I just returned home from one of my favourite weeks of the year. The annual convention of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), held this year in St. Louis, is a fun few days of hanging out with a thousand best friends and learning about stuff that will help me communicate better. This year there was a baseball game and a book signing thrown in for extra excitement. (Well, the St. Louis Cardinals game would have been exciting if I liked baseball and if the noise hadn’t benched my hearing aids.)
Getting to St. Louis and staying in the hotel involved some of the many challenges that induce sweaty palms and racing pulses in people with hearing loss. But as an experienced traveler, I pride myself on being able to eliminate some of the barriers and dealing with the rest without unraveling like a sweater. In fact, this year I presented a workshop on the subject, A HoH on the Road: Traveling with Hearing Loss.
(Note: HoH = Hard of Hearing)
Having hearing loss is no reason not to travel, but there are a few things a HoH should know before setting out. To distill a 75-minute presentation down to blog-size, this is what I’ve learned in a lifetime of hearing loss travel.
- Temper tantrums, sobbing and playing the HoH card won’t get you anywhere if you’ve been bumped off a crowded flight.
- People will be helpful if you tell them you have hearing loss….
- ….AND if you explain what you need.
- The above two points are must-have skills for the successful HoH. I don’t care what you call yourself, just don’t hide your communication issues—let people know what you need them to do, i.e., speak louder or softer, turn this way or that, slow down, lose the gum or shave the mustache.
- At check-in, advise hotel staff of your hearing loss and ask them, in the event of fire, to please send a cutie-patootie fireman (or woman) to break down your door and carry you to safety. In St. Louis, the staff of the incredible St. Louis Station Hotel had received HoH-communication training by HLAA and the front desk was ‘looped’ for easy talk for those of us with telecoils. Frankie, my check-in person, told me there was a great team of rescuers standing by should they need to evacuate 1000 HoHs, and I put in first dibs on the best looking fireman on duty. (One has to make the most out of a bad situation.)
- Let airline personnel know that you “don’t do” PA announcements and that you need help to understand when it’s your turn to board (pre-boarding is nice) and what’s being said on the PA announcements while in the air. And if you run out of things to complain or advocate about, don’t forget to ask why, in this age of accessibility, are there are no captions on the airline movies!
- Bluffing is pretending you understand when, really, you haven’t got a clue. Don’t do it—ever. If you ask for directions and then bluff while they’re being given, you may find yourself in a side street, late at night, totally lost. Not a safe feeling, especially for a HoH who can’t make out sounds in the dark.
- An extra change of underwear isn’t the only important thing you need to pack; take along backup hearing aids and CI stuff, lots of your-size batteries, cleaning kits and a device to suck moisture out of your technology while you sleep—you’ll be sorry if you don’t. And—if you are super-organized—a copy of your audiogram is helpful should you find yourself in need of emergency hearing care. Otherwise, use the audiogram to pass the time with a stranger, explaining this new game of x’s and o’s.
- As much as you love wearing your hearing aids, there are times when you should not wear them. Scuba-diving comes to mind. On the boat, pack them in a dry-aid before jumping in the water, otherwise your little ear-pieces will become expensive fish food.
- Before you leave home, especially for a long trip, have your hearing health care provider give your hearing aids or CI a thorough cleaning and checkup.
- But Accidents Will Happen Anyway. The unwritten law is that if something is going to go wrong with assistive technology, it will be on a weekend, when your hearing professional can’t be reached, or when you’re in a place far, far away.
- Which is Why You’ll Have Spares: old hearing aids and LOTS of your-size batteries. (I know I said this already, but I speak from experience: you do not want to be caught without backups. Along the Great Wall of China, let’s say, or on your way up the Eiffel Tower.)
- At night, you need more than your jammies. If you can’t hear hotel wakeup calls or the hotel clock-radio alarm, take along a personal device that flashes or vibrates you into a conscious state.
- When all else fails, take along a hearing person. There’s no shame in it and s/he can carry the bags.
On my trip home to Toronto, which involved two flights, I practiced what I preach. I told the flight attendant there were a few of us on the flight with hearing loss and we don’t understand PA announcements. “Have a seat,” she said. “I’ll bring you a Braille card.”