There are 48 millions of deaf and hard of hearing people in the USA or 20% of the total USA population, but only 1 in 5 of people who could benefit from hearing aids use them. The major reasons are the stigma associated with hearing loss and the financial issues.
When people experience hearing loss, most of them do not seek help right away or are willing to use hearing devices suggested by audiologists. It takes them a long time to become comfortable with their hearing loss and learn how to cope with it. Many think that hearing loss is equal to an old age, but it is the second cause of hearing loss after the noise exposure that is the leading cause. Sadly, it’s also because of society who thinks that perfect hearing and speech are the only ways to communicate in the world and looks down on those who do not meet those standards.
I came across articles in Bloomberg written by Katherine Bouton (that are excerpts from her book, “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I–and 50 Million Other Americans–Can’t Hear You”):
- More Noise, More Hearing Loss, More Isolation
- What I Didn’t Hear at the New York Times
- Cochlear Implants Are Miraculous and Maddening
While I think it is great that someone who worked for New Yorker wrote the book to spread more awareness about hearing loss, I feel a bit taken aback by her constant description of people with hearing loss as “hearing-impaired people” which sounds more negative. It is often used by people not well familiar with hearing loss, but is not favorable by many deaf/hoh people.
Also, Katherine doesn’t seem to be as positive about her experience with hearing loss as others like her (who lose hearing as adults) that also wrote books on this topic (Arlene Romoff, for example). While Katherine sounds very knowledgeable about technicalities of deafness and hearing loss, she does not seem to be aware of more coping strategies for dealing with it or talk more about various communication access solutions. The reviews of her book on the Amazon website sound mixed.
Unfortunately, there are many late deafened people like Katherine who try to hide their hearing devices and conceal their deafness from others instead of asking people for help with communication access accommodations.
For these reasons, Shanna Groves has been encouraging more people show off their hearing aids and cochlear implants and share their stories on her “Show Me Your Ears” page. It has a lot of pictures of proud owners of hearing devices (including myself) in different shapes and colors. Shanna also wrote two books related to hearing loss (mentioned on her website).
It is interesting to note that ear buds that so many people use for their iPods, iPhones, and other music players are originated from old body worn hearing aids. And bluetooth devices do not look much different from the behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing devices. Hopefully more people will get comfortable wearing hearing devices just like they are comfortable wearing eyeglasses now.
My deaf friend who is a bilateral CI user (and has short hair) was telling me about how he was mistaken for a security guard wearing two bluetooth devices! Therefore, exposing hearing devices is not that bad – on contrary, they would even make deaf people look cool.
On left is a picture of a bluetooth BTE device, and on right is a picture of my cochlear implant BTE processor. They don’t look much different except for the price tags (a bluetooth device is much cheaper at around $150 than a hearing aid or a cochlear implant BTE at around $1,000 – $9,000).