By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Program Staff
This month’s Prevention Magazine has an opinion article in the Humor section entitlted “I Can Hear You Now” by Judith Newman. In it, Judith describes the many issues she is having with hearing loss including misunderstanding entire conversations and missing out. An estimated 40 million Americans, most of them ages 18 to 65, experience hearing loss.
Judith has noticed when she mentions her hearing loss to friends, she and they sheepishly admit they would “rather buy cartoon tin earhorns than suck it up and get real hearing aids.” For real??? The article goes on to talk about things I hadn’t put a lot of thought into. I have several family members who are definitely experiencing later in life hearing loss and are choosing to not do anything about it. Judith points out that, in our society, people talk about back aches, knee replacement, and other disabilities that can be acquired with aging but not hearing loss.
Glasses can be cool, she and her authentic-self, transgender activist friend note, but according to her, hearing aids are not. Our culture has a perception of vision loss that differs greatly from hearing loss. Glasses come in every shape and size and color. Hearing aids are not built to be fun accessories. The industry is moving ever more to smaller and invisible. In addition, prices for glasses are becoming more affordable and covered by insurance while hearing aids are significantly more expensive and much less likely to be covered.
Judith’s article did point me to a now-defunct blog called Pimp My Hearing Aids, which then led me on a search for hip hearing aids and hearing accessories, and it looks like there are some cool things happening around disability pride and hearing. Some people are moving toward acceptance and then further to pride and personalizing of hearing aids, but its not happening in the general population and culture.
Why haven’t hearing aids become a fashion accessory to show your personality like glasses have? The number of people needing hearing aids is not declining. Some pieces of AT (assistive technology) become a part of you. Friends who use wheelchairs have said this. People who wear glasses experience this. Hearing aid users tend to wear them all day every day directly on their body, but this acceptance just doesn’t seem to be the case. People change their hairstyles to cover up their hearing aids.
Instead of moving toward AT pride, Judith ends her article talking about the benefits of hearing loss in her life as she avoids hearing aids—she enthuses that for the first time in her life, noisy stadiums don’t bother her. Well I guess this is a bit of a move towards disability pride, I think there are better options. It’s time to challenge our culture’s views in this area. Decide that hearing aids can be cool and are incredibly useful. Make them your own. Ask people about their perceptions and challenge them.
Do you use hearing aids? Have you accessorized them? What are your perceptions of hearing aids and hearing loss? What have you done to challenge cultural stereotypes and views?Tweet