On the cusp of each new year, I dedicate some time to pondering my resolutions for the coming months. After about 30 seconds, I usually come up with a catch-all pledge to “be a better person.”
This year, my resolve is more specific. In 2012, my goal is to be a Better Hearing Consumer, both in name and action.
The hearing people in my life will probably be confused by this, because they think I have this area already covered. In fact, if they were given a truth serum, they would bellow something along the lines of, “She just goes on and on and ON about hearing loss! It’s always speak up here, face me there, who turned off the captioning this, I can’t hear through walls that! I’m not being accommodated!” Now, I admit to having cleared a room or two when I get going on my favorite topic, but I’m still far from being an expert on the consumer side of the hearing loss fence. There’s plenty of room to grow, both as a communicator and as an advocate.
Here are a few of the resolutions that, if I keep them, well make me a Better Hearing Consumer.
I will not view every stranger with hearing aids as a potential recruit to the cause. Not every user considers their hearing aid to be a badge of honor or a membership card in the hearing loss community.
Therefore, when I see a hearing aid, I won’t smile at the person in a knowing way, or point to my own ear conspiratorially. But, if the opportunity to communicate presents itself – the weather is always a good topic – I will indicate my own hearing loss and model good communication practices. We might learn something from each other and we’ll both know whether to carry an umbrella.
Resolution # 2
I will adopt a less confrontational approach to having my communication needs met. This is a nice way of saying that I’ll try to drop the you-have-to-accommodate-my-needs-or-I’m-gonna-bust-your-butt method for a more positive, educational one. “Hi, I have hearing loss. If you look at me at me while you’re talking about your product, I’ll better understand its benefits. And who knows? I may go home with a new thingy, and you will earn a commission.”
I will learn more about hearing assistive technology, so that I can share my expertise with other people. But for the moment, this is a rough outline of my technical knowledge:
Hearing aids: Go in the ears and make sounds louder and sometimes understandable. They’re expensive and come in a variety of shapes and colors.
Cochlear implant (CI): Go inside and outside of the head, restoring the ability to hear to people who no longer could. Very complicated, very amazing.
Neckloop: Goes around the head like a necklace, plugs into something, and allows you to hear sound from a transmitted source. Comes in a variety of sizes and shapes, and basic grey/black.
Cables and Wires: Connect/couple with an infinite number of devices to allow access to you-name-it. However, plugs must be the correct size, e.g. 2.5mm or 3.5mm – usually the one I don’t have.
Telecoil: Presumably a coil inside the hearing aid that works with other technical stuff to bring sound into my hearing aids. Awesome with the telephone!
Bluetooth: If you don’t like wires and cables (see above), this is a magical thing that sucks sound from the air and into your ears. Have no idea why it’s called Bluetooth but it sounds pretty.
I will write more letters and emails encouraging public service providers to comply with accessibility guidelines and laws. Recently, a major theatre charged me $2 to rent assistive technology that would allow me to understand the show. $2 may not sound like much, so let me put it another way. Instead of paying $1000 to see the show like other people, I had to pay $1002.
Did the person in the wheelchair have to pay an extra $2 to take the elevator to the next floor? No.
Did the person with low vision have to pay an extra $2 for preferred seating? No.
So why should I pay $2 more for something as basic as understanding what the actors are saying?
I sent a well-worded email to the theatre’s general manager on behalf of all people with hearing loss, explaining why this surcharge is neither fair, nor good customer service. We are currently in negotiations, which are so far cordial and very interesting.
I will not miss an opportunity to explain that good communication is not solely dependent on how well we hear. It goes beyond the neurological act of hearing to embrace visible cues, technology and, most of all, the commitment to connect. We connect on many levels and I don’t want to miss any of them.
Happy New Year. Best wishes for a peaceful 2012, full of good communication and wonderful connections.