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Ableism and Hearing Loss

Let’s talk about ableism and hearing loss. We face ableist situations and/or remarks weekly. Just so we’re clear, we’ll define ableism before we show how it applies to people with hearing loss.

Definition of ableism via Access Living: “Ableism is the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. At its heart, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability.”

We constantly battle superficial knowledge about hearing loss. A few examples are: Hearing aids and cochlear implants fix the loss 100%. All people with hearing loss know American Sign Language (ASL); “We can give you an ASL interpreter but not CART/live captioning.” The truth is, 97% of us with hearing loss don’t know ASL. Our access to spoken language is captions. (For more Misconceptions, read our post from February of 2022 HERE.) Knowledge of hearing loss communication needs are so minimal we might encounter ableism several times a week.

That often?
Yellow and green blob with splatters out. 
Text: Turn up your hearing aid!
Ableism with hearing loss.
Picture of a woman with long brown hair yelling into a megaphone that's point up to the "turn up your hearing aid!"

Yes that often. Here are a few comments you may have heard lately…

  • Turn up your hearing aids!
  • Are your ears on?
  • Are you deaf or what? 
  • Pay attention!
  • You have selective hearing.
  • You need to put more effort into listening.
  • Why are you taking so long to answer me?

These types of questions and statements make us feel inadequate. “My hearing aids are in and I still couldn’t understand you.” Then thinking, “There must be something wrong with me.” The statements listed above come from people who have unrealistic expectations and no knowledge of hearing loss needs. They expect hearing miracles.

More examples of ableism…

Being asked to go to a movie (special showing) that isn’t captioned. But…we should go because we can hear some words and follow the action. How about people trying to talk around us to the hearing person because it seems easier? We’ve heard stories from others who said their significant other would say, “Don’t talk to her, she can’t hear. Talk to me.” 

green blobs and splatters.
Text: Don't talk to her. She's deaf. Talk to me.
Ableism with hearing loss.
Pictures of two men talking, walking away from a lady with her hands out.

Another pet peeve; people who hold their hand to their ear and say either “Huh” or “What” several times after telling them we have hearing loss. This also happens to people who work in the hearing loss field, by the way. Have you seen the social media comments under audiologist sponsored posts?

What about wanting to watch a video and it doesn’t have captions? There’s a podcast but it doesn’t have a transcript. Going to the movies and the caption device isn’t functioning. Going to a play with a friend to see a play and the FM system receiver isn’t working.  Another favorite: “You should learn ASL,” when we don’t have anyone willing to learn with us. How will that even help us communicate with them when they themselves do not know ASL? Or how about, “Go get a hearing aid,” when we can’t afford one. The message seems to be: “Fix your hearing loss so we don’t have to change our ways.”

This world favors the hearing.

We are very capable people given a few adjustments. But when things like this happen, we feel less than. We become a stereotype. When we don’t know ASL and we can’t hear, where are we? No man’s land. A vague space between the worlds. We don’t seem to fit in anywhere. 

It’s not that hard to accommodate hearing loss. Most of what we need to participate is a little understanding, better knowledge of assistive listening and/or captions. After that we’re all in!

Don’t Accept It

When ableism presents itself, take it as an opportunity to correct the misconceptions. Together, we can combat ableism with education. We can conquer unrealistic expectations.

Join Hearing Loss LIVE!’s monthly workshops to learn more about the limits of hearing devices, how to request captions and technology. Educate yourself so you can educate others. Start with a Hearing Loss LIVE! workbook in your area of need. We have several specific topics so you can choose the one that helps you most. (Each workbook comes with a private, captioned video and/or podcast.) Attend a Lipreading class because lipreading is all about advocating for yourself. Join a local hearing loss group. Find out if there’s an HLAA chapter near you, or an ALDA group. Invite a hearing partner to join you at these meetings. It will open up discussions about better communication practices. If nothing is near you, get in with the SayWhatClub, an online community. Join all 3 organizations to meet more people with hearing loss! The more of us in the know, the easier it will be for all of us. 

Stop Ableist Comments & Educate Now

By the way, you can counteract all the ableist comments listed above in the bullet points with the 3 Golden Rules. If you’re knowledgeable about hearing loss and hearing device limits, you can correct misconceptions. Changing a few small communication habits will go a long way, this definitely includes hearing people. They can change a few small habits as well. If you didn’t receive the spoken message, we are willing to bet they didn’t follow one, two or all 3 of the rules. 

We don’t need to be fixed (but we need to learn to manage it) and we don’t need to learn ASL. We need to be understood. People need to know hearing loss is no joke. It’s freaking hard… until we have that understanding. When people work with us, it all gets easier. Participation is easier. For them and for us.

I’ll leave you with one more example of hearing loss and ableism. Have you ever had anyone say:

green and yellow blobs and splatters.
Text: You talk well for a deaf person.
Ableism with hearing loss.
Hearing loss live black logo of 3 leaves
Picture of two men facing each other, one with 3 red question marks above his head.
  • “You talk well for a deaf person.” 
  • “You do all that by yourself, with hearing loss?”
  • “You’re inspiring.”
  • “You don’t look deaf.”

These too are ableist comments and make us feel, well, awkward. What does deaf look like? Losing hearing later in life doesn’t mean we lose speech. I’m not inspiring, I’m doing what I have to do to live my life. Here’s a TED talk video called, “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much” by Stella Young.

2 replies on “Ableism and Hearing Loss”

Thank you so much for this. I have unfortunately faced this quite a bit. I am building my speak up for myself muscles.

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