Should I prepare to experience discrimination when I get hearing aids?
February 26, 2015 3:23 PM   Subscribe

It's time for me to get hearing aids. It isn't age-related but genetic. I am still relatively young, and I'm concerned about discrimination professionally and socially. Please provide advice and reassurance.

I'm in a unique transition period in life in that I'm in a training program for a completely new career and am currently not employed while in school. At the same time, I've moved to a new city and don't have a lot of friends, and am not dating anyone. When I re-enter the workforce and the socializing/dating scene, I will do so with hearing aids.

I know that there are hearing aids that fit all the way into the ear canal and cannot be seen, but I have no idea if those would be appropriate for my loss. I'm female, with long hair, but I do like to pull my hair out of the way at times. If I'm wearing any type other than the ones that go all the way in, they'll be noticeable.

I'm kind of a quirky person, and haven't lived a very conventional life and there are already a number of things about me that are a really bad fit for mainstream culture. I feel like this is going to be yet another difference. I am concerned that no matter how non-ableist people want to believe themselves to be, that there will be a quick, subconscious, kneejerk reaction of exclusion and I will be passed over, either in the workforce or by men to date.

Being passed over is already a concern to me due to other characteristics (one of which is being female entering IT) and it always has been. I was bullied as a kid for not fitting in, and have experienced being scapegoated as an adult, or simply being left out. I'm trying to work on being more aware of the importance of small talk in the workplace, and smiling and eye contact. I am very introverted and have scored significantly on several online tests for Aspergers. I hesitate to self-diagnose, but regardless of actual autism, materials written to help Aspies with social skills have strongly resonated with me. What I'm getting at here is, it's not just one thing with me that makes me different, it's a whole bunch of things and hearing aids are just going to add to that.

What I would really like to do is rock the hearing aids with complete confidence and no apologies for who I am. However, I've learned that just because I may be okay with who I am does not mean others will be. When I have failed to play the game, I have certainly been informed of that failure, usually not in a nice way.

Mefites with hearing aids, have you experienced covert, or even overt, discrimination due to having them? Is it better to just hide them? What can I expect?
posted by Beethoven's Sith to Human Relations (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I recently started a new job as a manager and I have two employees with hearing aids. One is a genetic thing and he actually has significant hearing loss. The other is older and just getting to that point in life, I guess. I don't really know.

I'm relatively young (34) and they are both older than me. Actually my whole team is older than me.

I have not noticed a difference or treated them differently. No one else in my team or at the company has treated them any differently than anyone else from what I can tell.

I think that you'll be fine and the person that will be most bothered by them will be you. What I mean to say is that if you can be confident and not let them bother you, they won't bother anyone else.

Good luck!
posted by Georgia Is All Out Of Smokes at 3:38 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm also pretty young and relatively quirky-ish, but I have a cochlear implant, which is probably far more visible than any of the options you're considering, and it's never been an issue either socially or professionally. I'm also a dude, and I wear my hair relatively short, so the external processor is pretty much visible all the time. Nobody notices or cares -- actually, the times that people've noticed or commented on them, it's come from a good place, in that they're curious and want to find out more about it. I honestly kind of wish I got that chance more often. I don't consider myself crippled or disabled, nor do I consider my cochlear implant as an outward indicator of such; it's just a part of who I am, and if other people can't deal, that's so not my problem.

Think about it this way: on the off chance that someone were turned off by them, that says far more about them than it does about you. And do you really want that kind of person in your life? Not only will you be able to rock them -- they'll of course take a little while to get used to, but soon enough they'll become a part of who you are -- you'll be able to use them as a shitty-person-filter. And I think it's kind of a shame more people don't have the privilege of having such a filter.
posted by un petit cadeau at 3:45 PM on February 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

People have gadgets plugged into their ears all the time now. It's no big deal.

Just get the less expensive behind the ear style but not in the "flesh tone" color if you can avoid it. Too close to the uncanny valley. Embrace your 21st century ear gadgets and colors. You are ahead of the curve on trendy neural implants.

If you have mild to moderate age related loss, you might try these that are medical grade but a fraction the cost of customized aides.
posted by JackFlash at 3:45 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

My mother just got hearing aids and I couldn't believe how discreet they were. V.difficult to see, even close up and knowing they were there. And hers are removable and not the "all the way in the ear canal ones". I think getting them is a great idea and that you shouldn't over think it.

People who have an issue with hearing aids might also have an issue with you for your hair style, or literary preferences or whatever, you can't win everyone over and you might as well help yourself in the process!! It sounds like an exciting transition period for you- enjoy it!!!
posted by bquarters at 3:50 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Like bquarters, I have a parent who just got hearing aids and -- even though he's got short hair -- I can't see them unless I'm up close and really looking. And they're behind the ear, non-flesh colored ones. Even the wire coming over his ear is just about invisible.

Also, not hearing people well is more likely to be alienating than wearing a barely visible hearing aid. A lot of people have alleviation of depression or isolation when they get hearing aids because they're able to interact more easily with more people.
posted by katemonster at 3:54 PM on February 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

I also have two cochlear implants and I am a young (20 something) female with long hair. People rarely notice anything different. If anything they are excited by it and want learn more. Great way to meet people :)
posted by pando11 at 4:04 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a cochlear implant and a hearing aid, and wore two hearing aids growing up. Most people won't notice; the ones that do mostly won't care. (Seriously. My hair is pretty short, my CI and hearing aid are clearly visible, but it doesn't seem to make an impression on most people.) Discrimination against deaf and hard of hearing people definitely exists, but getting hearing aids isn't what exposes you to that.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 4:19 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

My very good friend got them at 40 after a lifetime of fighting against the idea. They are very cool looking, like a super high tech Bluetooth headset. And despite being cobalt blue metallic, I didn't even notice them the first time he wore them around me they are so small. And being able to fully participate in conversations has increased his confidence, which makes him even more fun to be around. Hearing aids have come a long way. Fear not!
posted by cecic at 4:34 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I wore hearing aids all my life, up until age seventeen, but I stopped wearing them in my final year of high school for a number of reasons:

- The constant staring at me by strangers in public was wearing down on my hyper-self-conscious high school self. Once, a random woman came up to me on the bus, clasped my hands in hers, and declared me an inspiration for managing to ride the bus alone. I knew it wasn't anything I could stop, but I hated how people would constantly look at me with an expression of pity, as if I were a damaged product. I hated how people would patronize me - I would never even get a chance to make a first impression, and yet they would think I was dumb on the basis of my making my disability visible. Come to think of it, a lot of my bad habits and quirks were formed around the early experience of wearing hearing aids. To this day, I still have severe body image issues from the sense that people were giving me that I was somehow "wrong" when they stared at me, and I'm still always in a mode where I'm trying to "disprove stereotypes" by leaping at any opportunity to show off how smart and "articulate" I am.

- My hearing loss is profound, meaning that hearing aids alone aren't adequate enough to compensate for the words that I miss. But people would always assume that my hearing aids magically "fixed" my hearing, meaning that they'd stop trying to accommodate me in any other way. People would get angry at me when I told them that they still needed to look at me when they talked. They would explain to me that I was using the "wrong technology" and "not meeting them in the middle" for even daring to say "can you repeat that again" once, despite being hearing people with no experiences of deafness or knowledge of how hearing works. I almost got pushed into getting a cochlear implant due these social pressures, despite knowing that wasn't something I wanted.

- Relating to the last point - this only became apparent to me when I stopped wearing my hearing aids, but people can act really entitled about hearing aids. I've had several dates actually explicitly tell me that they wouldn't date me unless I wore hearing aids, because again, they were under the impression that my hearing aids would magically make me a hearing person and thus undamaged enough to be worthy of their time. I decided that wasn't the type of person I wanted to attract: right now, I'm of the firm resolution that any romantic partner who wants to be part of my life needs to learn ASL. I was sick of the idea that I was the one who always needed to cater to people, and not the other way around.

- The hard-of-hearing community was obviously a bad fit for me. I hated the constant rhetoric around being an inspiration, being damaged, the obsession with always needing to buy the new toy, the obsession with "finding a cure" to their ailments. I've been like this my entire life - I don't know anything different than my own experiences. It was so surreal to me, having so many people point to me and go "your experiences are out of the norm", because I honestly felt I was just living life the way I was. In that regards, the Deaf community was a way better match for me.

- I'm also on the spectrum, and the severe amplification of background noise and noises that were unnatural to me severely taxed my mental state and mood. I would end up becoming exhausted to the point of needing to nap for hours after just a few hours of school - a few times, I'd have meltdowns because there was too much background noise from people talking with each other during class activities.

- On several occasions, I'm pretty sure that me walking into a job interview wearing my hearing aids ended up in me not getting a job. People would be enthusiastic all throughout the process, then the moment they saw me - and it was always a moment where my ears were visible - they would act completely cold and unwelcoming, and then I wouldn't get the job.

Which isn't to say that my experiences generalize to everyone else's, but for me, it was much easier to focus on other adaptations than relying on the hearing aids due to the social weight that my hearing aids carried. My experience will differ from many others - especially those who decided to wear hearing aids later in life rather than being fitted as a child. You might find that you benefit from hearing aids, and at very least, I would encourage you to explore - what I'm trying to convey to you now are tropes that you should at least ought to be conscious of. What not wearing hearing aids taught me was how to better advocate for myself, and how to better draw boundaries in my life so I wouldn't be forced into situations where I was explicitly at a disadvantage - not unless I was armed with an interpreter or captionist. Again, maybe this is just one of those things you learn coming from wearing hearing aids to not wearing them, rather than the other way around. I'm honestly a lot more satisfied with my romantic and social life, and with my education and career now that I've stopped wearing hearing aids, and I don't think I'm going to start using them again any time soon.

If you want to discuss alternative strategies to wearing hearing aids, feel free to memail me!
posted by Conspire at 4:58 PM on February 26, 2015 [9 favorites]

Those who would discriminate you for hearing aids are not worth your attention...
posted by Mac-Expert at 5:11 PM on February 26, 2015

I have one, about to get my second. I'm middle aged - it's not age related loss. I don't think I've been discriminated against because of them. They're pretty discrete behind the ear models not in flesh tone - sorta match my hair. I do function better being able to hear but it's not an unalloyed magic fix - as Conspire says everything is amplified and it's a tiring adjustment to be out in a loud setting. I would NOT go the route of getting consumer devices that are not fitted by an audiologist. Having a pro work with you and tweak a hearing aid to work with your specific loss is extremely helpful and you don't have to accept an aid until it's set up to your satisfaction. I have friends who have gone back and forth for months to get it right. It's not a magic bullet but I have found it helpful and don't think it's blocked options for me. Of course I'm already a middle aged woman and I'm self employed so some of those issues might already be in play regardless of my hearing aid situation.
posted by leslies at 5:20 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Those who would discriminate you for hearing aids are not worth your attention...

It's really easy to say this. But I don't think everyone who discriminates against you will discriminate against you consciously. One of the reasons why I had a hard time making friends was because I would always sense them to treat me differently than their other friends. Physically, they would always "mouth" their words a lot to me than when talking with other people. But it wasn't just at the physical level - I got the sense that a lot of them coddled me emotionally and treated me as something fragile, and then a lot of my friendships would break apart since they would claim that I was too "intense" or "too much work" for them to be around.

It was either that, or they'd ignore my disability - forget to face me, try to phone me, etc.

And the thing that I'll stress is that literally everyone does this. I have a childhood friend who I've literally known for 20 years and been in close contact with for all that time. I went and visited her two weekends ago, and the first thing she messages me with is "I'll phone you to make sure you're settled in".

People like to make a big deal about the bigots, but truthfully, it's these little microaggressions from people you know and trust that hurt the most. So I don't think hearing aids are a very good filtering tool at all - it doesn't exclude you from getting hurt where it counts the most.
posted by Conspire at 5:30 PM on February 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

Hearing aids are one small part of a bigger story. In my experience (1 cochlear implant, 1 hearing aid), behaviour is a significant part of the equation.

Being honest open and up front about my hearing loss has stood me in better stead than aids alone. Everyone will react differenly of course but I work on the basis that I give information to people that will help them help me hear them. People are usually really helpful and kind and polite. They're also ignorant, unsure and uncomfortable but good intention goes a long way towards helping everyone in these situations.

Another aspect to consider is your overall well being and energy levels. My biggest difficulty is balancing all of the things I want to do with all of the things I am able to do given my energy runs out fast. It's a bit of a vicious cycle: I expend extra energy to hear, I get tired easily which makes it harder to hear which means I need to expend more energy to hear, and so on.

Being deaf in the mainstream is not easy but it is doable. Support network of family and friends has been very helpful for me.
posted by prettypretty at 5:54 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've commented on my hearing aids many times, so you might find more comments (and threads) looking back through my history. I've worn various different models of hearing aids for 35 years now; I had my first pair at age 4. I don't think I've faced any discrimination since my high school days, and what I experienced there was the typical high school stupidity. I have a job now, as a professor, where I have to be able to hear, so wearing them is non-negotiable for me. I tell my students on the first day of class that I have hearing aids, both to encourage them to seek out help for different abilities, and also just so that they know. I've known some people for multiple years before they realized that I have hearing aids. Once people discover it, they do sometimes ask lots of questions and sometimes those questions are silly. But I really don't think people exclude me for having the hearing aids. Also, if it helps, I've been married for 16 years, so it didn't keep me from having close personal relationships either.

I would really recommend you try them for awhile--it's really good to be able to hear. You might not have perfectly normal hearing with them; I don't, by a long shot. But, it might really improve your ability to communicate. I tend to forget about them for really long stretches, so they can become very normal for you.

Good luck!
posted by Slothrop at 6:02 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Am typing on my phone but wanted to chime in that I have worn hearing aids since I was a kid. Have moderate to severe loss in both ears. My aids are bright green, but are quite small and people rarely notice them. I do make a point of telling new colleagues that I am hard of hearing and I also lip read as the aids only help to a degree. I have never felt any discrimination -- just curiosity which I did not find off putting or intrusive.
posted by Lescha at 7:07 PM on February 26, 2015

20 years ago, I had an analog hearing aid for my (not age-related) hearing loss. Boy, that sucked. Then I got current digital hearing aids - behind-the-ear. So, so much better. Some people notice them. I think they reinforce age discrimination in people over 50 or so. They aren't a perfect remedy. But they are way better than not having them.
posted by theora55 at 7:47 PM on February 26, 2015

Fellow quirky, self-conscious young woman here. I have hearing aids and I rarely wear them, for many of the same reasons Conspire described. While I don't think I've been passed over for professional opportunities because of them, I do feel like they have had a negative impact on me socially, in that strangers/acquaintances tend to treat me with pity and hold me at an arm's length after they notice that I'm wearing them. I'm NOT telling you not to get them, because they are certainly very useful in some situations, but overall I don't feel they've made a drastic improvement to my quality of life.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 8:31 PM on February 26, 2015

I've been thinking about this question some more and there's something I'd like to add to what I said before.

I know that everyone's experience of deafness and hearing aids is different. And that some people do benefit from them and others really don't.

The thing I keep coming back to -- and this comes from my own experience of being deaf and quite isolated and struggling to keep up with the world on my own steam -- is that the discrimination issue is going to be a judgement call between being discriminated against because you're wearing a hearing aid and being discriminated against because you can't hear and participate.

Unfortunately I don't think it's something you can control from the outset. It may be a matter of trying the hearing aids and seeing whether they work for you.

In terms of being confident and rocking those aids, my only suggestion is be your awesome, thoughtful, quirky self and be honest with others about how they can assist you.

I struggle the most when I try to be 'normal' and not draw attention to the deafness. But whilst it is hard to keep drawing other's attention to a perceived weakness or difference, ultimately you need to look out for your own best interest, not other's comfort or discomfort.
posted by prettypretty at 4:52 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've worn hearing aids since age 5 (the behind-the-ear type that are very visible) and I've been working in a variety of jobs all of my adult life. No one cares.
posted by desjardins at 9:17 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wanted to add something else; you are more likely to be discriminated against because of your hearing deficit (if you don't use hearing aids) than if you use the hearing aids. In other words, people do get annoyed if they have to repeat things a few times, or if you seem to be willfully ignoring them (but you're not). Since you're getting hearing aids to improve your hearing, this discrimination will lessen or disappear.

Don't worry at all about dating. Any guy who is deterred by something so inconsequential is not worth your time.
posted by desjardins at 9:58 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

May I commend you to the blog of a quirky deaf IT geek: Mel Chua.

Some will discriminate and some won't. Some will accommodate and others won't. Recently chatted with a 30-year HoH University professor. She's been asking her colleagues to "look at her lips" for 30 years. Still needs to ask. Got hot pink earmolds and a buzz cut and she still is asking.

Sad truth: disability is often thought to be incompatible with success. If you're doing OK, then, "where's the problem?" That you're working very hard to lip read and follow what's going on doesn't occur to them.

Bottom line: you can't control whether they're prejudiced.
posted by Jesse the K at 12:50 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

What desjardins said. I’ve been wearing them since I was 4 as well (thank you, HEAR Center in Pasadena!), and as a kid was always more self-conscious of them than other people were. Now, granted, kids tease other kids, and I got that to a certain extent. But coming into adulthood, I still thought that people would notice those things in or behind my ears (probably the result of having a mother who made me wear my hair long around my ears to cover up the hearing aids, I kid you not!—although this was in the ’70s, when boys and men *had* longish hair)—until one day in the early 1990s a friend of mine at church told me that she was talking with another friend of ours—an older lady who wore hearing aids herself—and this friend told the older lady, in passing, that I wore hearing aids. “Really?” the older lady said. “I never noticed that.”

That certainly made me take notice! Here she was, wearing the aids herself, and she didn’t even notice mine! And I thought my hearing aids had huge blinking lights on them, calling attention to them all of the time. (They didn’t, of course, but to me they might as well have had them!) Well, that was an eye-opener. Since then, I’ve adopted a “whatever” attitude to them, and sure enough, I’ve found out that people don’t notice or care one way or the other. Sure, sometimes I may not hear things correctly (though I will say that the new digital hearing aids are *amazing* compared to the old analog ones, and so they do help tremendously for my kind of loss). I might have to say “What?” every now and then, but so what? For the most part, it’s not an issue. Again, YMMV...
posted by kentk at 1:04 AM on February 28, 2015

I've worn hearing aids since age 3. Even with the aids, my hearing is poor enough that I have to lip read to understand others. I've experienced some awkwardness and condescension over my life (I really hate being told I'm a "hero"), but overall it hasn't been a huge deal. I've successfully held down a variety of jobs that don't require talking on the phone. I get the best results when I'm honest and upfront about what I need for accommodations, and most people are happy to oblige. The ones who aren't? Screw them.
posted by saturngirl at 5:16 PM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

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