Hearing aids. They’re not the trendiest of things are they? They’re not depicted as cool, people don’t aspire to wear them in order to look “clever” so they don’t have the appeal that spectacles have… They’re just functional.
And I admit my attitude to them has changed massively over the years.
Growing up, I detested them. I would only pop them in whenever the teacher of the deaf visited me once a week at my mainstream school. The rest of the time they were safely in a Minnie Mouse box… Somewhere. I didn’t care. I didn’t like them. They were uncomfortable and loud!
Moving onto secondary mainstream with a deaf unit, I was “forced” to wear my aids and so very rarely would I wear my hair up if I had them in because they just looked ugly to me…
The mould always seemed to be yellowing and the aid was big and bulky and made my ears stick out. Hardly what a fashion conscious teen would like to be seen in!
But then, if I’m honest, there were other reasons for not wanting to wear the aids… Basically I didn’t want to look different. I would admire the pop stars in my magazines – none of them wore hearing aids.
Even at the deaf club, the coolest deaf kids who signed fluently didn’t wear hearing aids either. Neither did the signing people on the telly. Or at least, I couldn’t see them.
Moving onto a deaf school I still resisted the hearing aids and would pretend I had them in even when my English teacher could hear them whistling in my hand bag…
It was only when I had my first purple hearing aids with pink glittery moulds (aged 18!) for a television programme I was working in that I started to embrace them.
I noticed that if people saw my aids they were more aware and wouldn’t assume I was being rude me if misheard them. Train conductors would notice them so would tap me on the shoulder instead of shouting “tickets please!”
People were generally more helpful and eager to help if – when I was asking for something – they could see my hearing aids too.
I also discovered that I could connect my hearing aids to an iPod and enjoy my cheesy music discreetly.
And as my hearing has deteriorated further I’ve become more dependent on my aids and more grateful for the amplification they provide. They don’t make me hearing (by a long shot!) but their greatest benefit to me is acting as a visual sign of my deafness.
I’m not embarrassed to be deaf but growing up in a hearing environment I have to admit that I was.
But the danger of hiding my hearing aids and in effect – my deafness too – meant that people did form assumptions when I was quiet or withdrawn. I encountered misunderstandings daily and as a result often felt excluded.
Rather than embracing my deafness and letting the world know what I needed, I tried to hide it. Cue lots of teenage insecurity and identity confusion!
So when I saw this notice on a shop window this week, I couldn’t help becoming contemplative…
It said free hearing tests – great. But invisible hearing aids? There we go again with the stigma that hearing aids and deafness on a whole isn’t something to be “proud of.” That its something to hide…
I can understand about comfort and how it’s a generalisation to think of beige hearing aids on elderly people. But why can’t we change this? Funk the hearing aids up a bit, and make the coloured moulds and different designs for adults as well as children.
Can we somehow increase the visibility of hearing aids in the media that we share with deaf children? So that they’re not just seen as functional but also as attractive, cool, everything that specs can be nowadays!
Based on personal experience I feel that making my hearing aids invisible makes my deafness invisible. And just like the visual benefits of having a hearing dog so people are alerted that you might need assistance in an emergency, my hearing aids make me look different because I am.
Sure, looking and being different can make you a target for bullying or abuse and I understand that. But as someone who’s been on both sides, I’ve discovered that there’s no point trying to change or hide something that’s ingrained in me.
It reminds me of a deaf girl I knew who refused to sign in public because she was brought up to believe it was embarassing. So despite knowing sign she would only speak in public so as not to attract attention or to highlight she was deaf.
It’s down to us to challenge society’s stereotypes of our differences being shameful. Having a unique hearing aid is always a good talking point when meeting new people too.
I’ve made friends with my hearing aids and I try – with the help of creative friends – to “pimp” them up so that they represent me. A friend of mine designs attachments for hearing aids, another one uses nail decals to embellish them and I’m always looking for more inspiration that doesn’t cost the earth.
So invisible hearing aids – not for me, thank you.
And if you have a unique hearing aid/implant – I want to see it!
Rebecca-Anne Withey is an actress, sign singer and tutor of performing arts. A black country girl at heart, she now resides in Derby where she works in both performance art and holistic therapies. She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.
The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
Please note that the views of the writers are their own, and not necessarily the views of the Editor or site as a whole. Read our disclaimer here.
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