Why is it embarrassing to wear hearing aids?

Dario Sorgato
Wednesday July 20th, 2011 03:44 pm

Those who wear hearing aids know that. Children feel different, the only ones in the class to have something behind the ears. Like those who wear dental braces and are taunted with nicknames like airplane (what about the nicknames in other countries than Italy?). These children feel uglier. But mostly hearing aids render visibile the invisible handicap for excellence, deafness. Otherwise it may even pass go unnoticed.

But why wearing hearing aids has always been so embarrassing? It is so embarrassing that many people prefer to be bound by communication difficulties, to ask for repetition all the time and to cut a sorry figure rather than put something eye-catching behind or into the ear.

The answers are many and certainly different each one of us. Some considerations follow:

While the glasses are a prosthesis that has existed for hundreds of years and are now well assimilated by the general culture, it is only 60 years that deaf people are no longer deaf and dumb. This change has been possible with the advent of hearing aids. Throughout human history everyone who was born with a mild, severe or profound hearing loss could not learn to speak. This is why, rightly, a deaf person has been historically regarded as deaf-mute and consequently with poor intellect.

As deaf-mute were historically unable to learn to speak, most were considered mentally retarded and were given fewer civil rights. Although it might seem an exaggeration, but sadly it is not, this negative opinion is dragged up to nowadays.

People who are blind or visually impaired have never been considered cognitive impaired, even in ancient times they had prestigious roles such as the aoidos of which the most known is Homer. Today, those who wear glasses in some cases can even be considered more intelligent!

Comparison with other aids
The number of people who wear glasses is exorbitant compared to those who wear hearing aids

Hearing aids highlight with their name “aids” the fact that they are instruments to compensate a disability, as do other artificial devices used to replace a missing body part (a limb, organ or tissue), or that incorporate a failed one.

If glasses have long been considered an element of style and fashion, for years hearing aids design has been only in shades of that beige with some pink tone, which tries to imitate Caucasian people’s skin color, aiming camouflage. The same color is used in artificial limbs, orthopedic stockings, plasters, everything in that horrible prothesis color.

Only recently things have changed, so that the major brands of hearing aids produce now a variety of colors and forms closer to other hi-tech devices that are used for communication (Bluetooth headsets).

The person who wears a hearing aid is identified as a “deaf and dumb”, with its unavoidabile corollary: he has little understanding, he is concrete, he is handicapped, he needs help, he does not get it, he is suspicious and resentful, he will make a manual work, he does not talk, he does not speak well, we must speak out, we must speak in a synthetic way.

Generally linguistic difficulties are often related to cognitive ones: often those who stutter or have a bad voice or have a speech defect are considered less brilliant. Even the great physicist Stephen Hawking claims to be considered almost an idiot just because he speaks through a machine.

The advertising campaigns by hearing aids manufacturers always show cheerful and smiling elderly, happy to be hearing again. This led everybody to associate hearing loss with old age, making young people and children with hearing loss feel old.

Lack of knowledge
Whilst who wears glasses is not mistaken to be blind, the contrary happens to whom wears hearing aids: they are always labeled as “deaf”.

In truth only a fraction of all hearing loss involves problems of language and thus communication, socialization, and understanding.

Paradoxically, the situation is reversed in the case of a visually impaired person: to wear glasses is not enough to visual imparment, visually impaired have no visible sign to be immediately identified and to avoid unpleasant accidents or misunderstandings.

In conclusion, no matter how you may think about it, the problem is always the same: attitudes, knowledge, culture. If a blue hearing aid is probably a more attractive than a brownish, spreading awareness is the first objective.

by Valentina Paoli – psychologist

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