Hearing Loss Is a Part of Your Life, Not Your Life
Those affected by hearing loss may have difficulty explaining to friends, family, co-workers, and strangers how their life changed when they started to lose their hearing. Though it’s difficult to articulate and navigate all that comes with having a hearing impairment, these conversations can be very empowering for both you and the person you’re talking to. We’ve written this guide to help you through those sometimes not-so-easy conversations, so you can feel in control of your hearing loss and, in turn, your happiness.
It’s All About You
There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about having a hearing loss, and that belief starts with you. Educating others empowers them and yourself to create change. You can influence how people respond to hearing loss; you have the power to change the stigmas around it.
Research tells us that concealing your hearing loss can create a tension in your social or professional life that could negatively affect your health and well-being. Talking about it alleviates the strain of trying to hide the condition. Plus, it increases your chances of finding a support network with others who understand.
There are 48 million people who have a significant hearing loss in the United States alone. To be a successful activist, the most essential trait you can have is openness. As an advocate, it’s important to communicate fully and have the confidence to request this openness from others. Good advocates are tenacious, patient, and gracious, and they never forget to thank everyone who helped on their projects.
How to Talk About Your Hearing Loss With Loved Ones, Employers, and Strangers
A hearing loss advocate is open and can ask others to be the same. When you normalize hearing loss instead of hiding it, it lessens the negative stigmas around a hearing impairment. Hearing your best means having the right technology for the environments that you’re in most often — fit specifically to your unique hearing needs — and maximizing that technology with better communication strategies. Being honest with co-workers, family members, and friends about what you need is the first step toward understanding.
Your loved ones are the most important people in your life, and they feel the same way about you. They are there to support you, but they may not know how. Here are our suggestions to help start that conversation.
- Talk it out. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed with hearing loss or you’re fit with technology, it’s best to speak to those closest to you about your hearing loss at a time and in a place you’re comfortable with.
- Be open and honest. Explain how your hearing loss affects your daily activities. Give specific examples so they understand what they can do to help.
- Ask for what you need. If you find yourself wishing your loved ones would do something different or help you out, let them know. You don’t have to figure out everything right now; let this be an ongoing conversation.
There is value in knowing you’re not the only one with hearing loss in the workforce. Of the people with hearing loss, 60 percent are either in the workforce or in educational settings. These steps will help you talk to your employer about not only your hearing loss but how to help you continue to do your best work.
- Start the conversation. Talking to your employer about your hearing loss may be intimidating or may cause you anxiety. To help build up your confidence before you approach your manager, practice what you want to say or jot down bullets to make sure you cover the important points.
- Help your employer understand. Explain how your hearing affects your duties at work. Come to your employer with solutions so they have a better understanding of how to help.
- Know your rights. Your manager should have access to your employer’s policy for supporting people with a disability or health condition, and your manager should be aware of what steps you can take together to ensure you’re able to do what you do best.
Depending on your personality and mood, this group can be the easiest or most difficult to explain your hearing impairment to.
- Be open and honest. Simply explain that you have a hard time hearing, and ask for what you need. This addresses your hearing impairment while establishing a foundation for the conversation.
- It’s up to you. Do not feel obligated to tell everyone about your experience. The more you practice advocacy, the easier it will be to judge if telling that person is helpful to the both of you.
- Laugh it off. If someone has a negative reaction because you did not hear them, take the high road and make light of the situation. Speaking directly to what happened forces a conversation about it, which increases education and, in turn, understanding.
Hearing Loss Myths: You Hear Them All the Time
You’ve probably experienced the following interactions before. Here are some ways to address the situations in a manner that promotes advocacy.
- You tell someone you’re hard of hearing, so they speak slowly and loudly.
- If this isn’t helpful to you, thank them for trying to be sensitive, but tell them what you really need is, for example, for them to face you when they talk. People don’t know what you need until you tell them.
- You didn’t catch something in a conversation, so you ask, “What?” and the person replies with, “Oh, never mind.”
- This is a good time to bring awareness to your hearing loss. Let them know you’re hard of hearing, which is why you are asking them to repeat themselves. Chances are they had no idea, and they would be happy to communicate in a more effective way so you can continue your conversation.
- You come across someone who believes hearing aids fix your hearing.
- Remind them that they are called hearing aids because they help your hearing loss but don’t cure it. Let them know how your hearing has changed since you got your hearing aids.