Sometimes hearing loss can feel like a no-win situation. If you don’t self-advocate, you will be left out of the conversation. But when you do, your self-advocacy behaviors are met with resistance, or worse — contempt. This happened to a hearing loss friend of mine recently. She did all the right things to handle her hearing loss in the workplace — she arrived early to meetings and rearranged the seating arrangement so she could hear her best — but in her year-end review, she was labeled as too controlling.
The same thing can sometimes happen when we request accommodations for a webinar or in a public space. In many cases, we are entitled to them under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the organizers may not understand their responsibility to make their activities accessible to all. They may react with annoyance or worse, decline your requests for assistance.
Despite resistance, our self-advocacy efforts cannot be deterred.
How to Combat Resistance to Self- Advocacy
How do we continue to advocate for ourselves in the face of resistance?
1. Share your struggles
Even if you have mentioned your hearing loss to people many times, they may not truly understand the struggles that you face. Hearing loss is difficult to understand unless you have experienced it. Tell them specifics about your hearing loss, including the frustration and sadness you feel when it makes it harder for you to do the things that are important to you. When you share your vulnerability, it is often met with empathy and a greater willingness to help.
2. Get them on your side
Make your success, their success. If you can get your boss/friend/whoever you need to assist you as a co-advocate, your chances of success rise. Explain why the meeting or event is important to you and how the changes that you are requesting will enhance your ability to participate. Ask for their help in creating an environment where you can shine. Appeal to their desire — especially if it is your boss — for you to be able to do your best work. When you transform a skeptic into a co-advocate, they will no longer be working against you. Any successes you have, will reflect positively on them as well.
3. Express gratitude
When you ask someone to swap seats at a meeting or to provide captions on a webinar, sincerely thank them for their help. Giving them credit for the “good behavior” will incentivize them to assist you again in the future. This should be easy, since you probably are genuinely grateful for the assistance, especially when it is done with a smile. Pro tip: Make your requests with your own smile and a positive attitude. Both are hard to resist.
4. Use humor
Humor can lighten the mood, reduce tension, and prod people to do the right thing. When entering the meeting, you can announce, “The deaf one is here, please make way,” or something similar that fits with your personality and the setting.
Most Importantly, Don’t Stop Advocating
Sometimes doing the right thing for ourselves or others is not popular, but even if others cannot see our self-advocacy for what it is — self-preservation — we must persist. If you have trouble rousing the courage to advocate for yourself, imagine that it is your child or best friend that needs the help and think about what you would do to assist them. Then take these steps for yourself. We deserve to be part of the conversation.
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.