Self-advocacy encompasses learning how to speak up for yourself. It involves surrounding yourself with individuals that will support you in your journey, being knowledgeable regarding your rights, and being able to voice your rights to others. Advocating for yourself will not only lead to success in life, but it will help break down barriers and educate others about hearing loss. Living with a disability presents challenges, but fear not - with the appropriate support systems, strategies, and knowledge, you can learn to improve your quality of life.
Approximately 20% of Americans live with some degree of hearing loss. Living with an invisible handicap, like hearing loss, poses a challenge because others do not easily identify with it. Unless you speak up, it is likely that people around you will not be aware that you have a hearing loss. People who are not aware you have a hearing loss could mistake you for being lazy, disrespectful (if not following through on what’s being asked of you), or not being able to listen. As a society, we need to educate others so that they can better understand what it is like to have a hearing loss, become more aware of the needs of individuals with hearing loss, and develop solutions to address those needs. That’s why it is vitally important that individuals with hearing loss speak up for themselves, as it will improve their communication and understanding with others.
Below are some suggestions that might be helpful in talking with a friend, significant other, family member, co-worker, or your boss, about your hearing loss.
1. Let people know about your hearing loss.
The first step is sharing your hearing loss with others. It may not be easy, but divulging this information will become more comfortable with practice. For example, if you are interviewing for a job that involves communicating with clients (and therefore listening), you should share that you have a hearing loss so that appropriate accommodations can be put into place. Do not be concerned about sharing your hearing impairment at your place of employment as it is covered under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
2. Determine what accommodations you need.
Identify the situations in which you experience difficulty and some possible strategies you can use in those instances. For example, you might recognize that you have difficulty in your staff meeting and one helpful strategy may be to be seated in the front of the room. Consult a licensed audiologist if you are having trouble brainstorming strategies needed to be successful in dealing with your hearing loss.
3. Ask for what you need
Once you have identified some strategies you know will be helpful, voice those to your communication partners. For example, if you’re having trouble understanding what your spouse is saying to you while eating dinner (amidst classical music playing in the background), say “it would help me if you could turn off the music while we eat so I can hear what you are saying.” If you’re in a work environment with lots of phones ringing and people chatting by your desk, politely ask your boss if there would be any other place you could work that is located away from the noise so that you can be more productive and successful in your work endeavors.
4. Provide reminders
While you may have shared your hearing loss with your friends and family, it is easy to fall into familiar habits, especially since hearing loss is an invisible disability. It will not hurt to regularly remind people, “it helps me if you ________.”
5. Educate others about hearing loss
Tell people what it is like to walk in the shoes of someone who lives with hearing loss. Share information about your experience of wearing hearing aids including how they work and how they have helped you. Also, you should point out the limitations of hearing aids as some people may believe that because you wear hearing aids then you should have no difficulty hearing in any situation.
6. Join a Hearing Loss Support Group
Reaching out and meeting with other individuals with hearing loss is a great opportunity to find out how others cope with their hearing loss and can help you incorporate some of those strategies into your life. Plus, you may be able to help someone cope with their own hearing loss by sharing your experience.
7. Wear your hearing aids with pride
Be proud that you are an individual with a hearing loss who wears hearing aids. Using hearing aids is just like someone who needs to wear glasses in order to see. By gaining confidence in wearing your hearing aids with pride, you are helping to break the stigma of hearing loss in our society.