What an honor it was to receive the Ruth R. Green Advocacy Award from Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) at their 2023 Annual Meeting. Ruth is an advocate who was ahead of her time. She focused on impact, and that is always my goal in all of my work. It is so meaningful to be to be honored in her name.
Please see my remarks from the event below.
A Long Journey to an Advocacy Award
It has been a long journey for me to receive this award.
I first noticed my hearing loss in my mid-20s, but the journey started well before watching my father struggle with his own hearing issues. He was highly stigmatized by it and would do almost anything to keep it a secret, even growing his hair long over his ears well after that was fashionable.
At family parties he would often be found off by himself. As a child I didn’t understand why, but when I developed my own hearing loss, I understood. He probably was having trouble hearing and couldn’t bring himself to keep trying. When I first discovered my own hearing loss, I hid it, following in his footsteps. I felt embarrassed and ashamed.
This lasted for many years, but once I had children this all changed.
I saw them watching me doing the same things I had watched my father do—hiding my hearing loss and laughing at jokes I hadn’t heard, and I realized I was passing on the stigma to another generation. To break the cycle, I finally decided to accept my hearing loss. I started wearing my hearing aids all the time and teaching my family and friends how to help me hear my best.
I refuse to let my hearing loss isolate me. It isn’t always easy, but it is worth it.
And now I am an advocate for people like me.
Not Alone Battling the Stigma of Hearing Loss
I am not alone in battling the stigma of hearing loss. Many people do. One of the things I try to do with my blog is to share my story in hopes that it will help others to live more comfortably with their own hearing issues.
But the blog didn’t start out that way. At first. it was just for me, as a way to deal with the isolation and the stigma that I felt, and to work through it emotionally. My first 6 months of posting I didn’t even put my name on it! I remember readers commenting every week on the blog — Who is this? Who is writing this?
Eventually, I realized I could have more impact if I was more upfront. So, I began to identify myself. And I have never looked back.
In 2022, I published my first book, co-authored with the wonderful advocate Gael Hannan. Hearing loss does not come with an operating manual, so we decided to write one. The title of the book is Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss and we don’t use the word skillfully lightly. A skill is something that can be taught and something that can be improved with practice. Each of our hearing loss journeys are unique, but we believe that every person with hearing loss can get better at living well with it.
In the book, we describe a three-legged stool of skills for living well with hearing loss. These legs include technology of all sorts, but also the mental aspects of hearing loss and softer skills like speechreading and self-advocacy. Each of the legs is critical and when they work together that’s when the magic happens. This is our philosophy for living well with hearing loss. And it is CHC’s as well.
We are All Hearing Loss Advocates
Each of us with hearing loss is an advocate, whether we realize it or not. Every time we request a quieter seat in a restaurant or ask a colleague or friend to face us when they speak to us, we are advocating for our needs. But we are also educating others about hearing loss, clearing the way for better communication for all people with hearing loss.
And when we come together, like the 80,000 of us that signed the petition during the pandemic that forced Zoom to provide its auto-captions free for people with hearing loss, we can make great strides towards better access.
I thank you again for this wonderful award. It means so much to me to be recognized for my advocacy work, especially from an organization like CHC, that has been a leader in meeting the needs of people with hearing loss for decades.
Together we can continue to impact the world for the better.