The hard-of-hearing (HoH) community is incredibly diverse. And not just in terms of background. As you may already know, there isn’t any singular way to experience hearing loss. This blog has explained about the Major Things Wrong With How the Media Portrays the Hard-of-Hearing.
Some people become hearing impaired later in life, and others are born with hearing difficulties. Some people use regional sign language, while others rely on lip reading and closed captioning. Some use hearing assistance devices, and others choose not to.
The only common thread between HoH individuals is that they are all different; how they identify, who they are, and what they experience is unique to them. They need recognition and respect. Unfortunately, one thing the pandemic has shown is that we still have a very long way to go.
As is so often the case, greater accessibility and acceptance begins with better representation — and in that regard, the media is failing.
Hearing Loss is Not a Punchline
In the past, it was unpleasantly common to see HoH people played as side characters or props, and rarely as anything beyond the butt of a joke. Hearing loss is isolating and lonely enough without such toxic representation. It’s already difficult to make friends and challenging to communicate without navigating through a plethora of misconceptions.
And representing hearing loss as a joke contributes heavily to such misrepresentations. Most people don’t understand that there are different types of hearing impairment and often think someone is either profoundly deaf or faking it for attention.
What Needs to Change
Simply put, positive representation. The media can be a powerful teaching tool. We need to start portraying hearing loss as more than a joke and showing characters for whom hearing impairment is not their entire identity.
Diversity? What’s That?
Many children grow up never seeing anyone like themselves on TV. They were never the heroes in books, and no one made cartoons with HoH people as main characters. And even in those rare series that star a HoH person, the profoundly deaf are the only people ever portrayed.
Worse still, mainstream media assumes American Sign Language (ASL) is a worldwide phenomenon, ignoring the fact that North America is a multicultural, diverse place. A place where not everyone speaks English as their first language, or even their second/third. Viewers may not even be American but maybe on the other side of the world.
What Needs to Change
Show the spectrum of hearing disorders. We need to see more people who hear more clearly in specific surroundings or need a few extra seconds to keep up with the conversation. That would go a long way towards helping a generation of children likely struggling with self-esteem issues.
HoH People Aren’t a Monolith
There is a great deal of contention in the HoH community about subjects like hearing impairment, cochlear implants, hearing aids, regional sign language, and so on. But you wouldn’t know it, seeing how the media portrays them. Nor would you know that many hearing impaired individuals have their own sense of pride, too.
Many people in the HoH community do not view their condition as a disability. They do not consider it as something shameful. It’s simply part of who they are.
What Needs to Change
The media needs to start portraying hearing loss as something mundane. As a part of daily life rather than some terribly debilitating condition. Better yet, we need to see more media created from the perspective of HoH individuals as they navigate their daily lives with hearing loss.
Ultimately, the media needs to portray the hard of hearing as they are. To show them as real people and show the hearing community facts instead of common misconceptions. From there, it will be far easier for people to understand concepts like inclusivity and accessibility.
Because at the end of the day, the hard of hearing are people, just like anyone else, with multiple facets and flaws. Hearing impairment isn’t all powerful, touching moments staring down adversity. Sometimes it’s ordering fast food at 2 AM with your partner or laughing when you stub your toe and sign a curse at the coffee table.
Once people remember that, we can truly move forward.
About the Author:
Pauline Dinnauer is the VP of Audiological Care at Connect Hearing, which provides industry-leading hearing loss, hearing testing, and hearing aid consultation across the US.