Flaunt It Or Hide It? A Future Hearing-Aid Scenario

The hearing-impaired community is diverse, and certainly not of one mind. Such is obvious when it comes to the “debate” that surfaced on one of my Open Ears posts from April, about my personal desire to use hearing aids that are as “invisible” as possible.

Do you flaunt it or hide it?
Do you flaunt it or hide it when it comes to your hearing aids? (Photos by UMHealthSystem andĀ Erik Holfelder)

There are plenty of hearing-impaired people who prefer to flaunt their hearing aids, not only as a way to make their devices a fashion statement — in the same way as most people who wear eyeglasses spend a lot of time selecting just the right, fashionable frames — but also to make a different kind of statement. One commenter on my April post nicely explained the “flaunt them” point of view:

“I want people to notice them. I want people to realize that I have a profound hearing loss so I can stop explaining it every time I meet someone new. … It would help a lot if more hard-of-hearing people made their hearing aids as visible as possible. The best way to remove the sting of a social stigma like hearing aids is to flaunt it.”

I think the obvious answer is that different people have different needs and desires, and in an ideal marketplace there are hearing aids available that are “invisible” as well as options that combine function and fashion in a visible device. Indeed, if I were to offer my advice today to someone with profound hearing loss whose hearing aids still leave the person hearing impaired (just less so), I would recommend the flaunt-them approach as a signal to others.

The discussion around my blog post as well as other articles here touch on the issue of the remaining social “stigma” of having hearing loss. Will this stigma eventually fade away? Will wearing hearing devices become as normal as wearing eyeglasses?

I can’t predict the future, but because I track technology and media trends closely, I can tell you that “wearable” technology is not only getting a lot of “buzz” as the next big trend, but also big money. In 2013, investors put nearly a half billion dollars into wearable-tech companies. And the wearables industry is now focusing on ear computers as a next big thing.

So, a future scenario that I view as quite plausible is that a growing number of people in the years ahead will begin regularly wearing ear devices. They won’t all be hearing aids, of course. Miniature wireless ear devices will be used to listen to music; handle phone conversations; instruct your smartphone or tablet device to do something by speaking; hear information that you requested from your mobile device: and even provide enhanced or “super” hearing to those with normal hearing but who have specific needs. (An example of the latter would be ear devices that amplify high-frequency sounds in a “shotgun” direction from where the user is facing, which would be a popular item for bird watchers. More likely, apps for this will be added to your “ear computer.”)

With this plausible future, seeing someone with a device in their ear will become as common and mundane as seeing people wearing eyeglasses today. If this indeed is our future, there’s an excellent chance that fewer people suffering with hearing loss will forego hearing aids because of reasons like not wanting others to know that they are hearing impaired, or not wanting to appear older, which hearing aids represent to some folks.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, the vast majority of people with hearing impairments never get tested or treated or acquire hearing aids, and it’s all too common for people of all ages who do get hearing aids to wait through years of hearing impairment before actually acquiring them. (I’m an example of that.) If the social norm indeed includes wearing ear devices as well as eye devices (i.e., traditional eyeglasses or smart glasses), perhaps more people with hearing problems will get hearing aids — and improve their quality of life — rather than be put off by worries about how they appear to others.

The only problem with this likely future, where lots of people will be wearing ear devices, will be for those with profound hearing loss who are still hearing impaired even with hearing aids. How those folks might “advertise” that they are hard of hearing so as not to have to explain it to every new person they meet, I don’t have any good suggestions. Perhaps you do; if so, the comments area is ready for you below…

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