Hearing loss – an invisible disability

Last year, on December 3rd, we celebrated UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities with the theme “ Not all disabilities are visible”. The focus was on spreading awareness of invisible disabilities that people might not be aware of, such as sight impairment, hearing loss, mental illness, diabetes, among others.  Did you know World Health Organisation estimates the number of people with disabling hearing loss at 466 million?

It may come as a surprise to read that half of the people with disabilities experience a hearing loss, I hear you say I have not met someone who is deaf or hard of hearing! Chances are that you have, but since this is an invisible disability, you may not have realised this, as majority of the people adapt quite well in “hiding” their hearing loss. Often people with hearing loss will not share information  about their disability. They have a reason to do so: for the fear of ridicule, disbelief, or immediate stereotyping which leads to assumptions about things we can and cannot do.

Often it is lack of awareness of different ICT solutions already in existence and making assumptions about our ability to perform at workplace. People with hearing loss experience constant battles with misunderstanding and assumptions – it should not be a battle.

Potential employers cannot look beyond your hearing devices, you are labelled as deaf and cannot hear a thing. The potential employer does not look at your talents or what you can do’ – EFHOH Late Deafened report 2018

Those assumptions and unwillingness to accommodate their needs, leaves them disenfranchised and in fear of inability to achieve full potential in the education or employment.

At interviews some employers have said that I am not suitable for the job because I need to be able to use a phone when out and about. Colleagues have often left me out of conversations or asked me to do a specific job to get me out of the way rather than talking to me’TotalJobs report 2016

Hearing loss is largely misunderstood and the ability to connect and engage in everyday life is often taken for granted and for people like myself, living with hearing loss  it is difficult to explain. I sometimes joke that I have a selective hearing by default, and it is not me who oversees that default setting! Recently, I heard this comment:

 ‘I have hearing loss, soft middle sounds and there is a limit to the number of times I can ask someone to repeat things so sometimes I end up giving a non-committal answer knowing it is not correct

How many times have I behaved in the same manner? Did the cop-out work? Sometimes did and sometimes I ended up feeling embarrassed by giving non-logical answer! I know, I am not alone in this. Attitudes towards people with hearing loss are slowly changing but unfortunately not fast enough. 

Accessibility and disability inclusion in all areas of life should matter to everyone. Different estimates point towards about 80% of working age people with disability have acquired their disability over their lifetime. Percentage of people with acquired hearing loss increases too with age.

Adapting inclusive language and practices in all areas of life where everyone, including persons with hearing loss helps us feel included and valued. It will in turn enrich our diversity, knowledge and feeling of belonging.

To realise the goal of disability inclusion, we need to start with leadership and disability inclusive language. When people with hearing loss feel welcome and appreciated, they will be comfortable to disclose their disability and seek reasonable accommodations.

If you are in a position of influence, you can make real difference by following those basic steps:

  • Mention ‘disability and health conditions’ in your writing, policies and planning.
  • Establish a sense of belonging for everyone
  • Include persons with disabilities in matters that affect them.
  • Ask what works and what does not work –we are individuals not a “text book”

US President-elect Joe Biden has shown to us what difference inclusive language can make when he spoke on the night of his acceptance speech last year.

 “We must make the promise of the country real for everybody — no matter their race, their ethnicity, their faith, their identity, or their disability,”.

What followed was a deluge of appreciation posts from disability community on Twitter and further acknowledgement in press https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/joe-biden-disability-advocates-express-joy_

You too, have a power to include.

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