Political Activism with Hearing Loss

A friend asked me recently if I had any suggestions for how she could remain politically active with her rapidly deteriorating hearing. She was worried that her hearing loss would rule out political activism. 

It doesn’t, but before I go into detail, the last paragraph of this post includes some important new information for New York City voters. A change in congressional districts in some cases also means a change in polling places and voting deadlines.

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Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

But back to being active politically. There are some ways of volunteering that hearing loss might affect, but there are lots of others that don’t involve hearing. Positives first.

Postcard and letter writing. Many of us get involved by writing letters and postcards to potential voters. The Sister District Project found that postcards sent just after voter registration packets resulted in a 20% greater chance of the potential voter registering. (Another Sister District study found that chaser postcards in a political campaign – following up on an earlier call — were found to have a negligible effect.)

PreCovid, postcard parties brought people together to work for voter registration or encouragement to vote. The shared experience could be inspiring. The Sister District Project suggests that postcard or letter writers get together virtually, by Zoom, to create that same community feeling. Zoom participation is much easier for those of us with hearing loss. A Zoom session can be captioned by the host, or individual attendees can provide their own captions with Otter.ai or Google Live Transcribe. I set my smartphone up on my laptop to provide live captions. For phone calls I use Innocaption. All three of these apps are free.

Phone banks. This is another event category that may be difficult for people with hearing loss, since they are often held in rooms with a lot of people talking on different phones. Made for iPhone or Android hearing aids will help you a lot because they transmit the sound directly to your hearing aid. In addition, you can use a captioning program like Innocaption. Phone bank gatherings can also be virtual these days, and as with postcard parties, virtual gatherings will make it easier for the person with hearing loss to participate.  

Demonstrations, large or small local displays of support for a policy or candidate, shouldn’t be off limits to the deaf and hard of hearing. You may not hear the speeches but your presence will be counted. Still, people with hearing loss may be uneasy in large crowds, in part because of the hearing loss. Don’t do what you don’t feel comfortable doing.

Posting on FB, Twitter or other social media is as easy for people with hearing loss as it is for anyone else.

There are some activities that are more difficult, depending on the severity of your loss.

Canvassing door to door is an age-old tactic but the obstacles when you have hearing loss may make this prohibitive. The person who answers the door may be wearing a mask, or might speak with an unfamiliar accent or in a way that you can’t hear. Understanding speech is hard enough with friends but even harder with strangers. Being able to engage in conversation when canvassing is important. The same is true for handing out flyers on the street. You need to be able to answer questions and it can be very beneficial to engage people in discussion.  

Working in campaign headquarters can be exhilarating. I worked in a political campaign straight out of college and loved the feeling of community and shared goals. Alas, my hearing is bad enough now that even with a hearing aid and cochlear implant I can’t hear in a noisy place.  

Depending on the extent of your hearing loss you might be able to work as a poll watcher. One of my HLAA colleagues does this in New York City, where polling places are loud and crowded.

But back to what you CAN do.

Vote. Make sure you’re prepared before you even walk into your polling place. My election district has just changed, so I’ll be sure to look up (and write down) my new ED so that I don’t have to rely on information from a poll watcher to get into the correct line.

Donate. Writing a check doesn’t require hearing at all.

If readers have suggestions for other kinds of political or social-justice activities, please contribute a comment.  

*This last section is for New York City residents. The new election districts (which, among other things, now pit veterans Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney against each other) also mean new polling places and new deadlines. Thanks to an online meeting held last week held by www.nycvotes.org, I can provide a few resources. To find out where your polling place is, go to https://findmypollsite.vote.nyc/. If you want to apply for an absentee ballot, go to https://nycabsentee.com/. Because of the continuing Covid outbreak, “temporary illness” is a valid explanation for the need for an absentee ballot. Finally, some deadlines have changed. Check nycvotes.org.

*

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.

8 thoughts on “Political Activism with Hearing Loss

  1. On one of the last phone-bank calls before I gave up trying to hear in an increasingly loud phone-bank hall I explained that I had trouble hearing but that I wanted to encourage him to vote in the election. After some ‘What? What? Huh? Huh-ing’ I understood that he couldn’t hear much either. So we happily started yelling to each other and we both had a great time. It was the best call I ever made. Whether he voted my way or not, he certainly *listened* to what I said. And I listened to what he had to say.

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  2. Thank you for this. I am an activist with hearing loss. I do canvass. But I have also send tens of thousands of texts, thousands of postcards and attend many virtual meetings with closed captioning. Reach out to people you know first and make sure they are registered to vote and that they actually do. Then reach out to neighbors. Pay attention LOCALLY. Laws are made at the state level. Work to elect good people locally who will protect our civil rights, voting rights, and health. 100,000,000 people did not vote last November. We CANNOT afford to let that happen again.

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  3. Such an important post. Thank you, Katherine. Vote Forward is also a good resource for letter writing and the process can help counter the feelings of helplessness we’re all experiencing right now. We can be just as powerful with our hearing loss!

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  4. Don’t forget about participating in local politics and your party’s political caucuses and conventions. I’ve served as a delegate in my state several times. Requesting Speech-to-Text Interpretation/Translation, aka CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation), not only assures your communication access, but educates organizers on how to provide other accommodations in addition to sign language Interpretation. Deaf culture is wonderful, but over 95% of people with disabling hearing loss are Hard of Hearing and do not use sign language to communicate. The more people who are educated about that fact, the better served the HoH community will become.

    Twenty percent of the population has some degree of disabling hearing loss (that’s over one million people in my state), yet in my party’s state Disability Caucus, I am the only person that has requested CART and not accepted “No” for an answer. The first two monthly meetings (online due to Covid) I attended were not accessible and I had to educate the other members. We also have no Deaf or DeafBlind members, and that is telling. Don’t let your hearing loss keep you from participating. It matters!

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