Have you ever looked for a stock image of someone with hearing loss? They are not easy to find. As a hearing loss blogger, I am always searching for interesting photos of people with hearing loss. Since hearing loss is invisible, this often means looking for images of people with hearing aids, but when I turn to free image libraries, photos like this are few and far between, especially ones featuring modern hearing devices.
This leaves few options for media outlets searching for images to use with news stories about hearing loss. This problem is on clear display in recent posts from Huffington Post and The Conversation. Each article features hearing devices that are decades old. Outdated images perpetuate the stigmatized idea that hearing aids are ugly, embarrassing and should be hidden from view. More realistic imagery would help break down this stigma and reduce some of the social barriers people face when considering whether or not to give hearing aids a try.
Attractive hearing devices do exist.
The truth is that many hearing devices are attractive. Today’s hearing aids come in sleek colors and boast modern shapes. They have shrunk in size to fit discreetly behind an ear or can be personalized with stickers and jewelry to make them more visible. Hearing aids can be worn with pride and confidence, yet often they are not, as misinformation and a dearth of role models keeps the stigma alive.
I had hoped over the counter (OTC) hearing aids would soon change this negative perception, as new form factors and varied use cases provided a much-needed makeover, but the timeline is delayed. While standards for this new category of hearing devices were to be released by the FDA in August 2020, Covid-19 has delayed this process. No updated timing is available.
Direct-to-consumer hearing devices, known as “hearables,” are another story. They already come in many shapes and sizes, looking like consumer electronic devices more than hearing aids. Some protrude boldly out of the ear making no attempt at shyness while others dangle from the ears like Apple’s AirPods. There is no stigma associated with these ear centered devices, just as long as we don’t call them hearing aids.
Nomenclature may be changing though. Apple’s upcoming iOS 14 will reportedly enable its AirPods Pro devices to be used as hearing aids, including the ability to program in an audiogram and featuring a reported fix for Bluetooth latency issues. If AirPods Pro takes on hearing aid functionality in a socially accepted looking package, will this help lower the stigma for all hearing devices?
Current stock images of hearing aids are outdated, inaccurate and unattractive.
More realistic imagery would help break down much of the stigma associated with hearing aids, but where can we find them? Few good options exist.
One option is to have hearing aid manufacturers supply images showcasing their devices, but this could easily turn into a brand building exercise rather than a stigma reducing one. Audiologists could get into the act, taking photos of patients and their devices (with permission of course) and offering them to relevant image libraries. Or people with hearing loss could submit their own pictures. In these options, image quality would likely vary too much to make them truly useable. Professional images are likely needed.
In 2019, AARP faced a similar problem with stereotypes surrounding aging, bemoaning the lack of attractive images of people 50+ enjoying the active lifestyle that more accurately reflects aging in today’s world. In collaboration with Getty Images, they decided to do something about it, launching The Disrupt Aging Collection, a paid library of more than 1,400 images that paint a more accurate portrait of how people age in today’s society — free of ageist stereotypes.
Can we do the same for people with hearing loss — only with free images? Imagine a “show us your hearing aids” campaign highlighting people of all ages, races, genders and walks of life proudly sporting their hearing devices of all types. Photos like this could change the face of hearing loss for good, breaking down stigmas and creating a new normal that promotes hearing health in all stages of life. What do you say Getty Images? Can you help?