Why is it that everyone who develops hearing loss seems to have to start at Square 1 to figure out what to do about it?
I was reminded of this when I read an article by Deborah Copaken called PSA: Your AirPods Pro are Hearing Aids. It appeared on Copaken’s blog Ladyparts on Substack. Generally first time writers on hearing loss get a lot wrong, but Copaken got it right. Her discovery of the facts about hearing loss, however, and the apparent novelty of the information for those who commented on the article, reminded me of how little most people know about this condition.
Copaken is only 55, so her hearing loss isn’t age related. She probably had little cause to know about hearing loss because it wasn’t affecting most of her peers. But this lack of awareness is also true for people who are 65 and even 75, when two-thirds will be affected by diminishing hearing – and a diminishing ability to communicate. They don’t know about it either.
There are lots of books and blogs about hearing loss, my own included. Jane Brody writes about hearing loss every year or so. Articles like Copaken’s appear from time to time in the mainstream press and everyone seems surprised by the news. Recent movies have focussed on hearing loss. Sound of Metal was nominated for several Oscars. It got some things about losing your hearing right and some wrong. I haven’t seen CODA, streaming on Apple TV+, but my fellow blogger and HLAA member Shari Eberts wrote that it gives a mostly accurate portrayal of the effect of communication difficulties. A new documentary called We Hear You, produced and featuring members of HLAA, is not yet available to the public. But a preview and talkback are being shown by HLAA this week. Registration is sold out but keep an eye out for it streaming elsewhere.
Why aren’t these voices heard? Why is the fact that Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids a nasty surprise to so many? Why isn’t it understood that the ubiquitous presence of ASL interpreters is useless to 95 percent of those with hearing loss? Why is that when you note on a plane reservation that you have hearing loss (Any disabilities?) they send a wheelchair to meet you at the gate?
The answer is stigma. Hearing loss is seen as a conditioning of aging – even though 60 percent of those with hearing loss develop it before they are 60. We reject the notion of aging in our society. Some of us think aging is when you’re over 90. Until we get there, we prefer to think of ourselves as forever 40. We don’t want to be old and we don’t want to hear about it.
Hearing loss affects people of all ages. It affects people who are exposed to noise, at work or recreationally. It affects those with inherited hearing loss. It affects people treated with certain drugs, drugs that may save their lives, like some cancer drugs. It affects musicians. It affects veterans as young as their 20’s. It affects almost half a billion people around the world, disproportionately the poorest — but the wealthy can’t escape it either.
Articles like Copaken’s are valuable because they reach a new audience, people who don’t (yet) have hearing loss. My book “Shouting Won’t Help” reached a new audience as well, because I was young and worked at the New York Times. (The reaction seemed to be, Huh? She has hearing loss?) Maybe “We Hear You” will too. It’s already won some distinguished awards.
We can all contribute to raising the profile of hearing loss, with an emphasis on the essential role of communication. We can normalize it, make people aware of the needs we have and the accommodations that work for us. Talk about your hearing loss. Make yourself – and the rest of us – heard.
For more about living with hearing loss, read my books “Smart Hearing: Strategies, Skills and Resources for Living Better With Hearing Loss” and “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I and 50 Million Other Americans Can’t Hear You.” Both are available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.com.