Sunday, November 18, 2012

Owning Your Hearing Loss

“They see me as a different person than I am”

A recent interview made me think about the prevailing view on hearing loss in the general population – and how we need to change it!

Hearing loss can make those around you lose interest

Anthropologists are trained to be professionally curious and explore even the smallest subtleties in the social fabric that might uncover significant differences between the prescribed cultural norm and actual behavior. One of my latest ethnographic interviews allowed me to meet a 50 year old photographer from Copenhagen. Not long ago he faced isolation and experienced a painful breakdown of his social network. It was not subtleties that were at play here, as he told me:
“To suddenly realize that everybody sees you as a different person than you are… a guy with a growing, unappealing character that even friends refrain from commenting upon and to realize that I have become an arrogant asshole that friends are starting to avoid was a total shock to me!” and he continued: “When I realized that it was a hearing loss at play I did something about it and when my family gathered around me and said how wonderful it was to have me back again… I … you get moved to tears, really…”

Social relations are determined in a split second

 It was quite surprising for me to learn that the consequences of not being able to respond within a split second in a normal conversation actually meant people tended to think you were  arrogant or becoming ’a bit slow’. I am talking about fragments of time here! 
Luckily the guy I interviewed realized that it was the hearing loss that was ruining his social relationships and did something about it. Now wearing hearing aids has brought him back on track socially and made him a better communicator with his clients at work.

The noblest mission

After the interview he asked me, when I thought his hearing handicap was more significant; before he got the aids or after?  It made me think about how people view hearing.

The paradox is, that many people perceive the person wearing the (almost invisible) hearing aids as being MORE handicapped than the person who hasn’t taken any action, still striving to hear and missing out on communication and social interaction...  I will refrain from the obvious comparison with people who should be wearing glasses …..

Lots of anecdotal evidence and hard evidence from neighboring disciplines clearly show that people who “own” their disability e.g. manage their hearing loss, basically live happier lives.  Owning something you really do not want to own is clearly a challenge, but for audiologists the noblest mission of all is exactly to make that ownership happen.