Why People with Hearing Loss Should Meet Other People with Hearing Loss

Gael Hannan
January 21, 2013

If you have hearing loss, do you know any other people with the same issues?  Beyond your grandma, have you ever met another hard of hearing or late-deafened or deaf person – swapped notes, shot the breeze, commiserated, shared battle stories and laughed at all the crap that goes along with hearing loss?

If not, perhaps you’re happy being the token ‘harda-hearing’ person in your family or workplace. Or maybe you don’t see any benefit in personally connecting with other people with hearing loss (PWHL).

It’s possible that some people don’t want to associate with other people who may be, God forbid, wearing hearing aids or those plastic curly-cue things stuck on the side of the head. What if people think I’m from a hard of hearing group home or something, out on a day pass?

Many people feel they get sufficient support from their hearing health-care provider who has fitted them with hearing aids, with some other assistive technology thrown in.  Or they surf the Internet, which is stuffed to overflowing with advice blogs, professional sales pitches, and inexpensive gizmos that claim to let you hear your neighbor talking in his sleep.

Well, here’s another sales pitch:  for a happier, more accesible life, check out a meeting of people with hearing loss.

Just one meeting – that’s all I’m asking. Try an information seminar, or go to a monthly meeting of a local hearing loss group. Better yet, go to a conference where you may possibly have the time of your life.  Just once, try it.

And why should you do this?  Well, on the practical side, you will leave the seminar or conference with a better understanding of how modern hearing technology can connect you to anything – your TV, your car, your phone, or your beloved.  You’ll learn neat communication strategies to use at work or in social situations. And you will discover that PWHL are not a homogeneous group of needy people; we’re really just members of the general population with technical issues and a habit of saying ‘what’ a lot.

But those are peanut-sized benefits compared to the big one:  you will come away with a new sense of your hearing loss, an attitude shift that may be subtle or dramatic. You’ll experience either a warm positive glow, or the feeling you’ve been slugged with a golden sledgehammer. And both of these are good signs.

When you get home, your family will notice something different about you. They won’t be able to put their finger on it – but they’re thinking maybe something about the eyes and they will be right. Your eyes aren’t crazed, just a little shiny, glittering with the passion of the newly converted. You left the house frustrated with your hearing challenges, and have come home with a new sense of, “I have hearing loss – and hooray, that’s OK!”

It’s very liberating.  I know, because it happened to me.

After the closing banquet of my first PWHL conference, about 12 of us went to a pub. We were looking for a place that had room to accommodate our group, and was quiet enough to allow us to communicate.  A few places were assessed and rejected – too dark, too loud, busy, bad décor – before the group found a suitable, almost empty place, with only one other occupied table, a quartet of ‘hearing’ people sitting in the corner.

I will admit this: 12 hard of hearing people are loud. We talked loudly and laughed louder; our conversation was punctuated with frequent cries of ‘What did you say?! What did she say?!” I was embarrassed and even cringed at the annoyed looks coming  from the ‘hearing’ people.

But then came that crystal-clear, life-changing moment. I thought, “So WHAT if we’re loud? We’re smart and funny, we’re paying for our beer, and this is how we communicate!”

That night I learned – I really got – that there’s no shame in hearing loss. (I also learned that small groups of PWHL work best in a pub.) But my outstanding take-away from the conference was a new perspective, the sense of normalcy about hearing loss that isn’t easy to absorb through the written word, either online or in articles. This was news to me – the understanding that I am just one of many people who are dealing with a challenging issue as we go  about our lives.

Since that first Canadian Hard of Hearing Association conference, I’ve attended events around the continent, frequently as an invited speaker. I’ve met what seems like thousands of people, inspirational, provocative, compassionate and interesting people, who help each other along the road to becoming knowledgeable PWHL. Some have become close friends, and I look forward to seeing them each year at the one event where I can truly relax, knowing that my communication needs will be both understand and met.

In 2013, there are several national consumer national conferences that you should consider:

I will be speaking at the first three (HLAA, CHHA, and SWC), so come and meet me there – maybe we can inspire each other. Make it your annual holiday. The conferences offer fabulous bang for the buck, but if you’re looking to cut costs, consider sharing a room; stretch your food money by popping buns from the buffet table into your pocket for breakfast. The excursions are great, but the best stuff happens at the conference – the workshops, informal social events, the exhibition of technical devices and simply talking to other PWHL and soaking up a world of experience.

But if you don’t have a spare three days, check out information seminars and association meetings in your local community and state or province. Ask your audiologist or hearing instrument specialist about where to go, and then take him or her along with you. (Professionals can always stand to learn a little something from the people they serve.)

That’s my pitch for why PWHL should meet other PWHL….hope to see you somewhere this year!


(Photo:  2007, ALDACon’s infamous karaoke party)

birdsong hearing benefits
  1. Right! The more we hang out with others with hearing loss, the more we realize how many of us there are. With support and encouragement of each other, our self-esteem and self-confidence grow. Thanks Gael.

  2. Last year I attended my first big hearing loss convention, HLAA in Rhode Island. It was my world, perfectly suited to me and I came away with that high or glow you speak of. I also came home exhausted because I didn’t want to miss a minute of it staying out late and getting up early. Then I was at the SWC convention later that summer and had another grand time. I highly recommend hearing loss conventions for uplifting the HOH soul.

  3. Thanks again, Gael. I’m just writing our CHHA Facebook page and you’ve pointed out some important benefits – sharing and laughter to name only two!

  4. Once again you have articulated what so many of us felt after attending our first conferences. My moment was many years ago in BC and I came away from that conference determined to share that ah ha moment with others and am still doing that.

  5. Right on Gael. My thoughts exactly, going way back to the first conference of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH), now HLAA held in Chicago in 1984. It was Bingo; Light’s On! Hey, I’m OK, Hey, there are other people like me! Etc! Until that conference I was sure I was a complete oddity! Maybe I am, but I’m an ‘OK Oddity’. Meeting other hard of hearing people was exactly what I needed then to help me go on with living and learning. A few years later at another national convention in the D.C. area a bunch of us explored the pubs in the vicinity. I remember this crazy gang of about 20 30 & 40 somethings sitting in a Georgetown area pub laughing and trying out each others hearing aids and personal ALDs. Most of us didn’t know you could remove your ear mold and try it on another hearing aid until that night! It was what, I’m sure the pub owners called an ‘obnoxious crowd’, but we sure had a good time! We have learned so much at those national conventions and meetings! I know have learned more from other hard of hearing people in the past, nearly 30 years, than I ever learned from those I was paying to help me! Peer support is great because it works two ways; we get it from others and then have the opportunity to give to someone else. How cool is that? Thanks for sharing. Thanks for belonging. Thank you for being able to articulate all the things we think about; both sides of the issue: good and bad stuff. When our feelings are validated, and we find out we are not alone, we are able to move mountains…well, maybe that’s an exaggeration…but we can definitely find ways to move on! See you in Portland! Julie Olson

  6. I enjoyed reading your article about why people should join a support group for hearing loss. For me this support group has helped me work on all of my isolation issues. Which I believed were connected only to the fact that i am an intuitive. And people who are intuitive have a tendency to isolate at times to gather their strength. the support group that i belong to has helped me redefine some of the hidden issues. Perhaps this message can help someone else. Isolation does not lead to a life of fulfillment. It basically keeps one stuck going around in a circle as life passes them by, and they do not continue to work towards their dreams. Dreams are meant to happen, not be hidden. I can only suggest that anyone who has not joined a support group as of yet might want to think about how it can benefit them and the people around them. For hearing loss involves family units and we all deserve as a family to move forward together. We all deserve as a family to support eachother’s challenges. If you have some apprehension about joining a group I can only say that I have found the people to be totally supportive, unconditional, and truly wonderful human beings. A whole new life is waiting for you. You deserve the best it can give you.

    1. Fran, thank you for these beautifully articulated thoughts. May I quote you?

  7. Awesome. As a TDHH I try to get my HH students to meet each other so they realize that they are not the only ones, especially in our small community. A couple of years ago, I took one of my students to a Deaf/HH speech contest – this student is HH and for all areas of her life fits in in her community. When it was done, she told me she didn’t want to leave and that for the first time in her life, she found that her hearing loss didn’t matter. My next stage is for theses students to meet HH adults – hence that workshop I’m planning.

  8. I was lucky enough to first experience that ‘high’ as a young university student at a school board sponsored one day get together for DHH students.

    Now as a TDHH I fully support creating these opportunities for my students. I am Currently in the process of creating with my colleagues another such event for my students. I will definitely be sharing this link with them. If anyone wants to know why we are doing it I can
    give them this link — question answered.

    Gael you’ve hit the hammer snack dab on the middle of the nail again!

  9. My issue has always been about competency. Whether they hear or do not hear I enjoy being around competent and intelligent people. At age 2 I was diagnosed (1953 – yeah that long ago) as Deaf, Dumb and Incorrigible by the world’s re known Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. I heard on February 7th, 1955 for the first meaningful hearing experience that we know of in my life. I also spoke the first day. That day was also birthday numero quatro (4). My achievements from that point forward was meteoric. But it was the correlation that I learn and was reinforced. That what I did could be replicated. And it was, and was and was. It was pioneering and lonely. And I wanted to be around people who were exceptional. I enjoy the success and the acclaim too. When I looked at the alternatives, it was tragic. There were so many relegated to failed methods, fraudulent social perceptions, and that did not have to be. Who would want to have a Ford Model T if they could have a Porsche. If I was in a Porsche why would I want to hang out with the Ford Model T’s? I enjoy the presence of others with hearing challenges, but I cringed when I realized they were sold a “pot of porridge” when they could have had the “world.” And I have been in competitive presentations delineating the difference (as the person of adoration or vilifcation) and then their failed program administrations shrinks around in the shadows of the room and tells other professionals that what he is did is not possible! His audiogram must be a fraud! Oh, I know that. Why would I want to hang out and converse with those charlatans?

  10. Another great article, Gael! I shared this with my CI Resource Group yesterday at the end of our session. You have (once again) articulated what so many of us have discovered, sometimes the hard way! And since we had a couple of new people at the session your words of wisdom were very timely.

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