Recently, I wrote an article about promoting self-advocacy in children with hearing loss. That particular article was geared towards providing parents with ideas on how to ensure that their children become the best advocates for themselves. It focused on helping children to understand that their hearing loss is a part of who they are, not the defining characteristic.
While we often think about children when we talk about self-advocacy skills, it is equally, if not more important, for adults with hearing loss to advocate for themselves. Adults with hearing loss are often faced with many different situations throughout their daily lives which require them to advocate for their needs.
What Exactly Can You Do?
“Own” Your Hearing Loss
Like children, adults need to “own” their hearing loss. Understanding your hearing loss, and it’s impact in variety of settings is critical to being able to advocate effectively. You must understand how your hearing loss impacts you differently in different environments including the work place, restaurants, theaters, parties, outdoors, large social gatherings, etc…Talk to your audiologist about the possibility of having different settings on your hearing device for different environments.
Don’t hide your hearing loss. Allowing your devices to be visible can only help others to realize and continue to remember that you have a hearing loss, especially if you generally function very well.
Use Your Technology
Utilize the technology fit for you by your audiologist. This includes hearing aids, cochlear implants, Bone Anchored devices, FM systems, wireless microphones, and other assistive devices (e.g. TV and other streamers, fire alarms, alarm clock-bed shakers, etc.).
Explore New Technology
In this day an age, technology continues to change and improve. Keep up with it. Be sure to constantly use the Internet to research options. You can also ask your audiologist about new technologies when you go for your regular audiological appointments. Keep up with the hearing technology companies by regularly checking their websites. (Phonak, Oticon, Resound, Starkey, Cochlear Americas, Advanced Bionics, Med El)
Know Your Legal Rights
Know your legal rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act provides you with rights in a variety of different settings, including the work place, doctors offices and hospitals, hotels, and other travel related activities. This law stipulates that it is not legal to discriminate against those with disabilities. Under this law, you must be provided with “effective communication” which can include interpreters, as well as provision of assistive devices.
Help Others to Help You
Although others generally want to help in anyway that they can, it is not always successful. This is because they either forget about your hearing loss or are unaware of what they can do to help.
It is likely that those around you will occasionally forget about your hearing loss, especially for those adults with good speech and language and who conceal their hearing devices (hearing aids or cochlear implants) under your hair. This is even true of those who know you fairly well, like a co-worker or friend. At times they may forget what they need to do to make sure communication is effective (e.g. not speak with their backs turned, speak into your better hearing ear, etc…). In these situations, you must advocate to remind them.
When communicating with others who don’t know you as well, or who have never had exposure to communicating with people with hearing loss, it is likely that they don’t know what they can do to help ensure effective communication. Advocate by letting them know what helps you to best communicate.
Support Groups/Social Networks
Make connections with others with hearing loss. There are many different ways to connect with other adults with hearing loss. Join Facebook groups, Listservs, Pinterest pages, and Twitter feeds. You can search within each of these networks for others with a similar loss and who use the same technology (e.g. unilateral hearing loss, sudden hearing loss, cochlear implant, BAHA). There are also numerous local and national support groups that you can join which often have meet-ups, including HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America), ALDA (Association of Late Deafened Adults), and AG Bell (Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing).
Strive to have the best communication skills that you can and never give up your dreams. If needed seek out listening, speech and language services. When communication breakdowns occur, find ways to repair the situation and learn from these experiences.