May is Better Speech and Hearing Month, which means it’s the perfect time to take a look at the ways we are communicating in the world. If you live with hearing loss, you have probably spent some time thinking about how you disclose your hearing loss within the world. This is never a one-size-fits-all arrangement. Everyone must develop a strategy that serves them and feels comfortable.
Better Communication for All
Each year, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) promotes May as Better Speech and Hearing Month. The goal of this campaign is to normalize communication disorders and advocate for greater visibility of a variety of conditions, such as hearing loss, in our society. By removing the stigma from hearing loss, the ASHA seeks to increase access, awareness and education that invites greater ease into the lives of people that struggle with hearing loss. This year’s theme is “Better Communication for All,” which is a timely reminder that educating everyone about hearing loss doesn’t only enhance communication for those with the condition. Instead, awareness surrounding these disorders helps everyone, hearing loss or not, communicate in a richer way.
Hearing loss is “normal”
It’s hard to say what is “normal” and what is not. Just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we’re all different in funky little ways. The work of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association is so important because it normalizes communication disorders. If there weren’t any stigma attached to hearing loss, then disclosure strategies wouldn’t even be a topic of discussion. Though hearing loss is incredibly predominant in our society, with more than 48 million Americans reporting a degree of hearing loss, people with hearing loss continue to internalize this condition. It’s a human trait, we tend to think our differences make us “less than” that set us apart in an isolating way.
Truly, hearing loss is a fact about us, no different than our hair color or height. It’s the ways that our culture has adopted healthy hearing as the ‘normalcy’ which means that those with hearing conditions must adapt to a very verbal and healthy hearing society.
The advantages of disclosure strategies
There are at least three ways that people with hearing loss tend to disclose: Non-disclosers in which they may tell that they didn’t hear what was said but do not disclose their hearing loss; Basic disclosers who share just the basics of their condition; and Multipurpose disclosers who share their condition then give a directive for improving communication.
It is this last category that has the most success in the ways that people feel about disclosing their hearing loss. After being forthright about the condition, multi-purpose disclosers then retain a good degree of control in the situation by speaking up about ways the other person or people can accommodate their hearing loss. An example of this might sound like, “I have trouble hearing. Could you please look at me while you’re talking so that I have a better chance of understanding you?” This is a win/win for everyone in the conversation: you’ll remove communication obstacles and the other person will have a clear understanding of a better way for them to communicate with you.
A disclosure strategy is a way to do the advocacy work of normalizing hearing loss on a daily basis. You are wonderful and sharing your experience of hearing loss give people who don’t know very much about the condition a great reference point. It also removes pressure from you! There isn’t anything wrong with you and you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting in your communications. Tell other people the ways that they can accommodate your hearing loss so that everyone has a deeper and more fulfilling conversation experience.
All of that being said, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be a poster child for the cause. You should only reveal your hearing loss in situations where you feel safe. Discomfort is alright, especially at first, because you’re choosing to expose what you might consider a vulnerability. However, if you feel as though disclosing your hearing loss would put you in a tenuous position, it’s perfectly fine to reserve your privacy around the matter.
Make a hearing health plan
Dr. David DeKriek of Fidelity Hearing Center can help with all aspects of better communication. The first step is almost always a hearing test in order to discern your unique hearing loss. From there, you and your audiologist can explore the best ways of treating your hearing loss.