At their best, college campuses are a nexus of learning, challenge, and discussion. And a perfect place to share a hearing loss awareness and advocacy message! Thank you to Long Island AUD Consortium, Iona University, and Connecticut College for inviting us to share our hearing loss documentary We Hear You on campus to raise awareness and build understanding of the lived hearing loss experience.
I have watched the film more times than I can count, but I still get emotional when I hear Toni describe the challenges she faced with communication in healthcare when caring for her brother when he had cancer. And I shed tears of joy as Roxana describes hearing her sister’s voice for the first time in a decade after receiving a cochlear implant. Storytelling is not only a way to build community and shared purpose, but it can also be a power advocacy tool.
Each screening was followed by a talkback. The audience included students and professors from a variety of disciplines (i.e., audiology, pharmacy, psychology) as well as deans and other university administrators. Some audience members had a personal connection to hearing loss, but many were learning about it for the first time. It was an incredible mix of sharing, education, and vulnerability.
We hope to do more events like this in the future. Please be in touch if you are interested in hosting a screening / talkback for your community.
The Biggest Surprises about Hearing Loss
For the general public, hearing loss remains a little-understood mystery. Why does it happen? What is the impact? How does it differ from the Deaf experience portrayed in mainstream media like CODA and Sound of Metal? How can they help?
The audience’s three biggest surprises about hearing loss consistently include:
1. Less than 5% of people with hearing loss use sign language to communicate
Almost 50 million Americans live with hearing loss, yet only 2 million of them use sign language as their primary communication method. Even so, sign language interpreters are often the first accommodation offered to people with hearing issues. While incredibly important for people who use sign language, in most cases, a sign language interpreter does not help. Captioning is far more universal.
2. Hearing aids are not usually covered by insurance
Audiences are often shocked to learn that hearing aids are not often covered by insurance. While Hearing Loss Association of American and others continuously lobby in Washington for change, so far efforts have not produced results. The arrival of OTC hearing aids may help improve access for adults with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss.
3. Hearing aids don’t work like glasses
Sadly, hearing aids do not snap hearing back into focus in the same way glasses do for vision. While hearing aids are incredibly helpful, they are not complete solutions. Additional skills, strategies and tech tools (like the ones discussed in Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss) are required for better communication.
How Can Society Help Support People with Hearing Loss?
My favorite questions at the talkbacks ask how audience members can better support people with hearing loss in their communities. Below I share a few ideas. Please add yours in the comments.
Embrace universal design
The best designs include accessibility from the start rather than as an add-on after the fact. Consider installing hearing loops or Bluetooth Auracast (once it is available) so people can link their hearing devices directly to the sound system. Caption everything and provide a variety of technology options for those who use their residual hearing to communicate.
Use communication best practices
Small changes in behavior can help make conversations more satisfying for both sides of the dialogue. Get our attention before speaking to us so we are not playing catch-up if we miss the first few words of the conversation. Please face us, speak clearly and at a moderate pace. Shouting or slower than normal speech will distort the lips making speechreading more challenging. When in doubt, ask. Hearing loss is different for everyone. What works in one situation or for one individual may not work for everyone or in all settings.
Lead with kindness
People with hearing loss sometimes feel frustrated and vulnerable when they have trouble following a conversation or must navigate a loud public space. Communication challenges can be off-putting for our communication partners as well. Please provide repeats with a smile and avoid dismissive phrases like “never mind” or “it doesn’t matter.” An empathetic and can-do attitude on both sides can help ease the journey…and the conversation.
Ways to Share We Hear You with Your Community
We Hear You is available for rent or purchase on Vimeo at this link. Please be in touch to schedule a talkback with the producers. Or create your own local discussion using our FREE We Hear You Discussion Guide.
Readers, do you share your lived hearing loss experience with community groups in your area?