“I love coming to the Walk so I can see other people like me,” one adorable hearing-aid-clad 10-year-old girl declared to the socially distanced crowd gathered in Riverside Park for the annual New York City Walk4Hearing. Her joy was as evident as it was contagious. I found myself thinking the same thing. We all want to feel like we belong.
Luckily, the weather was glorious, which made turning out in person both pleasant and safe. Others joined via Livestream. Each year I am wowed by the Walk’s sense of community and fun as the local hearing loss community gathers to celebrate one another and raise awareness about hearing loss. (And raise funds for the Hearing Loss Association of America too.)
This year felt even more festive because it was the first time since the pandemic that many of us had seen each other in person.
Peer Support Critical to Living Well with Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is difficult to understand if you have not experienced it yourself. Even friends and family cannot fully anticipate the communicate challenges that may emerge in each new listening situation.
They provide their love and assistance but hearing loss friends provide something else—lived experiences that mimic our own. Both types of support are important as we strive to live our best lives despite the challenges of hearing loss.
At the start of my hearing loss journey, I didn’t know anyone that could show me the ropes. When I struggled to hear in a loud restaurant or was tired after a long day of speechreading, I was discouraged. I hadn’t realized that this was normal…typical…to be expected. All in a day’s work for people with hearing loss.
Hearing loss peers helped me realize I was not alone in my struggles to communicate. They shared tips and tricks with me that I use today to create workarounds in difficult listening situations. They taught me how to advocate for myself and for others. Many have become close friends, as we discovered overlapping interests that reach beyond our shared hearing loss experiences.
My advice: If you have hearing loss but don’t yet have any hearing loss friends—Get some!
Understanding the Hearing Loss Experience Important for Audiologists Too
Creating ties to the hearing loss community is also important for audiologists, many of whom do not regularly see people with hearing loss outside of their clinics. Real-world interactions are key to understanding the lived experience, a critical aspect of person-centered care, the best practice standard for hearing care.
Many local hearing loss support groups exist—hopefully you are aware of the ones in your area and are already recommend them to your clients. If not, Google “hearing loss support groups near me” or check the find a chapter section of the HLAA website. If no group exists nearby, consider starting one of your own.
Getting involved is easy. Volunteer to speak at a chapter meeting or take part in community events like the Walk4Hearing. At Saturday’s Walk regional audiology programs were well represented.
People with hearing loss love when audiologists attend our events. It not only gives us an opportunity to show them what is important to us, but it also provides a chance for us to learn from them, this time in a real-world setting.
Audiologists can also show support for the hearing loss community by supporting local advocacy efforts such as promoting legislation to increase open-captioned movie screenings or to mandate hearing loops in public spaces. Joining forces with your clients will help you better understand the communication obstacles they face. You will also develop insights and empathy into your client’s lived experiences that will be invaluable as you develop and fine-tune their treatment plans.
Same advice here: If you are an audiologist and don’t have ties to the hearing loss community—Get some!
You won’t be sorry.
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She is the founder of Living With Hearing Loss, a blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. 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.