I’ve been thinking a lot about hearing loss stigma lately. Why does it continue to linger while other cultural stigmas successfully fade away? Is it because hearing loss is a communication disorder, impacting us right in the heart of our lives — our relationships? Whenever conversation gets challenging, bad feelings can result. To avoid the awkwardness, both sides retreat, hiding behind stigma for fear of failure.
Or is it because hearing aids are not like glasses. While they are incredibly helpful, they don’t fix our hearing loss entirely. To communicate well, we must employ other technologies (like apps or assistive listening devices) and use non-technical strategies like the types we discuss in our upcoming book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss. Perhaps mismatched expectations are partly to blame.
Maybe the fact that hearing loss is so exhausting is a factor. To make it easier, we bluff, we fake it, we nod and smile rather than doing the extra work it takes to communicate. Battling our own internal stigma, we often do almost anything to avoid declaring our hearing loss out loud and asking for whatever assistance we need to participate.
Or maybe it is due to the hearing aids themselves. Rather than blinged-out accessories in fashion colors and styles like glasses, most hearing aids look like medical devices, offered only in muted shades of brown and beige. While some people decorate their devices, it is the rare exception. Many people—at least early on in their hearing loss lives—hope the devices will simply fade into the background.
I hid mine behind my long hair for many years before I came out of my hearing loss closet.
Would a Change in Look or Feel Lower Hearing Aid Stigma?
What if the world of hearing devices was different? Would a wider variety of options in more interesting colors and designs help us wear our devices with pride rather than chagrin? Would we flaunt the latest design element or communication feature rather than hide it?
Better looking options certainly couldn’t hurt if they didn’t add to the price, of course! At a minimum, breaking the standard mold would allow for more personalization and style. An added benefit: with higher fashion comes lower stigma. More interesting looking devices might improve advertising around hearing aids too, giving the items the panache needed to sell the product the way that stylish frames do in ads for glasses.
Let’s Call Hearing Aids Something Else
A new name—one other than hearing aids—could also help break the lingering stigma. Some manufacturers—particularly those in the direct-to-consumer space—are already heading in that direction. What if we adopted their terminology for all hearing related devices?
We could call our hearing aids:
- Sound discs
- or even Hearrings (When my co-author Gael Hannan’s son was very young, he called her hearing aids hearrings!)
- and more…
New OTC hearing aids may lead the industry in lowering stigma by adopting a more consumer-oriented tone in their look, feel and name.
Hey, person with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss, try these hearables or volumizers for those times you need a little sound boost.
Sure, that sounds like a good idea!
Better attitudes about hearing devices—whatever their shape, size and use case—will trickle up to more mainstream products over time, benefiting us all.
Let’s get that makeover started!
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.