What is your biggest complaint about having hearing loss? For many people, it’s the isolation they feel when they don’t hear what others are saying, or when they miss sound cues.
What used to be easy is now a challenge. We can’t keep up in conversations. In groups, whether large or small, competing voices dissolve into noise, making even idle chitchat impossible. Using the phone becomes more difficult. What’s worse, the hearing people in our lives don’t really understand our issues, increasing our sense of isolation.
I lived most of my life with this sort of social alienation, a fact of which I was only dimly aware. I heard what I heard and that was that. It’s only in looking back that I realized that , in spite of having good friends and doing well in school, I operated in partial isolation. There was a lot going on around me that I just didn’t catch.
But then my life changed, big time.
I went to a hearing loss conference and I came home three days later, a woman transformed. I was no longer isolated; instead, I was connected to a large and vibrant community of people who faced their communication challenges head-on. The conference was my launchpad to improving my own communication strategies and becoming more connected to the world around me. That was 25 years ago and, today, I still attend at least one annual hearing loss conference, often to speak but also to listen, to learn and to share. The hearing loss conference – any which one, anywhere – is my happy place.
Why I believe you should go to a hearing loss conference:
- Interesting speakers and workshops. You will have a hard time choosing what sessions to attend because so many of them will touch on at least one area of your hearing loss life. Presenters are people with hearing loss who share valuable strategies and lessons learned. They may also be hearing health professionals who help explain the mysterious workings of our hearing system.
- Exciting exhibits. At the large conferences, there are dozens of exhibitors showcasing the latest and greatest devices as well as neat stuff that can boost your hearing, your communication and your confidence.
- Social events. The conferences have many opportunities to meet other attendees with whom you can enjoy the excitement and the learning. If you’re shy and worry you won’t be able to interact very well, all you need is the courage to go to the conference. Everyone else has hearing loss too! The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) convention runs a wonderful session at the start of the conference for first time attendees.
- Everything is accessible. All events and workshops provide communication access through captioning (CART), amplification, and telecoil/room loops. Unless you’re sleeping or bored (which I doubt), you won’t miss a word.
- You’re not alone. You will understand that you’re one of millions of people dealing with hearing loss. You will learn techniques to keep you in the conversation. And you will return to your community with ideas that not only make your life better but have the potential to improve the lives of other people with hearing loss in your area.
In addition to national and international conferences, many regions have smaller conferences and many communities have hearing loss groups that hold monthly meetings.
Some people find the larger events to be expensive, but there are ways to save costs. Try driving to the events that are within a reasonable distance. Share hotel costs with another attendee, or find an Airbnb in the conference area, which is an increasingly popular option.
Whatever the cost, consider it an essential life purchase, because it may also be life-changing.
To find a hearing loss conference or meeting near you, check your country’s hearing loss consumer association on the internet. The International Federation of Hard of Hearing People (IFHOH) has a list of its member organizations, Other countries such as New Zealand and Australia also have consumer hearing loss organizations. IFHOH itself has an exciting Congress coming up in May in Budapest and HLAA has its annual Convention in New Orleans in June. (I will be speaking at both events, so I hope to see you there!)
Feature Photo: At the 0pening of the 2016 HLAA/IFHOH Convention, Washington, DC, 2016