Picture: Decorated Hearing Aids on Piano Keys
“What’s that behind your ear?” my customer asked me curiously as I placed her items in a bag.
I immediately stiffened up at the suddenness of the question, then relaxed again just as quickly.
“Oh, it’s a hearing aid,” I replied with a smile.
The customer looked directly at me, frozen on the spot. I knew she hadn’t expected that answer, and her face spelled out shock, confusion, and embarrassment. “Oh I’m sorry…” she began to say, before tailing off into an inaudible whisper. I smiled at her again.
“That will be £23.86 altogether, please.” She handed some cash over, and I rooted through the till for her change.
“I’ve never seen hearing aids that cool before,” she said, quietly, “I like them… I thought you were wearing a Bluetooth earpiece.”
This type of scenario is a regular occurrence in my life. You see, the general public believes that people who use hearing aids want to hide them away as best they can; if you’re a woman, hearing aids are easy to hide behind long hair, and if you’re a man, it’s essential to find the closest possible match to skin or hair colour.
As much as we don’t like it, hearing loss continues to carry a stigma, particularly as it is perceived as being an “old persons’ problem.”
According to the National Health Service, there are an estimated 4 million people in the UK who could benefit from a hearing aid but don’t wear one. One of the main reasons why people are put off wearing hearing aids is because they believe them to be large and unsightly.
I understand this worry on a very personal level. When I wore beige hearing aids, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed by them; they felt like large, ugly bananas behind my ears, and I was compelled to constantly hide them. Nobody knew that I was deaf, and anyone who caught a glimpse of my hearing aids wouldn’t ask me about them out of fear of upsetting or embarrassing me.
In contrast, when I began to decorate them, my confidence gradually increased as I felt a sense of ownership and pride over my hearing aids. My bright hearing aids also directly challenge society’s perceptions. They are pink and often covered with brightly coloured stickers, and are usually paired with coloured earmoulds and tubes.
A selection of my own hearing aid designs
My hearing aids are bold and bright, and that’s the way I like them. No wonder people get caught off-guard – they see my hearing aids and want to ask about them.
People who ask me about my hearing aids soon realise that although I am just like any other 21-year-old woman, there are different ways for them to effectively communicate with me, whether it be through speaking clearly, writing things down, or using British Sign Language.
People regularly leave my company and go on to teach their friends and family the communication tips or bits of sign language that they’ve learnt with me.
That’s what I believe is the most important thing: when people ask, they learn, and when people learn, they teach.
This week (15th May – 21st May 2017) is Deaf Awareness Week. In celebration of the week and in a bid to raise awareness, I will be writing about important issues that link with hearing loss.