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8 Tools to Reduce the Impact of Stigma

Cohen, Holly; Williams, Nancy M.

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000546264.77186.2d
Patient Handout

Ms. Cohen, left, is a hearing health advocate and speaker who has been impacted by stigma, professionally and personally, while living with hearing loss for decades. Ms. Williams is a strategic management consultant, advocate, and speaker in hearing health care, with expertise in new market development, patient engagement, and consumer insight.

Stigma exists in your external environment, but it can also manifest from inside of you in the messages that you tell yourself. Consider making changes in your life to reduce stigma by committing to at least one of the following tools:

Tool #1: Take responsibility for your hearing loss. Accept your hearing loss and resist the urge to deny it. In most cases, your hearing loss is not the secret you think it is. Commit to wearing your hearing aids or cochlear implant(s) every day to hear better. Visit your audiologist for adjustments to ensure that your devices are working well.

Tool #2: Create and adopt new messages about your hearing loss. Get a better understanding of how internal and/or external stigma manifests in your life. Determine which voices in your head belong to you—and which ones belong to other people. Focus on what you can control. If you feel “less” because of your hearing loss, alter the message that you tell yourself by changing “I can't” statements to “I can.” Accept that the hearing loss is one part of you but it's not all of who you are.

Tool #3: Make a list of difficult listening situations. Reflect on each day of the week and make a list of challenging listening situations organized by home, work, and public places. Be specific and note what you're feeling—-uncomfortable, vulnerable, embarrassed, or ashamed. If a situation triggers an unhappy memory from the past, add the memory to your list.

Tool #4: Plan how to talk about your hearing loss. If your hearing aid or cochlear implant is visible, your hearing loss is probably not a secret. If your device is not visible, other people such as your family, friends, and co-workers might not know about your challenges with hearing clearly. In either situation, it takes courage to accept your hearing loss and no small amount of bravery to talk about it. Plan what you want to say. Consider practicing out loud with someone you trust.

Tool #5: Ask for accommodations. Technology is ever-changing. Educate yourself about the range of assistive listening devices so that you can identify and request the appropriate technology and accommodations that you need. People in your life may not know what is available or appropriate for your condition. Become the expert, then ask. Learn about not only technical solutions but also non-technical strategies like note-taking buddies at work.

Tool #6: Communicate effectively and comfortably. How you handle your hearing loss will have a direct impact on the people you closely and regularly interact with. Teach the people in your life how to best communicate with you so that you can hear clearly. For example, remind them to face you when they speak. Your hearing difficulties can be as new and challenging for them as they are for you. Ask speakers to repeat their point in a different way. Remember that humor goes a long way to increase comfort for everyone.

Tool #7: Set realistic and meaningful goals. Living well with hearing loss requires change and adaptability. Change happens slowly and requires commitment. Don't take on more than is reasonable and consider your other responsibilities. However, make a commitment to a meaningful and achievable goal to reduce the effects of stigma on your life.

Tool #8: Connect with other people with hearing loss. The challenges of living with hearing loss and ways to overcome them are known best by those who live with it. Consider participating in online forums and connecting with local hearing loss advocacy groups and events to meet people who “get it” (e.g., AG Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Association of Late Deafened Adults, Hands & Voices, Hearing Health Foundation, and Hearing Loss Association of America, among others). Engaging in these communities and events can help you be yourself and learn from others who understand the impact of living with hearing loss.

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