May Is National Better Hearing Month – Here’s How We Can Make The World More Accessible

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My son has been wearing hearing aids since the age of 4, but COVID-19 changed the discussion around hearing loss, impairment, and communication forever. It’s not just that COVID has been linked with complications like hearing loss, vertigo, and tinnitus (ringing in the eyes). Masks, distance, and digital networking has made hearing and communication increasingly difficult.

Hearing loss is probably more common than you might think… So, what does it mean to be hearing impaired in 2021, and why is it more important than ever to be aware of hearing loss and impairment?

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How Common Is Hearing Loss?

Some 27 million Americans report experiencing difficulty with hearing. It could be COVID-19 or it could be diabetes, aging, genetics, trauma, infection, and/or noise, like the Oscar-winning Sound of Metal.

In my son’s case, his hearing loss was caused by chemo treatment for stage-4 cancer, starting when he was 18 months old. The docs had warned from the start that hearing loss was possible, even likely. So, when he was watching Winnie the Pooh at an alarmingly high volume, the doctor got a knowing look on his face. 

Whether you have personal experience with hearing loss, or you’re really on the fringes looking on, it affects us all more than you might think. You may not notice when your co-workers wear hearing aids or when you meet a kid at the check-out stand with untreated hearing loss. The signs are so subtle that they may be almost invisible.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Karina Cotran (@hearingdifferently)


The Stigma Surrounding Hearing Loss

There’s still a huge stigma associated with hearing loss and wearing hearing aids. And, it doesn’t have to be just teasing or the bully on the playground tearing apart the hearing aids. We don’t want to admit that we can’t understand what’s being said or that we can’t hear. To avoid the stigma, hearing loss is frequently ignored and left undiagnosed

We know that some 28 million Americans could benefit from hearing aids, but few of those individuals (30% of the 70+ age range and 16% of those who are 20+) have ever used them. But, even when it is diagnosed and the audiologist recommends hearing aids, most people with hearing loss refuse to wear hearing aids because of issues with cost, fit, poor experiences, disbelief that it’s an issue, ear pain, efficacy, or because of the stigma. Amazingly, a lot of people with hearing issues are over 65 with hearing loss due to aging and Medicare, who insures almost all Americans over 65 does NOT cover hearing aids. Strange, right?

Before my son was diagnosed, I’d associated hearing loss with my grandfather and his inability to hear anything we said. Grandpa George would turn down his hearing aids to achieve that state of absolute bliss while he read Thoreau and sat in his chair, overlooking Lake Superior. It’s a romanticized vision of hearing impairment, one that doesn’t address the issues of accommodation and awareness that should have already been a part of our discussions. 


Technology That Can Help With Hearing Loss

Now, with 2020 gone, we are still dealing with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected our lives. Masks muffle speech and make it more difficult for us to communicate. But they also hide the mouth, so it’s more difficult to read lips and facial cues, which aid in understanding. Of course, there are solutions that can help

– We can all learn to speak slowly and more clearly, enunciating our words.   

– We can move the discussion to a quieter location. 

– We can wear hearing aids when the doctor recommends them.

– We can get help or offer help for those who are experiencing difficulties with understanding.  

There are a myriad of cell-phone apps that are designed to better support your hearing health. Here are some options for amplification.  

AmiHear – Hearing Amplifier, Recorder (Android: free + in-app purchases)

Jacoti ListenApp (iPhone: free)

Ear Scout: Super Hearing (Android: free with ads) 

Petralex Hearing Aid (iPhone: free)

Sound Amplifier (Android: free) 

– Chatable (iPhone: free, Android: free)

Volume Booster – Audio Buff: Equalizer+ (Android: free with ads)

And, here are some applications that allow you to control your hearing aids.  

ReSound 

ReSound Smart (iPhone: free) 

ReSound Control (iPhone: free, Android: free) 

Starkey 

TruLink (iPhone: free) 

T2 Remote (iPhone: free) 

Phonak 

RemoteControl (Android: free)


Speech-To-Text Technology

 

 

Technology really is a key component to better understanding. A huge part of that is understanding how hearing loss touches every part of our lives. While sign-language interpretation is becoming more common, the stats on how many people use American Sign Language (ASL) range widely from 100k to 15 million

As hearing loss and communication has become more complicated, there are now a range of speech-to-text solutions, which are designed to recognize and convert speech with high accuracy.

Dragon

Otter 

Verbit 

Speechmatics 

Braina Pro 

Amazon Transcribe 

IBM Watson Speech to Text 


Captioning Is Crucial

Captioning has been available for TV since 1980, and streaming platforms have naturally followed that example. It’s now become a more standard feature in digital communication for Google Meet, Zoom, and other video conferencing platforms. It’s something that we probably take for granted, with integrative services for social media now available. 

You can even add captions to your Instagram videos. Clipomatic is a video editor that’s being used by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to caption her Instagram stories. I’m hopeful that the huge positive response to her inclusivity will inspire more politicians AND the rest of us to post with captions.


Long Story Short: Make The World More Accessible

Here’s the thing… I know that you’ll probably hear lots about how you can avoid those nasty hearing loss issues by refraining from listening to loud music and taking better care of yourself. That’s all important information, and it’s what we need to hear.

But when I think about hearing loss, I think of my son. I also think of the young man behind the counter at Home Depot, who asked me over and over again what I needed. He finally admitted he was deaf in one ear. 

I think of all the situations that I see and hear about every day that involve hearing and the many struggles that we all have in communicating with each other. I also think we must do better.  

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What is your experience with hearing and hearing loss? What about captioning? Let us know in the comments below!


For More Articles On Accessibility and Inclusion, Read These:

Ableism, Accessibility, And The Journey Of A Brave Woman – Our Interview With Marcela Marañon

I’m Calling Out Companies On Their Performative Activism

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