Do We Need Hearing Loss Heroes?

I never met another person with hearing loss until I was 40.

Well, there was my great-grandmother who had a voice like a foghorn because of her age-related hearing loss. And through the years I certainly saw people wearing hearing aids – large, beige kidney beans behind their ears, similar to my own. But I never interacted with anyone to discuss our mutual hearing challenges.

What’s worse, I never had a hearing loss hero when I was a child, or in my teens, or even in my early adulthood.There were few, if any, celebrities who were ‘out’ about the fact they didn’t hear well. There were two or three TV personalities such as Rose Marie, Norm Crosby, and Lou Ferrigno who were not afraid to admit their hearing loss, but I never saw them on TV saying, hey, if you have hearing loss, don’t worry, you’re not alone, here’s what you need to do!

This was before the internet – before baby boomers hit their hearing loss years and made it a public issue to deal with. Hearing aids had been in their Jurassic Park era, but now suddenly the technical, digital revolution hit the hearing aid and assistive devices industries.

But even with lovely, new and coincidentally smaller hearing aids that helped me hear better, I was still alone in my hearing loss journey. Heck, I didn’t even know I was on a journey. My communication and ‘coping’ strategies were those my parents tried to help with and which I learned through trial and error. No doctor, audiologist or hearing aid dispenser made any suggestions. There were no special supports in school for what was then a mild to moderate loss. 

I muddled through.

But when I turned 40 and reached out to the hearing loss community – wow! Life changed immediately, fully, fabulously. That weight on my back – the one that I didn’t even know was there – disappeared in a puff of freedom. I met people from all over the world who inspired me and taught me tricks of communication that I’d never learned in my lifetime of progressive hearing loss.

But were these people heroes to me? Sometimes I think we use the term too loosely. A dictionary describes a hero as ‘a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities’.

I like all of this except for the ‘idealized’ part. One of my first hearing loss inspirations was Bev Biderman, a woman who wrote a ground-breaking book on hearing loss and cochlear implants (Wired for Sound: A Journey into Hearing). She was a leader in local hearing loss groups, an advocate, and a wonderful public speaker. She propelled me into my own speaking and writing career. I admire her greatly, but I don’t idealize her or any of the people who have ignited passion in me to communicate and share with others what I’ve learned. They are people, with all the quirks that go along with being human. Yet, I’ve heard stories of struggles with hearing loss so desperate, only the powerful inspiration of a certain person or persons helped them carry on.  

So yes, I guess we all need a hero or two in our lives, and whether we call them heroes, inspirations, or champions, it doesn’t matter.

Call them whatever you want – just be open to inspiration, because they’re doing what they do for a reason.


Featured Image: Art by Christopher Uminga


About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a sought-after speaker for her humorous and insightful performances about hearing loss. Unheard Voices and EarRage! are ground-breaking solo shows that illuminate the profound impact of hearing loss on a person’s life and relationships, and which Gael has presented to appreciative audiences around Canada, the United States and New Zealand. A DVD/video version of Unheard Voices is now available. She has received awards for her work, including the Consumer Advocacy Award from the Canadian Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists. Gael lives with her husband and son in Toronto.

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