By Amy Sargent
Flaunt those bits and pieces! No, I’m not being naughty or risqué–though I’ve been known to be so!
“Bits and pieces” are the euphemisms I use for hearing aids (HAs) and cochlear implants (CIs). It’s amazing how “hearing aids” and “cochlear implants” are dirty words to many of those who need them. A lot of people who suffer from hearing loss view HAs and CIs as the bane of their existence, instead of embracing and celebrating what the devices bring to their life.
I can’t say I love wearing my hearing aids, but I do love hearing my husband sing his favorite songs. And nothing reduces me to a cream puff faster than hearing my 3-year-old grandson blurt out “I lo-o-o-ve you!” I don’t love my hearing aids and they aren’t my favorite fashion statement. But, I love what they allow me to do: communicate with all the people I come in contact with.
Sure, I still have to say, “I’m a deaf girl. Can you please speak up?” or “Please look at me while you’re talking.” But the security they give me that I can do my job outshines my distaste for having something stuck in my ears all day.
I believe in total communication, which means that I take advantage of all means available to learn, socialize, and participate in a conversation. That’s why I learned American Sign Language when I was diagnosed with a progressive sensorineural hearing loss.
WHY THE DENIAL?
How many times have you heard people complain about an elderly parent or a spouse who doesn’t hear? Among the most common complaints is “They turn the television/radio up so loud that it’s annoying.” Or “He never hears what I tell him.” Yet, no matter how often their family complains, they refuse to wear hearing aids. Why? Judging from my experience, I believe this is either because of what I call “deafie denial” or of vanity. And when you get down to basics, I believe the refusal to get hearing help stems from the stigma attached to hearing aid and cochlear implant wearers.
I coined the term “deafie denial” to describe the behavior of people who don’t hear well, but refuse to accept that their hearing loss is affecting them and the people around them.
Vanity is a huge problem among baby boomers, whom I lovingly call “recycled teenagers.” They view their need for hearing aids as an unwelcome reminder that they are aging. Vanity is also common in the Gen X and Y populations, as well as among school- and college-aged individuals. Younger people don’t want to be viewed as different, hence the stigma of wearing hearing devices.
END THE MYSTERY
Do you look twice at someone wearing eyeglasses? I’m sure you don’t. Society fully understands that people who don’t have perfect vision wear glasses to see better. It’s not a difficult idea to grasp. But, somehow, the public doesn’t yet extend that simple concept to hard-of-hearing people wearing hearing instruments.
With all the new laws restricting drivers who use cell phones to select hands-free systems, the sight of a Bluetooth device in someone’s ear has become routine. Or walk into any department store and chances are the employees will all be wearing earpieces connected to two-way radios. Earpieces are becoming so common that Americans rarely look twice at someone wearing one.
Why is it, then, that people are still so fixated on hearing aids and cochlear implants? Why do they feel the need to stare and mumble to themselves or to the person with them when they see a hearing aid wearer? I believe it’s because there is some mysterious unknown associated with deafness and hearing loss. HA and CI wearers are much less common than eyeglass wearers, which I think feeds the mystery. People wonder, what can they hear? Nothing? Something? What is it like? Curiosity is why people look.
Let’s break this down to its simplest form. People who can’t hear well use hearing aids to hear better–just as people who can’t see well wear glasses to see better. There is nothing mysterious about it.
So, what’s my agenda? I want to de-stigmatize the use of hearing aids and cochlear implants. I have started a grass-roots campaign to help eliminate the negative image attached to wearing hearing aids and cochlear implants. In my opinion it’s ridiculous in this age of advanced technology and instant information that people aren’t more informed about us deafies.
There certainly is an awful lot of curiosity, and I’ve made it my mission to respond to it. One part of this campaign is my new book, A Survival Guide for New Deafies. Once we satisfy the curiosity of strangers and inform the public, I hope the stigma around hearing technology will die out.
Then maybe all the millions of people who are literally suffering in silence will embrace technology that will give them back not only some of their hearing, but also their voice. For when you don’t address your hearing loss, you lose your voice as well because you can’t weigh in on what is being said to and around you.
So, to all of you who need to wear hearing aids or cochlear implants, I say: “Flaunt your bits and pieces!”
Amy Sargent, aka Deaf Girl Amy, is author of A Survival Guide for New Deafies. At age 27, she began losing her hearing, which, she says, started her on “a very difficult journey made more bearable with the use of hearing aids.” A state-certified teacher, she lives in upstate New York with her husband and two English bulldogs, Gracie and Mr. Magoo. She strongly believes, “Deafness only defines you when let it.” More information about her, her campaign, and her book can be found at www.DeafGirlAmy.com.