As many of you know, I lost my hearing at age 44 and am a bilateral cochlear implant recipient. Receiving a cochlear implant gave me back something I took for granted. Even today I continue to hear new sounds. Sometimes it’s a bird chirping and sometimes it’s more complexed like hearing the words and melody to a song.
May is better hearing and speech month. Statistics show approximately 20 percent of Americans, 48 million, report some degree of hearing loss. Raising awareness about hearing loss and possible solutions is something that I hold close to my heart. Hearing loss is not selective, it holds no prejudice and anyone can be affected by it.
Being able to hear is important to me for so many reasons. I was born able to hear and at 44 years of age, I was shocked to learn that I was losing my hearing. I quickly educated myself on what I needed to do to gain back my hearing. From the time that I lost my hearing to the time I received my cochlear implant and onto to present day, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of better hearing and speech. Hearing allows us to more easily socialize, interact and in some ways it also helps to keep us calm. Being able to hear things such as alarms, sirens, and verbal warnings helps to keep us safe.
Hearing loss is an invisible disability. People have no idea that you can’t hear by just looking at you and this can cause others to perceive you as aloof, uneducated, uninterested and even rude. A person with hearing loss can find themselves feeling depressed, alone, afraid to attend social gatherings and experiencing a low self-esteem. I felt lucky, I only spent a mere six months without my hearing. In those six months, I gained a lot of insight into what it must feel like for people who go months and even years with little or no hearing. It’s important for people to know they have options. I feel like those of us with cochlear implants are ambassadors and it’s important for us to talk about and educate people about cochlear implants and how they have impacted our lives. Since I am a social person by nature, you will always find me talking about anything and everything. One topic that almost always comes up is my hearing loss. I like to start the conversations with the fact that I am deaf. Most people are astonished to find out and often reply with “I would have never guessed.” I don’t like to immediately tell someone that I have cochlear implants, because I want their first impression to be how well I hear. It’s after that initial reaction that I will explain my cochlear implant, how it works and how it has improved the quality of my life. So many times people will tell me that they have never heard of a cochlear implant, but that they know someone who would benefit.
Talking about your hearing loss can be one of the hardest things for someone to do. I find that people shy away from the subject because of the misconceptions that surround hearing loss. Some feel like we hear only what we want to hear or that hearing loss only happens to “old” people or that we are unintelligent. But I think you’ll find that once you start to talk about your hearing loss, you’ll discover that most people are very understanding and accommodating. I believe that it is important to tell those with whom you interact about your hearing loss because it helps them to better understand why you may seem unfriendly or why you ask them to repeat what they said. It also allows them to make adjustments for you to make it easier for you to understand and hear what’s going on. It’s also a great way to engage with others and educate them on hearing loss. If more people understand it, maybe we can erase the stigma that is related to hearing loss.