Born and raised in London, UK, Areej Khan was first diagnosed with hearing loss at age four. It is unclear what initially caused her hearing loss, but it’s assumed it was due to ear infections, which she often got as a child. She was provided hearing aids after her diagnosis, but never wore her technology unless she was going to audiology appointments. This caused some issues for her in school and prevented her from adjusting to the technology.
“When I started going to school, teachers started realizing that I was struggling to listen,” she says. “I didn’t really find any hearing technology beneficial except for subtitles/captions and I depended on lipreading.”
Khan says she was bullied for her hearing aids, especially during high school. She had a negative relationship with her hearing aids until one day when she was watching TV.
Khan says she was watching a popular UK television show when she was taught an important lesson that she’s now sharing with others.
“I remember watching “How to Look Good Naked,” a TV show hosted by Fashion Consultant, Gok Wan, when I was around 20,” she says. “There was an episode where someone shared they didn’t like wearing their hearing aids and Gok Wan suggested decorating them.”
The suggestion stuck with Khan. She still wasn’t confident or proud enough to start showing off her technology just yet.
Growing up with hearing loss was made more difficult for Khan because she changed hearing technology multiple times throughout her life.
“I always felt that hearing aids amplified what I could already hear and they sounded very static,” she says.
Phonak hearing aids were among the top-of-the-line technology that she tried. But because of the severity of her hearing loss, she never really felt fulfilled. At age 25, she underwent cochlear implant surgery. This is when she finally felt like herself.
Read more: Cochlear implants
“When I got my cochlear implant, it was life changing for me because I could hear all these sounds I never remember hearing,” she says.
“…I could hear all these sounds I never remember hearing.”
Khan says she immediately felt more confident and proud after her implantation. That question from that TV show that had always stuck in her mind came in to play. Why don’t you decorate them?
Read more: Cochlear Implants vs. Hearing Aids
On her Instagram, Khan now projects herself as a “Scientist, reprogramming the way being Hard of Hearing is perceived.” In her photos, her hearing technology is proudly displayed, decorated with rhinestones, stickers, pearls and matching earrings.
“I honestly just design it from my creative mind,” she says. “It’s kind of like art for me, think of it’s a blank canvas and I’m just colouring it in with different media.”
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To achieve her goal, she’s also working on personal projects, she says. She’s currently in Pakistan volunteering at a deaf school called Deaf Reach, helping them develop the school curriculum. She’s also looking to support students, parents, schools and organizations with consultation to be more inclusive of deaf people as part of HearAreej. On the side, she’s also starting her own brand, which she aims to launch next month.
“I’m creating a brand to raise awareness on hearing loss and I’m also on a separate mission to make hearing devices more fashionable, as an impact from raising awareness,” she says.
Khan says she still has to remind her friends that she has a hearing loss and that they sometimes need them to look at her when speaking. Now she’s not afraid to speak up about her hearing loss. She wants others to do the same.
“Learn to love every part of yourself, including your hearing loss,” she says. “Wear your devices proudly and believe me – people will see you for who you are. Nothing more and nothing less! Until you don’t learn to love yourself, how can you expect others to?”
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