The news station on TV in the hospital waiting room wasn’t captioned.  I wasn’t terribly interested in the news as I waited for my cochlear implant surgery but still, I felt the familiar emotion:  “Oh for heaven’s sakes, how do they expect people with hearing loss to understand!”

 A little bit of access would have improved the experience. 

What about the experience for people entering hearing aid clinics?  What would make it better? 

A good start is being able to see the front office staff when we walk in.  Some sit behind big counters and we can barely see their faces let alone their smiles or lips. The counters may be great to lean on, but the staff person is forced to look up at you and then back to the computer—back and forth, back and forth—while next appointments are discussed.

Most hearing clinic waiting rooms are devoid of hearing loss information.  Does this make sense? I mean this is where we come for help, which hopefully includes information.  I’m talking about something more than manufacturer hearing aid pamphlets. How about books and articles that can ramp up a client’s knowledge of living with hearing loss? Hearing care professionals will talk to us about the shiny-shimmery technology they are recommending, but I’m talking about real life communication strategies. There’s a lot of helpful, life-changing stuff out there that clients need to know about, including local consumer hearing support groups.

The clinics often have the retail chain’s advertising posters on prominent display. These show very attractive, very happy people but I’ve looked—really closely—and I can’t see hearing aids on those beautiful peeps.  Not the slightest hint of plastic wires coming from behind a pinna. I guess the message is that this could be you!  Wear our hearing aids and no one will notice and everybody’s happy. Yes, it could be me, maybe, with some teeth-whitening dental work, a facelift and different hair. C’mon, let’s see the hearing aids.

And even before we step through the door….I dunno…maybe a little welcome humor? A sidewalk sign that says, “C’mon in – we’re “hear” for you!” That might be too much, but since the day hearing aid clinics have been allowed to be storefront and not hidden away in a medical building, the new retail chain names have upped the inspiration and positivity factor:  Hearing Connections, Hearing Solutions, Lifestyle Hearing, Hear for Life, even Hearing by Design, etc.

A point that needs to be hammered home: front office staff should be articulate and communication-savvy. I mean, everyone they greet has hearing loss, and even the best speechreading and best hearing aids can’t cut through mumbling, lack of eye contact, overly soft (or overly loud) voices, and dropped consonants. 

And I love clinics that have their client commitment and mission statement plastered on the waiting room wall.  Firstly it gives us something to look at when there’s nothing else to read besides hearing aid brochures. Secondly, it’s reassuring to know that your commitment is to providing me with quality service and the ability to communicate better. It says so, right there on the wall, so if for any reason things go a little off-track with my hearing care professional, we can hold hands and go read that waiting room wall art again.

Finally, a TV that shows hearing loss videos is fabulous, but for the love of Mike, make sure they are captioned!  You’d think we hear well or something!  Also, a water cooler and/or a coffee machine.  It’s a nice touch.

 

Photo:  A photo of a great waiting room:  Audiology Clinic, Inc.

Photo: Clip of Oticon happy people.  As an Oticon user, I’ve been this happy too, but I just don’t look like this.

 

Note:  Watch for my Cochlear Implant series coming soon.

Imagine, people with hearing loss—what will life be like a half century from now?  The technology, the attitudes?

I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s still early January of 2017 and this year I’m not even bothering with resolutions. Any I’ve ever managed to stick to, have been achieved purely by accident—like, you lose those five pounds because you had the flu.  This year, there’s so much great for sure stuff happening that I don’t need to waste time or energy on what might occur.  

The biggie: this week I’m getting a cochlear implant (CI). In spite of seeing the transformed lives of so many friends  after their implants, I can still only guess at what it will mean for me. (And you’ll find out when I do, because I’ll be writing about my experiences through February and March.)

So, 50 years from now…what will hearing aids and technology and life be like in 2067?

That year, I’ll celebrate my 113th birthday. My grandchildren will be in their forties and fifties. My oldest stepson will be 90 and my son will be 71. Chances are a few of them will also need hearing technology. If I am still alive, and you can’t quite ‘get my looks’ as the sparky babe of 2017, check out the antique cochlear implant processor on the side of my head, which will probably not have had a battery change since, say, 2059.

But perhaps we won’t be using batteries by then!  Amplification for people with hearing loss may come through teensy-weensy microchips in our earlobes—or through some non-toxic, modified organic substance that we eat, in a breakfast smoothie! Perhaps lasers, administered by drug store staff, will zap hair cells back to attention, rejuvenating even the most withered of the 15,000 hair cells needed for the perfectly healthy ear.  Awesome!

Perhaps the incidence of hearing loss will have dropped dramatically through safer listening practices, the prevention of diseases that affect hearing, and the elimination of ototoxic drugs. Wow!

How about—finally—a better understanding and treatment of tinnitus. Amazing!

Over the past 60 years, I’ve seen changes that were only dreamed of in 1956 when I was two years old and diagnosed with bilateral hearing loss. Growing up, the doctors would not prescribe a hearing aid for my then mild-to-moderate hearing loss.  “Accommodation” meant sitting at the front of the class.  “Accessibility” meant people raising their voices or turning the TV volume knob to the right.

At 22, I got my first hearing aid which was beige-ugly but had a lovely volume control wheel. At 42, I got two hearing aids, same color, that nestled in my ears and helped me hear my baby. At 52, my hearing aids had usable telecoils and I had become an advocate and writer on hearing loss issues. The world was more aware of hearing loss because more of us had it and were demanding information on how to live more successfully with it.

Now, at 62, I’m going to experience the miracle of cochlear implants. Now we  understand better that there are seemingly unlimited ways that hearing can be affected and harmed. Yet, every day I read of some amazing new tweak and advancement in life-improving technology.  Professionals are working hard to improve how they deliver hearing health services.

But hearing health can only really improve if governments recognize and address the tremendous impact of hearing loss on individuals, their families and societies.

Why should only some of us benefit from hearing aids or cochlear implants or looping technology or text interpretation?  Why not everyone who needs it?  With better hearing, our overall health improves—and a healthy population makes for a better society.  This is not rocket science.

I’ve seen what the last 50 years have offered and even though turning 100 is not on my bucket list, I’d love to reincarnate as the proverbial fly on the wall, so that I can see the hearing miracles that lie ahead.