There has been a lot of research about the Hearing Aid Effect with adults. What does that mean? It means how do people with a hearing aid think others react to them because they have a hearing aid. How does it make them feel? Does it make them feel less competent?
Whether or not people have negative opinions of people with hearing loss, most adults with hearing loss want to hide their hearing loss. When seeking hearing aids, they want ones that are “invisible”. They report feeling less sexy, less interesting and less smart if they have to wear hearing aids. Very unfortunate.
Hearing Aids and Stigma
Research in the 1970’s and 1980’s showed that when photos of teens and adults with hearing aids were compared to those without hearing aids, the ones with hearing aids were rated more negatively, and the bigger the hearing aid, the more negatively.
The world has changed for children with hearing loss. Since children with disabilities have been integrated into mainstream classrooms, it has been the goal that everyone would be more accepting of children with disabilities. Has that happened?
Wheeler and Tharpe at Vanderbilt, recently published a paper in AJA which looked at the hearing aid effect in younger children. They used photos of boys with similar clothing haircuts, and eye color, some with and some without hearing aids. They asked questions covering cognitive competence, physical competence and peer acceptance. The study cohort was asked questions like “Which child is better at math?”, “which child has more friends”, “Is this child really good, kind of good, kind of not good, or really not good at math?”
Unfortunately, the study indicates that children still show some bias when looking at children with hearing loss. The study showed negative hearing aid effect when viewing physical competence and peer acceptance. No negative bias was found for cognitive competence.
Obviously, we have more work to do. Teachers and school administrators need to be encouraged to discuss disability with all children and to help everyone understand that disability is not a limiting factor in many situations. Families of children with hearing loss will likely be required to take the lead in helping schools work through some of these issues.