My prize for the most infuriating newspaper ad about deafness is the one for Hidden Hearing Ltd – “Pensioners stampede for new hearing aid”. Really? I don’t think so. How to patronise retired people in one easy lesson? Possibly. Company has no copy writers over the age of thirty? Quite likely. Or perhaps it’s just me and I lack a sense of humour.
The point of the advert is to promote one of the tiny, in-the-ear-canal hearing aids that are totally invisible when worn. They literally fit right down inside your ear, with nothing at all showing in or on the visible bits. Sadly, they are only suitable for people with the milder levels of hearing loss or I’d have put my name down. But the debate about the pros and cons of “invisible” hearing aids crops up quite often in the online deaf/hearing loss community, with a lot of people arguing that “invisible” equates to “something to be ashamed of”. Why should we be ashamed of our hearing loss, they say?
I can see both sides.
As someone who needed glasses from the age of ten and made a mad dash for contact lenses as soon as I could get them, at nineteen (“teenagers stampede for contact lenses”?) I identify completely with the vanity aspects of one’s choice of medical aids. It’s very possible to “pass” as hearing when your hearing loss is mild and, to me, there is no difference between embracing that and embracing contact lenses. I could see and I could hear and I was vain enough to care that what I did to achieve that was pretty well hidden. All power to the people with mild hearing loss, I say. Go and get something invisible if you want – I would too in your shoes.
But there are two big differences between spectacles and hearing aids. One – spectacles are positively trendy these days. High Street shops compete to sell you fashionable frames at knock down prices. Two – there is no stigma attached to wearing them. And that’s the rub, in respect of hearing loss, because there is still a stigma attached to being deaf. Hearing loss Facebook groups constantly see new members shocked and horrified to be told they need hearing aids, to an extent that would certainly not apply if they’d just been told they were short sighted.
The problem is, of course, that when hearing aid manufacturers say “not many people want to get hearing aids” and “nobody can see your hearing aid when it’s in” it does nothing to reduce that stigma. It makes hearing loss sound like some shameful thing, to be stuffed in a closet and not talked about. That is what so many in the deaf community object to, and they have a point. How do we end the stigma of hearing loss if we’re all desperately trying to hide it?
What do you think? Are you a “hider” or do you flaunt your hearing aids (or implant) proudly? Me, I’ve been a hider and now I’m a flaunter, so I’m sitting on the fence on this one.