World Hearing Day is a wonderful way to raise awareness about hearing loss, and this year’s theme “To hear for life, listen with care” was no exception. As a new member of the World Hearing Forum (WHF), I am proud to support WHF’s advocacy initiatives to raise awareness about hearing loss, promote safe listening to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, and improve care for people with hearing loss around the world.
But as a person with hearing loss, every day is a bit like World Hearing Day!
Every Day is Like World Hearing Day
1. We raise awareness about hearing loss.
Only then will other people know to use communication best practices like getting our attention before speaking and keeping their mouths uncovered so we can speechread. Our friends and family learn the drill over time, but they still need reminders because each hearing loss situation is different. Some days, especially when we meet new people, each conversation can feel like a master class on communication access!
Our conversation partners are usually willing to help us when asked, but they don’t always know what to do. The knee-jerk reaction, especially in a public setting like a hospital, is often to offer a sign-language interpreter. While this is a terrific accommodation for the Deaf community, it doesn’t work for most people with hearing loss because only 5% of people with hearing challenges use sign language to communicate.
Other times, well-intentioned communication partners may yell or move their mouths in an exaggerated fashion to help us hear, but this distorts their lips, making speechreading more difficult. It is our job to gently educate them about better ways for them to assist. This can get complicated because each person’s hearing loss is unique. What helps me, might not work for the next person with hearing loss that they meet.
2. We advocate for better communication access.
This is true in a variety of settings—at work, at home, at play. Even at the hospital or doctor’s office, where we often erroneously expect that our hearing challenges will be better understood. Unfortunately, hearing loss is not always taken seriously by the broader medical profession despite its association with many health problems including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, a higher likelihood of falls, and when left untreated, a higher incidence of dementia.
We request captioning devices at the movies and the theater, and research accessibility options before heading to a museum or public event. We travel with our tech tools and speech-to-text apps so we can assist ourselves in a variety of situations. The more we request communication access, the better prepared these venues will be for the next visitor with hearing loss.
Online, we must also advocate to be included by reminding Zoom meeting hosts to enable captioning on their Zoom accounts ahead of time so Zoom’s built-in high-quality ASR captions will be available. Unfortunately, many hosts do not understand how to enable this feature or do not have access to the main account settings, leaving people with hearing loss out in the cold. Universal access on Zoom—where each individual user can turn the captions on and off for themselves—would be a game changer.
3. We use and promote hearing protection.
My residual hearing is sacred to me. It is the gift that allows my hearing technology to work better and helps me remain in the hearing world. I always use hearing protection in loud settings and avoid listening too loud or for too long. My noise-cancelling headphones are my best friend when traveling by plane or train, helping to block the loud rhythmic sound that can not only damage my hearing but trigger my tinnitus as well.
Wearing hearing protection has been a steady mantra in my household as well—even with my teenaged children who have learned by watching me struggle how valuable their hearing is. During middle school they began to wear hearing protection at concerts and loud parties. I am proud that they take their hearing health so seriously.
Thank You for Celebrating Healthy Hearing
Thank you to everyone who celebrated World Hearing Day this year and every year. Greater awareness and access help smooth our hearing loss journey every other day of the year.
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.