As a user of hearing technology, do you ever catch yourself looking at other people’s ears?
With the popularity of earbuds, headphones, and AirPods and other “hearables”, we don’t have to look too long find someone with something in or on their ears.
But then, there it is! A glint of silver behind the ear, an almost imperceptible bit of plastic threading down the edge of the pinna into the ear. Or the honking big and beautiful sound processor of the cochlear implant user.
If you’re like me, when you see hearing technology on a stranger, you may have an instant reaction. On one level, I may react to the device itself.
- I can’t believe that person’s hearing care professional let him walk out the clinic door with that. (To my experienced eye, the hearing aid was ill-fitting in some way.)
- Fabulous! No hiding her hearing loss – she is rocking that zebra-striped hearing aid, splashed with gold glitter for extra noticeability!
- That guy’s teeny-tiny device makes mine look like a metallic zucchini attached to my ear with plastic tubing the size of a straw!
But I feel another response, every time. In that nano-second, in that blink of an eye, when I first notice the hearing device, I feel connected to that person. We share something. This stranger and I both have hearing loss. We have both struggled with the emotional impact of communication challenges.
But regardless of how warm this connection is in my mind, it’s not enough to compel me to go and speak to them. I wouldn’t approach them with a knowing smile and say, “Hello. I see you have also a thing, you know, a hearing aid. Me too!”
There’s a danger to this. If the person has not yet reached a comfort zone with their hearing loss, this blunt approach could set them back, possibly back to the time when they were darned determined not to get a hearing aid.
So, I say nothing—although if I catch their eye, I might give them a big smile. Luckily, I live in an area where strangers smile at each other a lot, so my new connection with hearing loss wouldn’t necessarily wonder, “Do I know this person?” But, maybe, if they notice my hearing aid as I pass them in the not-organic vegetable aisle, they might feel a similar connection. Maybe.
For either or both of us, it would be just a moment or two in the grocery store. Then, we would both move on with our day, forgetting about the other.
However! If the stranger is that person with the gorgeous, dazzling device, I have been known to walk up and say, “Excuse me, I LOVE your hearing aid!”
I have said to a random man with a shaved head whose ear was encircled by his cochlear implant’s stunning, snowy-white sound processor, “Sorry to bother you, but I just have to tell you how gorgeous your processor is.”
In both these encounters, I point out my smaller CI processor, partially hidden by my short hair (I don’t want to hide my devices, but don’t feel the need to shave my head, either). We smile at each other in this momentary connection in our individual hearing loss journeys.
And then we move on. I don’t know how the other person feels about this brief encounter, but, once again, I feel enriched at being part of a larger community.
Photo credit: TheHairClip.com