I just returned from the first live convention of the Hearing Loss Association of America since 2019, pre-pandemic days. It was just as awesome, fun, and inspiring as ever. Also hot and steamy – Tampa in June is not the coolest place on earth. But that’s a minor quibble. The following is why I believe that every person with hearing loss – at least once – should go to an event that has lots of people like them. It’s life-changing.
If you have hearing loss, do you know any other people with the same issues, or who may struggle the way you do (however that may be)? Have you ever swapped notes with someone, shot the breeze, commiserated, shared battle stories and laughed at all the crap that goes along with hearing loss?
You may think, I don’t want to or need to. 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 web, which overflows with advice blogs, professional sales pitches, and inexpensive neat stuff that claims to help you communicate better.
Well, here’s another sales pitch: for a happier, more accessible life, check out an event of people with hearing loss.
Just one meeting – that’s all I’m asking. Try an information seminar, a monthly meeting of a local hearing loss group, or a conference where you may possibly have the time of your life. Just once, try it.
Why, you ask? 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 a warm positive glow or the feeling of being 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.
Truth? 12 people with hearing loss who are drinking wine 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 world, 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.