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.
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).
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.
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.