Hearing loss isn’t given as much attention it deserves. One of our followers, Areej Khan, is hard of hearing and through her experience, hopes to raise awareness about the issue. Scroll down to read her clarify some misconceptions regarding hearing loss, and find out more about her personal journey with it:
Hearing-aids are constantly perceived as something only the elderly can wear. I know a few Pakistani grandparents who refuse to wear them due to the complex around ageing, yet they don’t mind wearing their glasses to see. We need to work together to get rid of this idea and tackle the stigma around hearing aids.
Misconception #1: Hearing Loss Is An ‘Old People Problem’
Anyone at any age is at risk of losing their hearing. To speak from my personal experience, I am a British Pakistani computer science teacher, who was diagnosed with moderate hearing loss at the age of 4. Over time, my hearing only got worse and by the age of 25, I ended up undergoing a cochlear implant surgery in my left ear. The cause of my hearing loss is still unknown. It was speculated to have been due to an ear infection, and genetic tests have shown negative results. Hopefully my story can help change the stereotype and clarify misconceptions around people who are Hard of Hearing (HoH), especially the idea that only the elderly can suffer from this.
Misconception #2: You Can Only Be Born Hard Of Hearing
Our ears are sensitive – listening to sounds at a high volume can damage them. There are also a few illnesses which can cause being HoH such as ear infections, measles, meningitis, rubella and mumps. To date, there is limited research on hearing loss and unfortunately it is an area which isn’t receiving the awareness it deserves. As a result, the real cause of many individuals’ loss of hearing remains unknown.
High school was a challenging experience as I was singled out and bullied due to my disability. Along with the bullying, my teachers didn’t have faith that I would progress with my education. One teacher actually told me I won’t make it to university. This led to me being embarrassed and I refused to wear my hearing aid. Because of that, I became increasingly dependent on lip-reading. The lack of information given to me within school itself meant I would spend endless nights trying to catch up on my education. I was driven by a desire to prove that my teachers were wrong, and that I could and would make something of my life.
Misconception#3: If You Are HoH, You Should Be Able To Use Sign Language And Go To A School That Teaches It
People often think that if you have a disability you should go to a special school to get the support you need. For some people, this can be a preferred option. However personally, I am grateful that my parents sent me to a mainstream school. It would’ve been great if I learnt sign language, but I’d have no one to converse in that way with. It was lip-reading that helped me to get through life without my hearing aids.
Being the only HoH person in the family, it was a real struggle growing up. I was yet to meet someone else who could understand me other than an audiologist. At the start, my family also had a really difficult time accepting that I am HoH. I remember every time an aunt or uncle would phone when my parents weren’t home, I would be afraid to answer the phone as I’d always mishear them. Or they’d start shouting on the phone and then I’d pass on the wrong message to my parents.
Misconception#4: If You Speak Louder, The HoH Person Will Hear You
It doesn’t make it easier if you’re shouting. People who are HoH struggle to make out words and sounds within the noise. What does help is speaking slower, clearer and making sure you face them so they can lip-read you by seeing your mouth.
At the age of 18, I finally started to meet other people who are HoH and my mother really helped me with accepting myself. It was at this stage that I finally became friends with my hearing aids and started to wear them frequently without any embarrassment or shame. A quote I live by is “if you don’t love yourself, then no one will love you.” This really helped with boosting my confidence.
Misconception #5: Hearing Aids Fix Hearing And Allow One To Hear Perfectly
Hearing aids are a treatment, not a cure. They help you hear better, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can hear everything.
From university, I went on to study information systems with computer science at Brunel University. Before graduating, I managed to secure a placement year with a multinational company, GE. Around this point in my life I started to realise I wanted to do something that really impacted people, so I decided to do my PGCE from IoE UCL to teach Computer Science & ICT. However, I started to face a lot of difficulties with my hearing and had to start exploring solutions to help me get by. Being HoH as an adult is a lot harder than as a child. The main challenge for me as a child was bullying, but as an adult there’s so much one has to deal with. There are so many more expectations of you and you’re constantly compared. You also have very limited support. The only solution I could see was to get a cochlear implant, despite my parents being highly against it due to all the risks associated with it. I was convinced it was the only way I would be able to overcome all the difficulties I was facing. The perfect solution would have been to live in a world where people are patient and more supportive of those who are HoH, but that couldn’t be achieved so quickly. We can’t fix the world, but we can start by fixing ourselves –so that’s what I did. Till today, I’m really glad I went for the cochlear implant because it’s truly changed my life. The sound quality is so much better and I can hear the birds singing which I hadn’t heard since I was a kid. I can also finally hear on the phone, which is something I could never do.
Misconception#6: Hearing Loss Isn’t A Big Deal Because It Isn’t A Terminal Illness
Hearing loss is a big deal. People with hearing loss are more at risk when it comes to accidents, especially those involving moving vehicles. I can’t count the number of times I’ve nearly been hit by a car while crossing the road. Even if hearing loss is not deadly, it can seriously impact your life. Imagine struggling to hold a conversation, listening to music, or hearing the sounds around you. While many people with hearing loss cope well with their condition, it does not change the fact that it’s difficult.
Over the years I haven’t noticed any change in the way HoH is perceived, from children to adults. HoH is an invisible disability and it’s so common, but some either don’t know they have it, or are afraid to be diagnosed with it. According to WHO, 466 million people are estimated to be living with hearing loss, which is more than 6% of the world’s population and this number is expected to rise to 900 million by 2050. Our ears are so sensitive, and people really don’t take this seriously enough. More than 1 billion young people are at risk of losing their hearing due to loud sounds, as reported by WHO.