Helen Keller has said that being blind separates people from inanimate objects but a hearing disability separates them from other human beings. While it is unfair to compare one disability from the other, the lack of public awareness for the latter is very evident. Hearing disability is an ‘invisible’ impairment, after all. So much so, that despite a considerable percentage (20%) of people reporting some degree of hearing loss, discussions on this topic has seldom left the living room of affected families and their well-wishers.
In the wake of extensive research that reveals the far-flung effects of hearing impairment that is not just limited to the sufferers but involving their families and friends (and even coworkers) also, this unintended bias needs immediate attention and acknowledgment. Again, the effects of disabilities like impaired vision may be equally widespread. However, the sheer obviousness of their situation (i.e carrying a walking stick or wearing glasses) helps other better acknowledge and accommodate them. The stigma attached to hearing loss often hinders the sufferer from revealing their hardships and seeking out proper care and treatment for their disability.
In most issues like these, the dearth of general awareness stems from a preconceived notion based on misguided information. This, on the other hand, is related to the lack of discussion pertaining to this field. One cannot expect general awareness when there’s no exchange of ideas regarding something. Another misassumption that is common about hearing impairment is that hearing aids should come into the picture only when one is completely deaf. In fact, for some, if people are not yelling to compensate for their own defective hearing capability, they are hearing just fine!
Perhaps, it is high time now that we try to understand how devastating even mild hearing impairment can be.
One of the most definitive consequences were presented by The Better Hearing Institute, by conducting a nation-wide survey that aimed at studying the impact of hearing loss on an individual’s life and his or her income. In this vast study that surveyed over 40,000 families with one or more member with hearing impairment, a loss of earnings of up to a shocking figure of $30,000 was reported. These losses were directly proportional to the severity of hearing impairment. Furthermore, the impact concerning such individuals who do not wear hearing aids (the number stands at about 24 million) was found to be around $100 million, of which upwards of $18 billion were taxes that couldn’t be materialized. However, it was also observed that with the use of hearing aids, the lost income was reduced by 90-100% for mild hearing impairment and by 65-77% for the more severe forms. So, don’t you agree that discussing this problem openly is only the most natural thing to do?
While assessing the loss of earnings can never be a fair measure to compare the actual impact on the lives of the hearing impaired people, it does help to be aware of how devastating ignorance can be and how much can be saved by seeking proper care and treatment.
But what about the emotional loss, right?
As ‘invisible’ as it may be, the impact that hearing loss has on the emotional component of a person’s life cannot be undermined. The Royal National Institute of Deaf people performed a study to assess the effect of hearing impairment on their interpersonal relationships. They surveyed families where one of the members was deaf or hearing impaired. In this extensive study, a wide array of issues came to light. These varied from small adjustments like repeating oneself, being asked for repetitions, unequal division of household responsibilities due to the other person’s inability to perform chores like taking calls etc. to making lifestyle changes like curtailing favorite activities: going to the movies without caring if they had subtitles or not or going for events where a large and loud crowd is expected. There was a general consensus that such changes gave rise to daily frustrations among couples and families alike.
When asked about how they coped with the situation, the answers were quite varied. However, the bottom line remained the same: Both the sufferers and their families felt ‘burdened’. It is said that home is where the heart is. So, we can imagine the void that one must feel when they are unable to connect fully with their loved ones. Truly, even a mild hearing loss can impact one’s life in a manner that no amount of money can ever compensate for.
Despite the extensive nature of both the above-mentioned studies, it is impossible to ‘measure’ the value that perfect hearing adds to one’s life. Being at a social gathering and enjoying the animated intonations of the story-tellers of the group is a joy that can’t be quantified by means of a study. However, these studies can definitely invoke a sense of perspective in us to overcome our inhibitions, forget about the shame, and reach out for help. One step towards technology and you will realize how much you or your loved ones have missed the clarity of sound!