Can You Hear Me?

Can You Hear Me?

Imagine the scene, you are sat in a cafe – what do you notice about people around you?  Do you observe the people wearing glasses – maybe, maybe not – chances are your gaze moves onto the next person.

I suspect you hold your gaze on someone wearing a hearing aid a little longer… or worse, stare at them – why is that?  

Statistics indicate that 1 in 6 of the UK adult population are affected by hearing loss and yet, there is still a curiosity about people wearing hearing aids.  

I know people stare because it’s happened to me and I’ve even been asked to remove them so someone could see what they look like!  

That’s why world hearing day matters! 

March 3rd is World Hearing Day – it’s our one day to raise awareness on how to prevent deafness and hearing loss and promote ear and hearing care across the world.

My experience with hearing loss

Since birth I have suffered from hearing loss, which is often described as an invisible disability. When I walk into a room, my main focus, often, is not to seek companionship – it’s to look for the quiet spot – avoiding air conditioning units or any place where background noise is more noticeable. Research shows that hearing loss can lead to withdrawal from social situations, emotional distress and depression to those of us that don’t wear them all the time.

Despite years of knowing my hearing is roughly 50% in each ear, I continued to refuse to wear them until someone mentioned I occasionally shout when I facilitated in large rooms. To me my voice sounded quiet. Mortified by these comments, I decided to get hearing aids fitted. From that day forward my personal battle and shame of wearing them began.

I guess that’s why figures also show 6.7million people could benefit from hearing aids, but only 2million people use them often mainly to avoid feeling self-conscious, exposed and certainly wanting to avoid the slow, loud speech that people use when they spot a hearing aid…. 

Seriously, the hearing aid means you don’t need to do this!

The reality of living with a hearing aid; representation and misrepresentation

Let’s be honest: representation of hearing aids through the media isn’t prominent – when was the last time you watched a film where a lead actor wore a hearing aid? And, as I’ve experienced in my life, hearing aids are hardly trendy. Listen to hearing aid advertisements next time and the words ‘payment options available’ (think circa 5,000 pounds); so many of us resort to wearing hearing aids provided by the NHS which are grey, bulky, unflattering and certainly not sexy or conducive to romantic moments. As a single lady finding a suitable first date location is a challenge – “fancy seeing a movie?” they ask, my response is usually “yes, as long as you don’t mind me asking you “what did they say?” throughout the film as my hearing, with my hearing aids, is assaulted by the background music, or without them, I struggle to catch all the content.

My option of going to the slot provided by the cinema, where the sound is reformatted for those of us with hearing aids doesn’t generally land well. It is, at this point, I have to raise the topic, which I am embarrassed about, so I don’t – I continue to remain silent and suffer, often for days, with a film score reverberating in my head or tinnitus. And yet, going on a date and putting my glasses on to read a menu is ok. Putting my hearing aids in not so…. 

Every day I struggle with noise. Wearing my hearing aids alerts me to the person opening a bag of crisps 50m away or the individual who eats with their mouth open on the next table; every sound, every moment is magnified and overwhelming. Not wearing them means I miss conversation and creates judgements that I’m cold, aloof, distant, and that hurts. 

And yet, despite having hearing aids, I struggle with how people view me and feel embarrassed. I know some of the underlying factors are my own fears, but also know that society doesn’t view wearing them as OK, I’m still some object of curiosity. 

My hope is that through raised awareness on hearing loss, we can make wearing hearing aids feel normal and as fashionable as glasses – how cool if I could choose a coloured pair to go with my outfit?

So, next time you’re in a café or office and notice someone wearing a hearing aid be kind, be considerate and let’s remove the stigma around hearing aids. It will continue to be an invisible disability until we make it visible.

Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people.”

And, going back to Helen Keller’s quote, I don’t like that deafness separates people from people. It shouldn’t.  

If you want to know more about hearing loss or deafness and how to respond in a more positive way visit the Royal National Institute for the Deaf.