When “You Seem To Hear Just Fine” Felt Like an Insult

It was the annual celebration dinner for a community group where I volunteer. People wore their finest attire and mingled in the beautiful space, chatting ahead of the awards dinner. The sound was deafening, but I did my best to hear and partake in a variety of conversations using my surviving a cocktail party with hearing loss tips.

Finding my spot at my assigned table, I introduced myself to my seat mates. Luckily the majority had strong voices in the right decibel range for me to hear; and they were easy to lipread. The conversation flowed, bouncing from topic to topic, before my hearing loss and related advocacy work came up. Yes, I try to slip it into every conversation — that is what advocates do.

Their response: “But, you seem to hear just fine.” Part of me was happy that I was conversing so successfully — those lipreading skills do come in handy — but part of me felt almost slighted. Truth be told, this duck was paddling furiously under the water.

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How To Combat The Stigma of Hearing Loss

Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” It often arises from external forces like prejudices, stereotypes or societal norms, but it can also come from inside ourselves — perhaps as we internalize the negative perceptions of others or suffer from a generalized fear of being different from the norm.

Stigma surrounding hearing loss can make us afraid to admit that we have trouble hearing. The shame and embarrassment of stigma drives us to behave in unproductive and unhealthy ways, like neglecting to ask friends and family to use communication best practices or refusing to seek out the professional assistance we need. It may lead us to avoid socializing or prevent us from applying for a deserved promotion. Over time, these behaviors can lead to isolation, depression, and a plethora of health problems.

We must nip hearing loss stigma in the bud. But how?

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Hearing Loss in the Workplace: Strategies for Success

Managing hearing loss in the workplace can be challenging. Hearing loss stigma may make you worried about disclosing your disability, and even if you do, others may not know the communications best practices required to help you hear your best. You may struggle in some work situations, but thrive in others, confusing your co-workers and clients. You company may not be aware of the many new technologies that can make communication easier for people with hearing loss. The good news is that there are many strategies for success, but much education is needed.

So, when Goldman Sachs’ Disability Interest Forum invited me to speak on a panel highlighting hearing health in the workplace at one of their four Disability Awareness Month events, I jumped at the chance! I was thrilled that a leading global firm like Goldman Sachs chose to prioritize hearing health in the workplace in such a public and impactful way.

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Why Do People Assume Everyone With Hearing Loss Can Sign?

We would love for you to make videos to reach a hearing loss audience, the media rep suggested. “Sure, that sounds good,” I replied, “assuming the videos would be captioned, of course.” “But wouldn’t you just sign in them?” she asked with some confusion.

I stopped dead in my tracks in surprise. “Most people with hearing loss, myself included, don’t know sign language,” I explained, “particularly if we acquired our hearing issues later in life.” “I didn’t know that,” she said.

This was an intelligent, educated person working in media for a patient advocacy company. If she doesn’t know this basic fact about people with hearing loss, imagine the ignorance of the general public.

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Hearing Loss Or Not — Everyone Loves Captions!

People with hearing loss LOVE captions! They help us combat hearing loss exhaustion by reducing listening effort, help us fill in words that we miss during a speech or when watching a movie, and give us confidence that we can participate more fully in a number of different listening situations. It turns out we are not alone.

A recent visit to Verizon Media’s Accessibility lab taught me that everyone loves captions, even people without hearing loss! I had always suspected as much as I watched my husband with typical hearing using the captions at Broadway shows and other events over the years, but now there is proof.

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