This article was kindly written by Jennifer Gibson, an award winning writer, photographer and designer. She is also a Hear Strong Champion for the Hear Strong Foundation and she is dedicated fo changing stigma around hearing loss. We hope that this article will help with that goal. To find out more, visit Jennifer's Blog, her Facebook page or her Twitter feed.
Having to deal with the impact of a hearing loss can be quite a shock. Coming to terms with it is not easy, but it’s an important step in moving forward. If it’s not recognised in time, it can have a devastating impact on everyone’s lives.You need to embrace this new change in your life which means utilizing as many tools as possible.
Get good quality hearing aids
The biggest and most obvious step is having your hearing tested by an audiologist and getting good quality hearing aids that are programmed to suit your type of hearing loss. Every company is different and there are a variety of brands out there to choose from such as Unitron, Phonak, Widex or Oticon, to name a few. Depending on the type of hearing loss, you can opt to wear an ITE, tiny hearing aids that fit in the ear which are nearly invisible which work for a mild hearing loss. If the hearing loss is closer to being more moderate or severe, a BTE may be a more suitable fit since they are more powerful, these are typically larger and sit behind the ear. My personal favourite is the Oticon Chili Super Power BTE’s, they offer superior quality speech and music programs and the best ones I’ve used so far, I highly recommend giving them a try. And If you have a cheeky sense of humour, you could always say that it’s one of those newfangled Bluetooth earphones. That’s the beauty of wearable tech, you’ll blend right in with today’s cool crowd.
By the way, there’s no shame in wearing hearing aids. It’s unfortunate that many people are resistant to wearing them due to the stigma that it’s a sign of growing old. I’ve been wearing them since I was a kid, that’s over forty years of experience. It’s a part of my life and I’ve had to accept that. Once I embraced it, people around me responded to that attitude in a positive way. I’ve had many strangers come up to me and exclaim how much they love the colours of my earmolds and hearing aids. Since they are visible, they are more careful to get my attention and make sure that I understand them. They go out of their way to find alternative solutions so that we can communicate with each other. Being honest about my hearing loss has made a world of a difference and it has made my life a lot easier.
Wearing hearing aids is only the first step. Education and awareness is the other aspect of it. One of the biggest misconceptions is that people often expect to have their hearing restored when they wear hearing aids. Sadly, that’s not the case. It’s not that same as wearing glasses where your eyesight is temporarily back to normal when you wear them. Damage to the ears is typically permanent. The ability to hear sounds is diminished considerably or in severe cases, gone. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.
However, hearing aids can help amplify speech which is important. They also reduce the stress and exhaustion of straining to hear. Yes, hearing loss is tiring. You may not realize it but you are compensating for the lack of ability to hear normally by reading lips or watching body language. It’s a huge drain on the body especially in a noisy environments such as being outside at a busy street or in a crowded restaurant.
Cone of Silence
Unfortunately, we don’t have those nifty inventions such as the Cone of Silence as seen in the movie Get Smart to help us. The next best thing is to pick smaller venues that are quieter and well lit. At noisy locations, try to find a seat in a corner or with your back to the wall to reduce the background sounds. It’s best to avoid areas near the kitchen, a noisy air conditioning unit or if there is music blaring nearby such as speakers directly overhead. Also, try to avoid talking to someone sitting in front of a bright window where their face is cast in a dark shadow. If you are unable to change spots, let them know that you are having trouble following the conversation since you can’t see their face. Most people are not aware of how much we rely on facial cues and it helps to educate them about it.
For business meetings, there are many options to consider such as the size of the room, number of people and seating arrangements. The closer you are to the speaker, the more successful you will be at hearing them. Bear in mind that hearing aids have a limited range, they work best within one or two metres. Beyond that, the distance makes the sounds, particularly speech, inaudible. Hearing aids are usually not strong for meetings or large group conversations, there’s a lot of information that is being exchanged at a rapid pace. It’s like being at a tennis match where you’re watching the ball go back and forth, except in this case you’re going from face to face, trying to catch snatches of what’s being said.
Smaller groups make it much easier to follow the flow of the conversation. Round tables are superb where you can see everyone’s faces and understand what is being said. However, if it’s a large group then you’ll likely need to utilize other resources such as having a professional notetaker with you. Another option is to use digital technology such as a conference microphone that can be placed at the table or FM systems that pick up the voice of the speaker and reduces background sounds. An audiologist can help find the best one that will fit the type of environment you need the most assistance in. By the way, you can also use the FM system to plug into your mobile device which streams the sounds, including music, right to your hearing aids.
For training sessions, conferences or corporate meetings, you may want to consider using CART which is Realtime Captioning. I’ve attended many large meetings and conferences that utilized this technology and it’s an absolute god-send. It’s a live translation of what’s being spoken and delivered to a screen or laptop monitor. The downside is that this type of service is costly and somewhat limited in terms of availability depending on the location.
Music, TV and Plays
If you’re a music lover or enjoy plays, there are a variety of choices being offered today thanks to the advancement of technology. However, it requires being diligent in doing research about the venue you want to attend. Find out what services they provide in regards to assistive listening devices. Some offer neck loops that work for hearing aids with a T-switch (telecoil) while others provide headsets that amplify sounds. Be aware that headsets can cause feedback and not necessarily provide enough sound. Removing hearing aids to use the headset is not ideal since you would lose the ability to hear the information, it essentially defeats the purpose. If you’re not a fan of headsets or neck loops or it’s simply not available, another option is to read the transcripts of the play ahead of time.
Movie theatres are becoming more accessible thanks to the new CaptiView Closed Caption Viewing System. It’s a small LED display on a bendable snake-like metal tube that sits in the cup holder. While it may seem weird lugging around an alien looking device to your seat, it’s worth it to be able to follow virtually every word that is spoken during the show. It’s a phenomenal invention that I adore and can’t live without. For years, I couldn’t go to the movies because I missed so much of the dialogue, now I can enjoy it like everyone else and that means the world to me. Bear in mind that most movie theatres typically have a limited supply of these devices on hand and a small fraction of their shows are captioned. Always check the listings before you go, visit their website to get the latest updates.
While on the topic of captioning, most televisions provide this feature, go through the settings and check to see if it’s turned on. The majority of shows today are closed captioned. Although this is not necessarily true for shows that are streamed online, while Netflix and Hulu have done a stupendous job in providing captioned content, there is still a bit of a gap in this area.
Closed captioning is a great feature to use at home, especially if everyone else in the family is complaining that the television is too loud. I always use it and many of my relatives are keen to turn it on for me when I visit which is a very kind gesture that I deeply appreciate. A nifty bonus is that it’s a great tool for kids learning how to read, particularly at a fast pace. The trick to reading captions on TV is to look in the middle where your eyes will catch everything as opposed to just reading the words. There’s a golden rule regarding using closed captioning at home: if the person watching television has a hearing loss and relies on the captions to follow the content, turning it off is a big no-no. They need to use it the same way other people wear glasses or use a wheelchair, it’s a valuable tool to help them be more inclusive.
There are lot of services out there that can make a world of difference for you. While it may seem like a daunting prospect to ask someone to help you, it’s worth it. We are living in the golden age of digital technology, it’s an enormous boost for people like us and we should be taking advantage of it as much as possible. As actor Nathan Fillion likes to say, “Life is like broccoli. You’ll never know if you like it if you don’t try it.”