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Healthy Communications

Illustration of an older woman wearing Indigenous earrings and purple top signing Communication.
Both hands palms upwards with one in front of the other, moving back and forth.
“Communication” in sign language

The term “Better Hearing and Speech Month” leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Every May this event is celebrated and meant to bring awareness about communication disorders and hearing health. I realise that was last month, but I’ve been sitting on this thought and trying to find a way to express it in a way that makes people receptive to hearing me out. I can’t help but feel that this celebration is negative towards all deaf people or those who communicate differently. It is in my experience that society’s expectations of its citizens are that we are to speak perfectly, hear fully and live well free of deafness. For the purpose of clarity I’m referring to audiology in this blog.  

An estimated 54% of Canadians aged 40 to 79 (8.2 million) had at least mild hearing loss in the high-frequency range based on audiometric testing (Figure 1). Men were more likely than women to have hearing loss—63% versus 46%—as were older adults compared with those aged 40 to 59 years.

Is early identification and intervention for hearing loss important? Absolutely, but it’s one SMALL aspect that many audiologist centres focus on. You can protect yourself from losing some of your hearing by turning volume below 60% and use ear protection gears to cancel environmental noise. Ringing in your ears is a sign of hearing damage, so if you’re hearing that, maybe you’re listening to sounds too loud.  

The intervention in itself isn’t the problem, it’s the guilt or shame that I see that comes with the territory. I landed on a hearing centre page and watched a video of a man explaining how he felt excluded because of his hearing loss and that a hearing aid can fix the problem. This is a dangerous thought, because not all hearing aids can fix the issue at hand. Hearing aids just heightens sounds in some areas and reduces sounds in other areas and hear everything it picks up. He won’t get the same hearing back as they guarantee because of all that extra noise his sensors have to process. In fact hearing aids open up a different set of problems that must be overcome when socializing. What these services lack is the concept that communication is key between two people or in a group. Communication isn’t just sounds nor should it be for not everything can be heard. Placing such a heavy emphasis on ‘hearing’ and verbal communications sets people up for failure because the burden is on them to listen better, to pay attention better. Hearing aid users can be left with a feeling of frustration, failure and low self-esteem. No wonder many deny they have a hearing loss because of the judgment people who sit in ignorance can have on deafness. 

It should be noted that with no small irony, it’s often the experience that audiologist centres tend to call their clients. Clients of audiologists are usually losing hearing. 

I’m going to share a little personal experience of my own. I used to wear hearing aids, I was trained to hear and trained to speak. I was capable of it but that burden was put on me since I was a child to meet society’s perfection. I was trained daily for as long as I can remember. Even today when I can no longer hear with a hearing aid, I’m trained how to speak properly even when the person knows what I am saying. Not once has society thought maybe there’s another way to communicate and see the benefits of sign language. 

This man from the video I mentioned earlier needed everyone in his life to understand his circumstances and adjust with him if they cared enough.

Audiologists are supposed to be rooted in science and the scientific method. With this understanding, it was shocking when some hearing centres claimed deafness causes dementia. There is no evidence that hearing loss itself causes dementia and this is a dangerous claim to be professing from a group of educated individuals.  Dementia in individuals with hearing loss is clearly caused by a lack of communication and the soul-crushing isolation over time when members of the family or friends don’t bother to communicate differently. I get it, learning a new language is hard, but some sign language can reduce the impact of the destructive effect of isolation. Even signing simple phrases can make the person feel included. 

We need to change the mindset that being deaf is the LOW bar of society. Of course this applies to all across the board with other traits that society tried to define as not normal. I do not feel lesser because I am Deaf. It’s not the end of the world to have hearing loss. It’s a new path, different from the norm and we can find ways to adapt in life. Deafness is very common and there are many people that we can learn from those who lived it. There are many Deaf people who can provide the expertise on accessibility in an informed, respectful and equal way. 

I taught 10 seniors basic sign language at Kingsbridge Retirement community, it was not too late for them and they had a grand time. They benefited from it and saw how much easier it is than to depend on listening and speaking.  Click now to watch adorable video of them signing!

We all are aging and will move towards needing these awareness and a need for sign languages in the near future. Let’s chat about this. 

Canada Statistics,