After each performance of All the Devils are Here, the actor Patrick Page hosts a 20-minute talkback with the audience. He is one of my favorite actors, so I was excited to stay after the show to see what he had to say. I hadn’t expected a master class in self-advocacy as well.
“I am hard of hearing and wear hearing aids,” Patrick said after greeting the audience. “They work great, but not at far distances, so I won’t be able to hear your questions from all the way out there.” He smiled as he pointed to all of us in the audience.
“But I have this device (holds up a small mini mic) that connects to my hearing aids which will let me hear you all the way in the back. Just hold it in your hand and speak normally and I will be able to hear just fine.”
The stagehand passed the device to the first person with a question. And then the next person, and so on. The Q&A went off without a hitch.
Way to cut off hearing loss stigma at the knees!
Normalizing Hearing Loss Breaks Down Stigma
Thank you, Patrick Page, for modeling how normal hearing loss can be. The questions from the audience were interesting and the back-and-forth discussion was lively. The talkback was a success. Because Patrick was comfortable with his hearing loss, so was the audience.
What lessons can we extract from this experience? And how can we implement them in our own daily hearing loss lives?
1. Tell people about our hearing loss before any misunderstandings occur.
If we try to fake it, it may be harder to get the conversation back on track. Our communication partners may lose interest or start to feel misunderstood. Setting communication expectations up front helps alleviate bad feelings down the road.
2. Prepare ahead of time.
Patrick had his tech tools charged and ready to go and had perfected a process to interact with the audience. We can do the same type of preparation. Practice with your mini mic or speech-to-text app at home first, so you are more comfortable putting it into action when needed.
3. Explain what we need from our communication partners to facilitate communication.
People are not mind readers. While most people will be willing to help, they may not know what to do. They might assume they should speak very loudly to someone with hearing loss, but shouting will not work well because it distorts the face and lips which can interfere with speechreading. Our guidance is needed.
4. Provide enough detail so people understand exactly what they need to do.
For example, Patrick explained how people should hold the mini mic when they used it. This helped take some of the guess work out of the process, helping audience members feel more at ease when using this new technology. We can do the same for our communication partners, even when technology is not involved. The more specific we can be in our communication requests, the better the resulting conversation is likely to be.
5. Be confident and factual about our hearing loss.
How we feel about our hearing loss impacts how others feel about it too. The calmer and more matter of fact we can be about it, the more “normal” our hearing loss will seem. Normalizing our differences reduces stigma and leads to acceptance and feelings of inclusion.
When we feel comfortable so will others.
6. Let our personality shine.
This is the fun part. Now that communication is easier, we are free to laugh, share our stories and ideas and enjoy the pleasure of other people’s company. Even if mis-hearings occur, it is possible to redirect—try a different tech tool or communication strategy and keep on going.
Hearing Loss – Self Advocacy Helps Everyone
Self-advocacy goes beyond letting others know about your hearing loss. It helps make them part of the solution. Better communication is the reward for both sides.
Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.