Hearing Loss as a Visible Disability
The World Health Organization estimates that over 466 million people in the world suffer from hearing loss. The growing number of people residing in urban environments has increased both the frequency and volume of noise exposure encountered during daily commutes and everyday living. And on these noisy streets, children and adults are streaming music, media, and calls directly through Bluetooth headsets at seemingly all hours.
Hearing loss is not an isolated disability, and can have direct impact on other areas of one’s health. Impaired ability to process environmental noises and lack of speech signal clarity can negatively impact cognitive processing, communication, mood, social involvement, and proprioception. For example, if an elderly person is unable to sense his or her feet in a particular space, that can increase the probability of a fall. Hearing loss has cascading, long-lasting negative impacts on quality of life, and it is largely up to the media to change society’s dialogue and cultural perception of how individuals feel about pursuing care for hearing-related issues.
The media will be responsible for collaborating with industry leaders and innovators to portray hearing loss as a visible disability, so that people in turn can begin to accept and address the unique challenges it presents and seek aural rehabilitation devices and professional services. This change has begun, slowly but surely with organizations such as Build-A-Bear Workshop, American Girl, and The Lego Group acknowledging the image of characters wearing hearing aids. Apple has begun to turn their smash-hit Aid Pods into hearing assistive devices, and both Apple and Bose are hiring Audiologists to advise on research and product development. However, despite this notable progress, market penetration on those who seek hearing help to those who have hearing loss, even mild, is incredibly disproportionate. Many countries cover the costs of hearing aids, yet the negative stigma of hearing loss and intervention pervades.
How can our current generation of influencers and tech entrepreneurs utilize media and marketing tools to make hearing loss enough of a visible disability to permanently eliminate the negative stigma of wearing hearing devices? Does this start with tv host personality Chris Harrison welcoming contestants with hearing loss into Bachelor Nation? It is a start…
Companies need to tread carefully in advertising discreet hearing aids to hide hearing abilities. It sends a mixed message about the hearing healthcare industry. As more and more over the counter and online devices enter the marketplace, Audiologists need to decide and collectively agree on how the media should aid us in articulating the benefit of these more accessible and less costly devices to the general public. It is on all of us to begin this very significant conversation.