We Can’t Break Hearing Loss Stigma Alone

stigmaThe negative stigma hearing aids have is not the products fault. It’s not the fault of those of us who wear them. And it’s not the fault of the hearing professionals who fit them or the manufacturers who create them.

It is the fault of the judgmental public who has learned in recent years, that their snap judgements about hearing loss and hearing aids, are incorrect. It’s also the fault of various media platforms. Hearing aids get thrown under the bus and the “bulky accessories of the elderly,” when in fact, over 360 million people in the world are living with disabling hearing loss and could greatly benefit from hearing aids! 360 million people. And because the devices we need and thrive with are so often disparaged, we are afraid to wear them, are ashamed to wear them and feel as though because we need them, we are less than.

I used to be one of those people who believed that, but no more. I know for a fact that the amount of hearing you have doesn’t begin to even correlate to your personality, your intelligence and your overall ability to achieve in life. I’ve had hearing loss for nearly 13 years now, with the last six involving a profoundly severe loss! Yet in the last four years alone, I’ve earned national and regional journalism and marketing awards, I published a book, launched a blog, helped people around the world accept their hearing loss. In fact, that same blog landed me my fulltime job writing and running social media for a global technology company.

But then why did I wait?

Because hearing aids were not something I wanted on or near me. I didn’t even want to be associated with them. But beyond my inane “I’m too young” and “I don’t have hearing loss” responses, what was the core of my refusal to even try them? Vanity. Plain and simple, hearing aids had been painted by the public and media as these large, bulky, annoying things my grandparents wore. I associated “hearing loss” with inability and ugliness. Today’s self sees my past self’s idiocy clearly. I hit myself over the head once a day for it still.

So what’s the deal with today?

We’ve come pretty far in helping to dissolve the false conceptions built around hearing loss and hearing aids. Community leaders have started to stand up and be open about not only their hearing loss, but their revolutionary hearing aid technologies. And yes, I mean revolutionary. Hearing aids today are sleek, tiny and have the same (if not often more) power and technology than some of the computer chips from NASA. They can process music and speech uniquely, handle a ton of different sounds all at once, help us hear better in most any environment, and if you’ve got hearing aid like mine, you can stream TV, music, media and phone calls too!

But even with all these advancements, I’ve still seen hearing aids thrown under the bus as bad metaphor or incorrectly described so that the person asking about them becomes scared to admit they might want or need them. It hurts because it’s obvious that people are still not aware of how incredible hearing aid technology really is, nor how impactful we as a hearing loss community can be in contributing to the world around us. People still envision the hearing aids of twenty years ago, and when they throw hearing aids under the bus, they end up dismantling a little of the work we have done as the hearing loss community to try to reverse the stigma we and our little hearing aids face.

The fact is, we can’t change how the world sees hearing aids alone. Manufacturers can’t do it alone either. It has to be us; those of us who have a hearing loss working with those who don’t to help change the perception out there. To help ensure that hearing aids don’t get tossed under the bus.

If you have hearing loss or hearing aids, please share your story when you can and with who you can. The more we educate those around us, the more profound our ability to destroy the stigma that still exists.

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