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Revealing Hearing Loss

A Survey of How People Verbally Disclose Their Hearing Loss

West, Jessica S.; Low, Jacob C. M.; Stankovic, Konstantina M.

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000238
Research Articles

Objective: Hearing loss is the most common sensory deficit and congenital anomaly, yet the decision-making processes involved in disclosing hearing loss have been little studied. To address this issue, we have explored the phrases that adults with hearing loss use to disclose their hearing loss.

Design: Since self-disclosure research has not focused on hearing loss-specific issues, we created a 15-question survey about verbally disclosing hearing loss. English speaking adults (>18 years old) with hearing loss of any etiology were recruited from otology clinics in a major referral hospital. Three hundred and thirty-seven participants completed the survey instrument. Participants’ phrase(s) used to tell people they have hearing loss were compared across objective characteristics (age; sex; type, degree, and laterality of hearing loss; word recognition scores) and self-reported characteristics (degree of hearing loss; age of onset and years lived with hearing loss; use of technology; hearing handicap score).

Results: Participants’ responses revealed three strategies to address hearing loss: Multipurpose disclosure (phrases that disclose hearing loss and provide information to facilitate communication), Basic disclosure (phrases that disclose hearing loss through the term, a label, or details about the condition), or nondisclosure (phrases that do not disclose hearing loss). Variables were compared between patients who used and who did not use each disclosure strategy using χ2 or Wilcoxon rank sum tests. Multipurpose disclosers were mostly female (p = 0.002); had experienced reactions of help, support, and accommodation after disclosing (p = 0.008); and had experienced reactions of being overly helpful after disclosing (p=0.039). Basic disclosers were predominantly male (p = 0.004); reported feeling somewhat more comfortable disclosing their hearing loss over time (p = 0.009); had not experienced reactions of being treated unfairly or discriminated against (p = 0.021); and were diagnosed with mixed hearing loss (p = 0.004). Nondisclosers tended not to disclose in a group setting (p = 0.002) and were diagnosed with bilateral hearing loss (p = 0.005). In addition, all of the variables were examined to build logistic regression models to predict the use of each disclosure strategy.

Conclusions: Our results reveal three simple strategies for verbally addressing hearing loss that can be used in a variety of contexts. We recommend educating people with hearing loss about these strategies—this could improve the experience of disclosing hearing loss, and could educate society at large about how to interact with those who have a hearing loss.

Hearing loss is the most common sensory deficit, yet ways in which hearing-impaired people manage their hearing loss is understudied. Hearing-impaired people lack resources for learning successful ways to disclose. By analyzing the phrases that people reported using to disclose hearing loss, results from this study suggest three strategies for addressing hearing loss. Empowered by the knowledge of these strategies, hearing-impaired people could improve the experience of disclosing hearing loss in a variety of contexts while educating society at large about how to interact with those who have hearing loss.

1Department of Otolaryngology, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; 2Department of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; and 3Department of Sociology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA.

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Dr. Stankovic is a board member of the American Auditory Society. No other conflicts of interest were declared. Dr. Stankovic’s research is supported by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders NIH–NIDCD K08 DC010419, the Bertarelli Foundation, and the Nancy Sayles Day Foundation.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Received June 19, 2014; accepted September 2, 2015.

Address for correspondence: Konstantina M. Stankovic, Department of Otolaryngology, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, 243 Charles St, Boston, MA 02114, USA. E-mail:; and Jessica S. West, Department of Sociology, Duke University, 276 Sociology/Psychology Building, 417 Chapel Drive, Durham, NC 27708, USA. Email:

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