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Being the Change: How to End Hearing Loss Prejudice

It is often said that people fear what they do not understand. This is never truer than when they are confronted with an unknown difference in another person.

Time and time again, society distances itself from those it views as different. The media does nothing to change this, and in fact, usually acts in ways to reinforce stereotypical behavior already in-place.

Why is there prejudice where hearing loss is concerned? The answer to this question is very simple. We only have to look back at our recent history to get an idea where the current prevalent mindset originated.

Deaf & Dumb: History of the stigma 

Not so long ago, we had homes and schools for ‘The Deaf and Dumb.’ In fact, the prestigious and historic deaf university, Gallaudet was once named, “The Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb.”

Now, as far as the majority of society is concerned, “dumb” does not mean silent, but, is, in fact another word for “stupid” or at the very least, slow.

Because a person with hearing loss cannot always keep up with conversation and has to ask for things to be repeated to them, it is all too often assumed that they are slow-witted and less able to understand than those around them. This is seen so often in the workplace, where perfectly capable and in many cases, very well qualified applicants are passed over, in favor of lesser able and sometimes less qualified hearing applicants.

There have even been cases where those with deaf issues have been offered a braille pack in order to assist them to understand, including at restaurants. It shows a complete lack of hearing loss education on the part of those who not only offend, but who discriminate against hearing loss sufferers.

“It shows a complete lack of hearing loss education on the part of those who not only offend, but who discriminate against hearing loss sufferers.”

Malice isn’t the cause of ordinarily nice people acting in such an offensive way. A mixture of fear and confusion does.

Fear, because they are being asked to confront something which to them is totally alien. Confusion, because they have no yardstick by which to measure things with.

“The only way to make society change its attitudes, is to show a different face to hearing loss.”

The only way to make society change its attitudes is to show a different face to hearing loss. There is, and has been for far too long, a stigma attached to those things that society and the media, in particular, see as disabilities.

As someone with hearing loss, it’s a duty to show that having hearing loss does not mean being less and understanding less. It is merely that we have different modes and methods which facilitate our communications.

5 Ways to Change Opinions about Hearing Loss

1. Be Out and Proud

The first thing we can all do is be open about wearing hearing aids. By wearing your aids with pride, you give others food for thought. Don’t hide your aids, even if you need to change the batteries. A person doesn’t think twice when they need to remove their glasses in order clean them, so why should it be different, when changing batteries? As an aid, hearing aids should be judged alongside spectacles. Both offer the person using them clarity and ongoing assistance.

Read more: I hate changing hearing aid batteries in public 

2. Tell people, before they notice

Others will often notice your hearing loss, but very few will mention it. If you bring this up first, it helps break the ice and also serves to inform them as to what your strengths and weaknesses are, before the conversation or meeting goes too far. People appreciate honesty and will usually respond well to such disclosure on your part.

Consider wearing a shirt, jewelry, badge, button or wristband that tells the world about your hearing loss. Far from being an admission of weakness, this can be a show of strength.

Read more: “Deaf is Cool” fashion breaks down stigmas of hearing loss 

Those with hearing loss often continue to feed the stigma by their own actions and lack of self-confidence. Showing who you are and what your particular challenge is, can be empowering.

3. Volunteer

Why not volunteer your services to one of the deaf charities. This can be such a worthwhile thing to do, plus it also gives you a louder, clearer voice, when it comes to hearing loss challenges. By becoming part of something greater than you are, you will help educate yourself and be in a much better position to help others see things from your viewpoint.

Read more: I felt isolated with hearing loss, until I did this 

4. Be a joiner

Join an action group, either in-person or online. This lends your ideas, problems and personal experience to a collective voice. Not only will you be able to voice opinions and contribute, but you will also be a part of something outside of your own isolation. Being around others with similar issues and challenges can be a very freeing experience.

Read more: Why I’m learning sign language as an oral deaf person

These five ideas can be a good jumping off point for anyone struggling with their hearing loss issues. Alone things can seem overwhelming, but by bringing the issues outside of ourselves, we can help make a difference to those hearing people around us.

“…bringing the issues outside of ourselves, we can help make a difference to those hearing people around us.”

Let’s face it, those of us with hearing loss are having to live most of our lives in a hearing society. Doesn’t it make sense to stand up and be counted as someone who is no different from those around them, but who simply communicates in a slightly different way? Education has to begin somewhere, so why not step out from the shadows today and smile.

These ideas will not mean big changes in your lifestyle, but they could just make you more confident, happier and proud to be a hearing aid wearer.

Because wearing hearing aids is a good thing, right? We no longer have to put up with aids that are bulky and ugly. We now sport the latest in micro-digital technology, so doesn’t it make good sense to flaunt it. Glasses have become something of a fashion statement these days, but it hasn’t always been the case. (When I was growing up, wearing spectacle had a lot of stigmas attached to it.)

Times change, and it’s time we be that change.

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PR Hilton
Phonak hEARo, Phil is an author, journalist and therapist, living on the beautiful North Yorkshire coast with his wife Raine and their three children. Phil was diagnosed in 2016 with mild to moderate Sensorineural hearing loss in both ears and tinnitus. He uses Phonak silver digital hearing aids with automatic volume controls.

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