Are you ashamed of your hearing loss? Are you ashamed of wearing your hearing aids? Please, just stop! There’s no reason to feel ashamed about your hearing disability. 1,5 billion people have hearing loss worldwide. It’s very common, but people still face it as a very dramatic thing. This post invites you to rethink the way you face your hearing disability and your hearing aids.
When you feel ashamed of your hearing loss, this is the message other people receive from you: “I’m weak, I’m scared, please don’t hurt me“. Hey, you are stronger than that! The hearing industry is based in this shame, since our ableist society teaches us that our hearing disability is something awful. The term “deaf and dumb” is the proof – and people still use it in 2022!
I dream about the day the hearing industry will stop using the words discreet and invisible. But let’s go straight to the point. Every human being living on Planet Earth is manipulated by media and marketing hacks. It is not by chance we grow up believing in Omega 3, vitamins and minerals in industrialized food. My generation grew up thinking that every disability would be cause for shame. I believed that. I spent the best part of my teenage years drenched in cold sweat, scared that anyone would discover I was deaf. That’s ridiculous.
I love Marketing and I read everything I can about the topic. I know it’s not a battle of products. Marketing is a battle of perceptions. If an industry notices its clients are ashamed of something, nothing will be done to end it. On the contrary, the industry will increase its efforts to make this shame even greater, so that sales will go up. Bear in mind there are many brands of hearing aids in the world — all their basic models do basically the same thing, exactly like the intermediate and the higher models.
Did you ever take a moment to ask yourself what you think of each brand? Why do you think A, B, or C is better? What makes you think that? It’s a mix of advertising manipulation, opinions from other users, and your own opinion. We are all influenced by it, there’s no escape.
You will be conditioned to believe you need the most expensive machine, with more channels, the one that gives you a massage, translates Latin, says you’re fit, helps you listen, and is discreet or invisible. You should count yourself lucky to be helped by an honest professional who will show you what will actually help you and you can afford. If you are able to purchase the best, that’s great! After all, saddling a family with debt because of greed should send anyone straight to hell. (And this is a sad reality in my country, Brazil).
People seem to not understand why I tell them to do their research and seek information before they make a purchase and choose a hearing aids or a cochlear implant brand. Don’t ask me which one is best, which one you have to buy, or what I think. It’s up to you to form an opinion, to find out about things. Doing your own research is a lot of work.
I have a great debt to the hearing industry. It’s thanks to them I am a deaf person who can hear. However, I also think this industry has a great debt to us as well. It owes us what people like me and so many others relentlessly seek: making the burden of deafness lighter. And I think this is absolutely doable, as long as the marketing departments actually pay attention to us, the people who use their products. And they should pay attention to us ASAP. At this moment, ads and investments still aim at making shame eternal. This is unacceptable.
Invisible and discreet hearing aids
I believe companies have a social responsibility. I cannot accept what they say: “Paula, this is what people ask of us! They are ashamed, they want to be discreet!” Nobody buys a transparent wheelchair or a colorless cane. It would be best to take inspiration from the eyesight industry? They make amazing glasses. Glasses that are colorful and draw attention to themselves. The eyesight industry is smart. They make people fall in love with the idea of showing off their products, wanting every model. The hearing industry, on the other hand, is selling beige hearing aids…
Imagine some advertising like “Are you gay? Be discreet!”, “Are you black? Let’s lighten your skin tone!”. Unacceptable, right? So, why the hell “Discreet and invisible hearing aids” are acceptable? Hearing loss is no reason for a person to feel ashamed.
I’m serious. You have no idea how many emails I have from deaf people thanking me for having freed them for the mental prison that is the shame of wearing hearing aids or a cochlear implant. I have hundreds of them. To me, this is evidence of the responsibility brands have towards us.
I know I’m a pain in the ass. I don’t like being discreet. I thing hearing aids should be glamorous. That’s it. I want to be deeply proud of this industry. I want to see an ad for hearing aids or cochlear implants and think “That’s so cool!” instead of “PLEASE NO.” I want to go to a company booth at a congress and think, “these people are real innovators,” “now that’s a different campaign,” “what an insight,” or “these hearing aids look like jewelry.”
Try to think of stores, people, and brands who target deaf people. Now try to imagine a waiting room with a TV without closed captions. Contact by phone instead of email. No WhatsApp. An Olympic sport called Finding Out How Much Your Hearing Aid Will Cost. A paralympic sport consisting in getting the biggest discount in an accessory by walking around the city.
You may think this can’t be true. A few weeks ago I asked on my Facebook page if anyone knew any good, inexpensive hearing aid for profound hearing loss, and the answers I got from audiologists were “let’s talk in private.” Forgive me, but when anyone can do a printscreen, it is wrong to talk privately. We want transparency, actually.
But I digress. I have to insist that the industry needs to stop charging so much for the shame being sold. I would rather buy pride, not shame, and for a decent price. Why would you hide something that costs $2,500, $3,000, or even $6,000? Would you purchase a $50,000 car so nobody would notice? Really? Come on.
I want to enter a hearing aid store (and their website too) and see colorful options, with animal prints, flower patterns, stars, clouds, cartoon characters. I want stickers as a gift, not a box of desiccant. I want my audiologist to tell me I look amazing with my sparkling implant, not that it’s so discreet no one will notice.
My husband and I were having lunch at a restaurant and he told me, “You should see the look on people’s faces when they see your implants with all these colorful stones.” I get so happy I’m jumping for joy inside. This is the feeling I want to inspire: curiosity about difference. Soon this becomes acceptance. And later this feeling spreads in such a beautiful way it gives you goosebumps.
Ashamed of your hearing loss?
One particular case meant a lot to me. There was a patient at SONORA to whom a cochlear implant had been recommended. She wanted to talk to me and told me, “That’s gigantic. I care a lot about my looks, I don’t want anyone to see me with that ugly gadget.” I told her that gadget allowed me to listen, and that I would wear it even if it were ten times bigger. Months later, with her implant in place and good hearing, she told me, “I adopted a short haircut because now I want everyone to see my implant and come talk to me about it.” I had to contain a small tear…
You’re not just deaf. You’re a consumer, you’re paying for the hearing loss industry. And that includes the people who got their devices from the government, because the government buys those devices with our tax money. Nothing is free.
And you’re responsible. When you hear something is invisible and discreet, you should start laughing like a lunatic. Then you should ask, “Why would I buy anything like that?” Only people who are ashamed of themselves would have that attitude. Hearing loss is not a character flaw. Everybody is coming out of their closets. Why should you purchase a millionaire closet and pay for it in twelve installments? So you can lock yourself in it? 🙂
Hearing aids cochlear implants: let’s show them! Put them on evidence. They’re expensive. They’re powerful. They can make you listen, they can give you self-confidence. They can take you to the world of sound. Showing them will end the stigma, end prejudice, and inspire people to seek rehab and have a much, much better life. Don’t be an accomplice to the shame industry.
Paula Pfeifer is a brazilian writer. Two of her books about hearing loss, hearing aids and cochlear implants can be found in english and spanish in Kindle.
Support Paula Pfeifer’s work. She is a hearing rehabilitation activist in Brazil and she is deaf herself – two cochlear implants. You can support here!