Today is World Hearing Day. Each year on this day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) focuses on a different aspect of hearing loss, and this year, the theme is ‘Hearing for life: don’t let hearing loss limit you’. UK blogger, Angie Aspinall explores how we can all benefit from being more open about our hearing loss.
How many people are affected by hearing loss?
According to WHO, “Over 5% of the world’s population – or 466 million people – has disabling hearing loss (432 million adults and 34 million children). It is estimated that by 2050 over 900 million people – or one in every ten people – will have disabling hearing loss.”
The impact of hearing loss
One of the main impacts of hearing loss is on our ability to communicate. When we have difficulty communicating with others, it can cause feelings of loneliness, isolation, and frustration.
At times, we might feel stupid because we’ve said the wrong thing in response to a question that we misheard. We might be considered insensitive because we’ve commented inappropriately when someone has told us something sad, and we misread their body language and tone of voice, and rather than admit we didn’t catch what they said, we’ve nodded and smiled. And people might stop trying to talk to us because we’ve ‘ignored them’ too many times.
So, what can we do about it?
Besides seeking assistance from hearcare professionals, there’s a lot we can do to improve our communication with others – and one is to be more open about our hearing loss and let others know how best to communicate with us.
The Top 3 Benefits of Being Open About Hearing Loss
1. Improving and maintaining relationships
Hearing loss undoubtedly affects our relationships. From superficial conversations with strangers to meaningful heart-to-hearts with loved ones, our communications are fraught with the possibility of mishearing and misunderstanding. This can leave us feeling embarrassed and others feeling frustrated or confused.
We don’t want people to think we’re rude, stupid, insensitive, or lacking a sense of humour, so the best course of action to avoid being labelled as such is to be open about our hearing loss so that others know that miscommunication is a possibility.
More importantly, we need to be clear in telling others what would help us to better understand what they’re saying to us.
For example, it’s more helpful to say, “Please could you walk on my right side, as I have no hearing in my left ear?” or, “Please can you face me when you speak to me so I can read your lips?” than it is to simply say, “I have hearing loss.” The latter leaves them to work it out a strategy for themselves, but the former educates the other party how best to communicate with you – and that in turn should improve the communication between you.
“For many years, I was never open about my deafness. My confidence was low, I felt slightly embarrassed about it, and I wanted to fit in amongst the predominantly hearing people around me. But that was challenging.
“As I got older (and wiser), I got more comfortable with myself and slowly but surely, I opened myself up little by little until I felt comfortable enough to talk about it frequently on the internet and to my close friends and families. One of the biggest benefit for me in doing this is that it has ‘set me free’; there isn’t a weight on my shoulder anymore and I felt like I could be myself and not pretend to be someone who I’m not just because everyone else is hearing.
“I wish I had done that earlier in my life. But I’ve learned it’s never too late for anyone to be more open about their deafness.” Ahmed Khalifa, Founder, Hear Me Out! [CC]
2. Understanding medical advice
We all need to be able to understand information given to us by doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. No one should ever leave their appointment unclear about a diagnosis, treatment, or referral.
- One in seven (14%) of survey respondents had missed an appointment because they didn’t hear their name being called in the waiting room.
- After attending an appointment with their GP, more than a quarter (28%) had been unclear about their diagnosis and nearly one-fifth (19%) had been unclear about their medication.
- Two-thirds (68%) of survey respondents who asked for a BSL interpreter for their
- GP appointment didn’t get one and two-fifths (41%) felt the quality of interpretation was not good enough.
By being open about your communication needs when you make and arrive at your appointment, you enable healthcare professionals to ensure that they can communicate with you effectively.
Action on Hearing Loss says:
“[In the UK], there’s a clear legal foundation for providing access to health services for people with hearing loss. The Equality Act 2010 (the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland) requires service providers to make reasonable adjustments to make their service accessible for disabled people.”
3. Getting support at work
If your employer isn’t aware that you have hearing loss, they won’t know that they need to do anything to meet your access needs. If you need reasonable adjustments making at work, you need to let your employer know.
If you’re profoundly deaf and use British Sign Language you’re likely to fit the definition of having a disability as recognised in The Equality Act 2010. Similarly, if your hearing loss substantially affects your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, for example, hearing and understanding another person speaking clearly over the telephone or understanding verbal instructions.
By getting the support and reasonable adjustments we need, we are all likely to feel less stressed and tired carrying out our jobs.
When we explain our hearing loss and how to meet our communication needs to colleagues, it means they are able to make communication more effective. As world-famous percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie told us:
“I have to address my hearing loss almost each time I work with a conductor, orchestra, collaborator or stage crew whom I have not worked with before. This is important for many reasons because my performances and engagements are based on teamwork. It can be something as basic as the position of a conductor’s podium so that I can see him/her at all times or knowing when the lighting technician will switch off the stage lights in a rehearsal. Being open is essential because it brings better awareness and understanding and thus better action and harmony.” Dame Evelyn Glennie CH, DBE