It’s a simple question, but one that’s met with mixed responses. Some hands slowly rise, others look around to see who will answer. Mostly, the room stays quiet.
Who here wears hearing aids?
“At the start of the show we’ll ask and maybe five hands raise,” Demers says. “Then inevitably about 10-15 more people come up to me at the end of the show and tell me about their hearing loss.”
Breaking down stigmas and allowing people to feel comfortable enough to stand up and say, “Yeah, I have a hearing loss, and this is what I need,” is one of the goals of the cross-country comedy tour. At least until we can get to the point that communication is accessible enough for anyone – whether they have a hearing loss or not – to be able to clearly understand everything in their daily life.
To get to that point, Audiologist Carrie Spangler, who has hearing loss herself and has been wearing hearing aids since age four, says more people need to start talking about their hearing loss.
“One of the main things is self-disclosure,” she says. “Just getting comfortable enough to be like, I have a hearing loss, this is what I need you to do.”
Spangler says, from her experience working as an educational audiologist and advocate for children with hearing loss, that a lot of kids try to hide their hearing loss. Getting to the point where they can be comfortable to say, “This is who I am, it doesn’t have to necessarily define me, but this is one part of who I am,” will allow students to get the resources they need, build better relationships and have more opportunities.
Of course, it’s not always easy.
“It took me years to do that,” Demers says. “I would have job interviews or be in classroom settings where I wouldn’t let anybody know and I would just be like, well, I guess I’m not going to hear this. It took me probably the last 5 years when I finally can be like, ‘I can’t hear you.’”
When someone with hearing loss is able to stand up and advocate for themselves, the change can be dramatic. It can mean being able to finally hear a teacher clearly and get good grades, or it may mean finding a new group of more accommodating friends to spend your time with.
“Anybody who is going to treat you poorly after they learn (about your hearing loss) isn’t someone you want to hang out with anyway, so it’s kind of a nice way to filter out the bad people, from the get-go,” Demers says.
“Absolutely,” says Spangler. “it’s a great way to talk about what is important in a friend.”
Most people still think hearing aids are big, beige devices that they’ve seen behind old people’s ears. In fact, they’re really smart computers that automatically adapt to different settings and come in a variety of sizes and colors. Decorating your hearing aids is a great way to show people how much hearing aids have changed, and how cool they can look! If you don’t have a colored hearing aid, ask your audiologist for a colorful ear mold, or decorate them yourself using stickers. If you’re not comfortable wearing stickers on your hearing aids all the time, Halloween is a great time to test it out!
Cutting edge hearing technology not only looks cool, but it can also help you hear better than ever before. Try the Roger Pen, which looks like a pen, but is really a microphone. Demers likes to use it in the car, (saor to spy on his girlfriend, he jokes.) The James Bond-style device is fun to use to stream music or voices in a loud setting. The Roger Table Mic. Touch Screen Mic and other accessories are also fun ways to connect your hearing aids with the world around you.
Read more: My 5 Favorite Ways to Use my Roger Pen
Self-advocacy is one of the most important things to do, in order to communicate with those around you. But that means knowing what you need. If you don’t tell those around you that you need them to face you when they talk to you, how will they know? Try sharing these 7 Tips for Talking to Someone with Hearing Loss to start the conversation.
D.J. is sharing his life every day on the Here to Hear Tour. Through YouTube videos produced by 20-year-old videographer, Justin Dalferes, the daily vlogs show various situations where living with hearing loss can be both challenging and funny. Watching #DeafTalent and celebrating hearing loss in pop culture can be a great way to destigmatize the challenges that people with hearing loss face.
Don’t know anyone else with hearing loss? Social media and community groups make it easy to find other people who have hearing loss. Having friends with hearing loss gives you the opportunity to talk about your challenges and successes, and feel more comfortable knowing that you can follow your dreams and be successful, despite your hearing loss. Try joining a forum, or following #PhonakhEARo on social media. The Phonak Instagram account is a great place to start. You can also search for a local MeetUp group or join a sign language class at school.