by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Hearing loss is typically misunderstood by the general population. Thus, it is not surprising that many hearing people have bought into the following 7 myths regarding hearing loss and the people with these losses.
Myth No. 1. Hard of hearing people are less intelligent than “hearing” people. Thus, they attach this social stigma to having a hearing loss. This myth is so deeply ingrained in the general population that even today most hard of hearing people refuse to wear hearing aids for fear of being thought stupid. The truth is, hard of hearing people are just like other people. Some are smart and some are not. Don’t blame any perceived lack of intelligence on hearing loss. Place the blame where it should be—on communication difficulties.
Myth No. 2. Wearing hearing aids returns hearing to normal. Not true. Hearing aids can improve hearing—typically reducing the hearing loss by half—but never bring it up to normal. Thus hard of hearing people still have a hearing loss even when wearing their hearing aids. They often need to supplement what they hear by using assistive devices, by speechreading and by using other effective hearing loss coping strategies.
Myth No. 3. Hard of hearing people have selective hearing. They only hear what they want to hear, but they can hear if they really want to. While it is true that hard of hearing people do indeed have selective hearing, it is not because they don’t pay attention. Rather, it is because their ears do not hear certain frequencies of sounds. They have no choice over which sounds they hear and don’t hear.
Myth No. 4. Only old people have a hearing loss. Not true. Because of excessive noise exposure, taking medications that damage ears, ear infections and other factors, hearing loss affects children, adults and seniors alike. One study showed that on any given day, 15% of the children in elementary schools have a significant hearing loss.
Myth No. 5. When you have a hearing loss you somehow (magically) become a good lip reader. Thus, since hard of hearing people can read lips, it doesn’t matter whether they hear or not. Fact: lip reading, (now more correctly called speechreading) while invaluable, is far from perfect. Only about 30% of English sounds can be easily read on a person’s lips. That leaves the hard of hearing person guessing at the remaining 70%. While a few are remarkably good at this, no one is perfect.
Myth No. 6. If a hard of hearing person can’t hear you, raise your voice at them. The truth is, most hard of hearing people need you to speak up just a bit, but they really want you to face them, then speak slowly and enunciate clearly. This is because when you lose some of your hearing, you hear people talking, but often you can’t understand much of what they are saying.
Myth No. 7. Hard of hearing people understand sign language. Therefore, in order to accommodate people with hearing loss at meetings, you just need to provide a sign language interpreter. Fact: of the 70 million people with hearing loss, fewer than 1% know how to sign. Hard of hearing people typically need to use, in addition to their hearing aids, various assistive devices and real-time captioning (CART).
And one bonus myth—Myth No. 8. If you speak normally, you obviously can’t have much of a hearing loss, therefore you are really faking it when you speak properly but say you can’t hear. The truth is, the vast majority of hard of hearing people speak normally. Some people that have more severe hearing losses and don’t wear hearing aids talk louder than normal. Other people with profound hearing losses speak in a flat tone (deaf speech). And surprise, some people with severe to profound hearing losses speak perfectly normally too. I’m one of them!