When I was growing up, my father never wanted to discuss his hearing loss. He was embarrassed and ashamed of not hearing. It was an unmentionable topic in my family which just perpetuated the stigma. When I emerged from my hearing loss closet almost 10 years ago, I wanted to do everything I could to crush that stigma. I sought to make hearing loss a normal topic of conversation, like someone’s back problems or new glasses. I try to do this each week on my blog.
Reducing stigma takes time and requires education. As people living with hearing loss, we must lead the pack by being comfortable with our hearing issues and discussing them in a matter of fact tone, not with an apology. We need to encourage people to ask us about our hearing loss. Questions go a long way towards better understanding, and most importantly, acceptance.
Children are often the most open. I remember wading in the water at a hotel pool a few years ago when a little boy swam up to me and said, “Do you know that you have something in your ear?” I loved his curiosity and his lack of embarrassment to engage in conversation about something new.
Adults are often more reserved. Maybe they are afraid to ask questions for fear of offending us or for highlighting our disability unnecessarily. I wish they wouldn’t be.
Here are some suggested questions to get the conversation started.
- Can you hear me OK? What a wonderful acknowledgement that the speaker is part of the solution and is willing to make adjustments to help me understand what they are saying.
- Where do you want to sit? When we arrive at a meeting or social gathering, I love when my family asks me where I want to sit. That way I can choose the opportune spot for me in this particular setting.
- Can I listen through your hearing device? Let your friends and family try your pocket talker or portable loop (keep the volume very low as to not damage their hearing) so they can better understand the challenge of extraneous background noise and the unique sound of a digital voice.
- Where would you like to meet for dinner? Letting me pick a quiet location helps me to anticipate the evening with joy rather than fear that I won’t be able to participate in the conversation.
- Is the movie showing at a theater with captioning devices? This is a great way to include a friend in an outing to the movies or other performance venue.
- Do you want me to repeat that for you? I sometimes miss the specials at a restaurant. Luckily my family usually alerts me if there is something I would be interested in ordering. Sometimes they even ask if I want them to repeat them for me. I always appreciate the thought.
- Shall I go to your doctor’s appointment with you? Going to the doctor is stressful under any circumstances, but when you have hearing loss it can be challenging to boot. New terminology and important information make it critical that you get the details right. Having a hearing person with you can sometimes be a big help.
- Would you like the information in writing? Yes, please! Whether it is an address, a meeting time, or the name of a new eye cream, please write it down. Or better yet, email it to me. This not only minimizes errors, but makes it easier for me to remember it because I have seen it in written form.
Anything else you would like to know! All questions are welcome. Please don’t be shy. We can’t expect you to understand our hearing loss unless we share information with you. It helps us to feel your support when you ask questions about it.
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She is the founder of Living With Hearing Loss, a blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.