Hearing Loss: Not for the Weak or Timid

In theory, weakness is the lack of strength needed to overcome a challenge or achieve a goal and being timid is a “flaw” that compounds weakness because it rules out speaking up about the obstacles in your way.

Average hearing ability is a tool that we take for granted, until it slowly or suddenly abandons us. Even caring for someone challenged with a hearing loss is probably not enough of an experience to make any claim of understanding what it is really like.

In the past 18 months, while marketing audio induction loop systems for public spaces, I have learned the following about hearing loss and what we can all do to prevent, treat and accommodate for it:

> Hearing loss can happen to anyone at any age, but can be prevented in many cases. Sadly, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is actually on the rise. (Helpful video and article by Julia Belluz explains this.)

> Untreated hearing loss often leads to cognitive decline and dementia – on top of the high risk for ongoing social isolation, lower wages, greater educational stress and other complications. (More on audiology and neurology here.)

> Assistive hearing devices (hearing aids) to help “treat” hearing loss range in price from $59 to about $7000. They amplify sounds within a 6′ radius and deliver an audio signal to the part of the brain that processes sound. (The sooner that part of the brain is “re-engaged” the better.)

> The majority of hearing aids are equipped with a “telecoil” for using telephones, and to pick up the clear audio signal available in noisy, public spaces that are “looped” with a loop amplifier and copper coil loop.

> Hearing Aids are rarely covered by medical insurance – not even Medicaid or Medicare.

> Veterans are entitled to free hearing aids through the Veteran’s Adminsitration. That’s good because hearing loss is the number one disability caused by active duty in the military.

> Hearing aids customized for an individual’s specific hearing loss are prescribed by hearing aid professionals — audiologists and hearing aid dispensers. Typically, this is done after a medical exam has ruled out medical treatment to resolve the hearing loss.

> “Personal sound amplifiers” are available for sale, over-the-counter (OTC), at a much lower cost than devices prescribed by hearing aid dispensers. They are not customized.

> Captioned phones for those with hearing loss are paid for by a tax we all pay in our phone bills. Manufacturers are paid directly for all captioned phones installed.

> Emergency call phones in mass transit and airports are ADA-required (Americans with Disabilities Act) to accommodate those who depend upon hearing aids and cochlear implants. An amplifier and copper coil loop built into each phone blocks background noises and delivers crystal clear sound to the telecoil in hearing devices.

> The ADA requires assistive listening technology be available to those with hearing loss in public spaces where they need to hear and understand spoken language, or enjoy the audio experience. (Hearing loops are the “gold standard” option.)

> Think of wheelchair users and understand that wheelchair ramps and hearing loops have a lot in common, at a 1:25 ratio — ramp to loop users.

The timid do not normally speak up and ask for help when they do not hear well enough to understand what is being said. They may rely on others for assistance or simply bluff while involved in a conversation. Withdrawing from social activities is common. Missing flights, instructions, invitations, scores, and other verbal communications is also common.

What is most scary about hearing loss is needing to understand the questions, and the answers, from medical care providers while anxious, confused or stressed — at a doctor’s office, surgical suite or emergency room. The Hearing Loss Association of America(HLAA) is paying extra attention to this concern and has published a Communications Access Plan that will work in any health-related environment. The full guide is simple to download.

HLAA members have also made it clear that basic medical record-keeping seems flawed because a patient’s hearing ability is not flagged at the first level of patient identification. Routine screening would help immensely by taking the onus off the patient to self-identify. More details on that here.

If hearing loss is not for the weak or timid, it must be ok for those who are strong and bold? (Not exactly.)

The burden is on all of us, especially those who still have typical hearing, to do more to accommodate and be inclusive. Please share my contact information with anyone you know who is

  1. an owner or operator of a public space that is not yet “looped” or
  2. capable of funding the installation of hearing loops in under-funded venues or
  3. capable of funding for hearing aids for those who can’t afford them.
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