Hearing Loss and Stigma

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”):

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).

Bluetooth BTE on left and cochlear implant BTE on right

4 thoughts on “Hearing Loss and Stigma

  1. Shanon Thompson

    I’m a hearing person, and it’s quite interesting to know that a popular device such as a Bluetooth was made using an hearing aid model as the base structure. It’s ironic how the very persons who may stigmatize hearing people are the very ones who at one point in time want to get a Bluetooth device.I have always been intrigued by people who are deaf because they use a language that uses hands instead of speech. I personally don’t believe deaf people or person who have hearing loss should be stigmatized because they are no different from any other human being that have a language.Instead of segregating from people with hearing loss, one should seek to try and find out what it’s like to live and co-exist in the world of a deaf person or someone who has hearing loss. By doing so one can actually improve one’s self linguistically (by learning sign-language), socially (due to the fact that an individual will not only be able to communicate with those who can hear but also those who don’t have hearing abilities). Technology who automatically improve because now people won’t only take into consider people who can hear but also people who can’t hear sufficiently and those who can’t. Frankly stigma only leave people in the dark and power comes from knowledge, therefore knowing how to co-exist with people of any status would make the world a lot more easier for people who are different to cope better in an already complicated world.

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