Bad attitudes toward hearing and hearing loss abound: Any ideas to improve them?

Hearing Health & Technology Matters
August 8, 2012

By David H. Kirkwood 

The science and technology available to treat hearing loss improve by the day, yet it sometimes seems that society’s attitudes toward hearing, hearing loss, and those who have it are as backward as ever.

A particularly terrible example of stupidity and insensitivity toward those who can’t hear was reported this week by an investigative television news team from KIRO in Tacoma, WA and summarized at Hearing News Watch.

According to the report, a young deaf woman called 911 for help against an attacker in her home. A recording of the call proved that she informed the operator that she was deaf. Yet, when when the police arrived, one officer fired a Taser gun into her body—because, he said, she did not respond to his order to stop. The injured woman was then handcuffed, arrested, and left for nearly three days in a jail cell without an interpreter before a prosecutor decided not to press charges and she was released.

Less appalling but still plenty disturbing was a recent front page article in The New York Times about people’s reckless endangerment of their ears. The story pointed out that the owners and customers of many of the most popular bars and restaurants in town seem totally oblivious to the risk that spending hours surrounded by a constant din of 90 to 100 dB poses to their hearing.

To be sure, sometimes there is good news. One smart idea that my blog colleague Holly Hosford-Dunn alerted me to yesterday is a new movement to bring down the noise level in hospitals. If you’ve stayed in or visited a hospital recently, you’ve probably heard for yourself how loud it is. Apparently, it has now begun to dawn on some authorities on health care that a place that is too noisy for sleeping may not be the best place to recuperate from a disease or surgery.



Far too often, however, people are either ignorant or just don’t care about hearing and hearing loss—their own or someone else’s. If people generally appreciated how precious their hearing is, they would protect it, and the frequency of hearing loss would plummet.

If people who have hearing loss would acknowledge it and would learn about and take advantage of the treatments that can address it successfully in most cases, they and their families would lead more fulfilling lives.

And if more of those with normal hearing would develop greater understanding and compassion toward those whose hearing is impaired, they would find it easy to accommodate the needs of those with hearing loss, and thereby minimize the impact of the condition.

Anyone who knows anything about hearing loss would agree with the preceding statements. What we haven’t come up with yet are enough good ideas on how to convert those “ifs” into “whens.”



Speaking of good ideas, the Ida Institute, along with the Oticon Foundation, which funds it, is running a campaign to collect some. Last spring, the Danish-based, non-profit educational organization issued a worldwide call for ideas that have the potential to generate better understanding of hearing loss, change public perception, and encourage people to take action.

And whom are they asking to propose such ideas? Well, anyone, but especially people like you who are reading a blog called These people include hearing healthcare providers, but also people with hearing loss and those who care about them.

At last report, more than 200 original ideas had been posted to, the Ideas Campaign web site. More than 2500 votes had been cast for the best ideas among them. I urge you to visit the site and see some of the creative thinking that has gone into the ideas so far.

Better still, why not propose your own idea?  The campaign still has seven more weeks to go before it ends on September 30. After that, a panel of judges, made up of thought leaders from a variety of hearing, health care, innovation, and communication disciplines, will select three winning ideas, which will be announced April 2 at AudiologyNOW! 2013 in Anaheim, CA.

So, start thinking of ways to change the world for people with hearing loss and pay a visit to

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