that you pointed this out about a television program.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thanks for clarifying. Well said.

  4. Jerry Henderson – Pownal Maine – Thank you for coming to my space. This is where I post thoughts, opinions and commentary on a variety of subjects at irregular intervals. I try to do something weekly, but have not nailed down a rigid schedule, like every Wednesday, yet. If you would like email notifications of new posts, you can make that happen right on the site. Simply enter your email address to subscribe. Also, if you would like to comment I welcome that. Just do so in the space at the bottom of any selected post. Sharing thoughts, opinion and commentary is a peculiarly human characteristic. It must be exercised to be enjoyed. Jerry Henderson
    Jerry Henderson says:

    Over time, Shari, you have made the stigma of hearing loss and the treatment thereof a centerpiece of your campaign to normalize life with hearing loss – at least, that’s how I see it. Following your work is a pleasure and an encouragement as I continue to fine tune my life with hearing loss.

    I began wearing completely in the canal hearing aids twenty five years ago. I enjoyed the “incognito” role these devices allowed me to play in most situations. Few people knew I was impaired. I now realize that I was playing the stigmata game.

    As my hearing worsened the tiny devices were not powerful enough. I needed to “come out” and use behind the ear devices that got more visible as time went on. Now, with a HA and a CI, I feel I am past the issue of hiding my hearing loss and my effort to treat it.

    These days I am more likely to begin an encounter by clearly announcing that I am deaf. It’s surprising how often that someone else acknowledges that they too have hearing issues.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Fighting stigma has been a high priority for me — thank you for seeing that and for your insightful comment.

  5. Thanks for getting the message out. I too lost most of my hearing in my twenties and tried to hide it as much as I could due to fear of ridicule and prejudice. I have not seen any of AJLT but I am dismayed to learn that a show that’s supposed to be a reboot to “modern” sensibilities stoops to get a laugh out of people with disabilities. Shame! Hopefully your article will be a wake up call for the writers and producers.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      I hope so. Thanks for your comment.

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