Want to Hear Better? Read These Books.

Books are no substitute for a good audiologist, but they can be very helpful in learning how to live your best with hearing loss.

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In “Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss,” two seasoned writers on the topic of hearing loss have joined forces to tell us everything they know. This makes for a comprehensive guide for the neophyte and also a source of useful insights for those more experienced at living with hearing loss.

“Hear & Beyond,” by Shari Eberts and Gael Hannan, tackles the basics in clear organized chapters with lots of boxes and pullouts and mini-dialogues between the authors. Shari is the author of the popular blog “Living With Hearing Loss” and Gael of the critically acclaimed book “The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss” and of “The Better Hearing Consumer” column on “Hearing Health & Technology Matters.”

Their primary aim, as they say in an opening statement, is to shift their focus – and ours – from wanting to hear better to wanting to communicate better. To this end they offer lots of practical advice on hearing aids and other devices, on speech reading and assistive technologies, on navigating tricky social situations like restaurants and cocktail parties.

Some of their advice is deceptively simple – “Arrive early.” This may be something you hadn’t thought of. Or it may even be something you have thought of but consciously not done, to avoid getting involved in a conversation you may not be able to hear. Arriving early, however, allows you to get your technology organized, get a seat where you’re most likely to be able to hear, and to tell anyone who needs the information about your hearing loss. “Arrive early” is one of their “hearing hacks,” simple precepts that are useful across the board.

They also coin some clever terms like “mindshift,” a way to reframe your attitude to something more productive. Instead of “nobody understands what I’m going through,” they write, think instead of the many people who’ve already been there, and realize that you can learn from them. Although they don’t say this specifically in this section on mindshifts, joining a support group like HLAA or ALDA can be your introduction to exactly those people who do know what you’re going through, and can help. As President of the New York City Chapter of HLAA, I also urge you to sign on to some of our chapter meetings, which you can find at hearinglossnyc.org, listed under “Programs.”

Another recent book is Latisha Porter’s “Sounds of the Heart.” Hers is a personal narrative, beginning with her difficult early school years before anyone realized she was deaf. She tells the reader how she got from there to here, i.e. a successful adult in the hearing world. She was blessed by a loving and supportive family, especially her father, and seems to have been similarly blessed with a loving and supporting husband. When it was suggested that the young Tish go into special ed because she was doing poorly in school (thanks to her undiagnosed and untreated hearing problems), her father said, “Tish is not going into a special education class, because there’s nothing wrong with her — she can learn.” Indeed she could, and she went on earn a B.A., a Masters. and eventually a PhD.

Tish, Shari and Gael are all active members of HLAA. If you go to the HLAA Convention in June, be sure to look them up.

A third book published recently is not about hearing, but I found it deeply resonant with my own experience. Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist, suddenly lost much of the sight in one eye after a rare kind of stroke. He was at risk of losing his vision entirely. In “The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found,” he takes us along on the medical and emotional rollercoaster that ensued. It took a while for that rollercoaster to run its course, but in the end Bruni’s disability may have brought as much gain as it did loss. Here’s a wonderful example of the kind of “mindshift” Shari and Gael talk about. Though he can’t fix his eyesight, Bruni writes, he can shape his story: He can take the lament “I can’t believe what I’m going through” and turn it into a boast, a badge of honor: “I can’t believe what I’m managing to get through.”

Bruni also comes to understand how many people share seemingly life-shattering challenges: “Why me?” he asks at first, as we all ask when confronted with unexpected loss. “There’s a better question, of course,” he writes: “Why not me? Why should any of us be spared struggle, when struggle is a condition more universal than comfort, than satiation, than peace, maybe than love?” I think the phrase “vision found” in the subtitle refers in part to this greater understanding and compassion.

I have a library of books on hearing loss, some that I read before writing my own books, some excellent ones that have come out more recently. Of the more recent, Noel Holston’s “Life After Deaf: My Misadventures in Hearing Loss and Recovery” is a moving reflection on hearing loss, and David Owen’s “Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World,” prompted by his own encounter with hearing problems, uses his skills as a writer and reporter to bring readers up to date on every aspect of hearing loss. Modesty should prevent me (but doesn’t) from mentioning my own three books: “Shouting Won’t Help” Why I – and 50 Million Others – Can’t Hear You,” “Living Better with Hearing Loss: a Guide to Health, Happiness, Love, Sex, Work, Friends… and Hearing Aids,” and “Smart Hearing: Strategies, Skills and Resources for Living Better with Hearing Loss.” Happy reading.

8 thoughts on “Want to Hear Better? Read These Books.

  1. Hi Karen, I have to say I’m pretty shocked at MIT, especially their apparent lack of understanding about hearing assistive technology. The T in MIT does stand for Technology after all. I can’t tell what they were offering you from their description. But since they just built four new buildings I’d have expected them to install during construction hearing loops in at least some of the classrooms and lecture halls. Hearing loops are currently the best listening technology available. The technology doesn’t have to be turned on or off once it’s installed — it’s just there for people’s use. There should be a sign in the venue explaining that the room is equipped with an induction loop and that users need to turn on their t-coils.
    Anyone with a t-coil in their hearing aid can simply switch to the T-coil program, which should have been activated at the time the hearing aid was programmed. All cochlear implants are telecoil equipped. For people who don’t have hearing aids but need assistance, the venue should provide headphones that connect with the system. You are a bit confused in your description – the room installation is an induction loop. The technology in the hearing aid or cochlear implant or headphones is the telecoil.
    It sounds like they may have offered you listening assistance through an FM system or possibly infrared. If that’s the case, they should update it. But in any case they should certainly be able to explain to a user what it is. It’s also possible, given that this was MIT, that they offered you some developing technology, like Bluetooth LE systems. But they still should have known how to use it.
    The person who made the comments about students is, sorry, just plain ignorant. According to the CDC about 15% of school age children 6-19 have some degree of hearing loss, primarily due to noise exposure. The number increases with each decade and since MIT has plenty of graduate students it presumably has a pretty high percentage of students who could benefit from hearing loops.
    If you had asked in advance for hearing assistance, MIT would have been required under the ADA to provide you with assistance, ideally a CART captioner. Absent that, you could have used your cell phone to generate captions, either through Otter ai. if you have an iPhone or Google Live Transcribe if you have an Android. But it’s the venue’s responsibility to provide equal access if requested.
    For my 50th reunion at Vassar in 2019, I requested hearing assistance. I was connected to the school’s disability coordinator who met with me and discussed what would work for me. Vassar installed several temporary hearing loops across the campus and while they were at it installed two permanent hearing loops in lecture halls. Brava Vassar. I was really impressed. Vassar is a tiny school with a tiny endowment compared to MIT. If Vassar can do it, MIT should certainly have been able to.
    Unfortunately, though, you do have to ask. If you don’t ask, they don’t have to provide it — even if it is the right thing to do.
    I hope you are wrong and that MIT does have hearing loops and other assistive listening systems. In that case their primary failure would be in failing to explain them.

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  2. Thanks for reviewing Shari and Gael’s book, Katherine. I have just begun to read it and am impressed by
    the shift to “communication” from “hearing loss.” To me, that implies a responsibility to reach out and explain what people with hearing loss need, a very good idea. I also like “Mindshifts”. Realizing that fortunately, hearing loss is not a fatal disease and something that can be dealt with, is truly empowering. Frank Bruni does a good job of sharing how he found a way to empower himself in “The Beauty of Dusk.”

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  3. absolutely. motivating and wonderful…such great recommendations for more books too…..Shari and Gael’s book is truly a landmark occasion in the world of hearing loss….a paradigm shift, to say the least….now, if only hearing people would “get it”…..they certainly don’t understand HOH, vs Deaf….for them, this invisible disability is black or white…so sad and so frustrating, living in a world, where this is still the case…but, I had my family watch Shari’s film, We Hear You, Now Hear Us…after 35 years, he finally gets and is so much more respectful and kind and accommodating for my need to use Google meet, in order to have voice/visual conversations…real communication, instead of crumbs.

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