How audiologists can help inspire self-advocacy in patients

Audiologists are important partners in teaching people with hearing loss the skills they need to help them in their journey.

Self-advocacy is the key to living a successful life with hearing loss, but many people with hearing loss are shy to let others know about their hearing difficulties, let alone ask for the accommodations they need to hear their best. While family and friends provide primary support for people with hearing loss, audiologists are important partners in helping people with hearing loss build the courage and skills they need to request accommodations and other assistance when needed.

Here is how you can help.

Share a variety of hearing loss solutions

Make sure you are educated about the variety of things people with hearing loss can do to hear their best. This includes hearing aids and cochlear implants, of course, but assistive listening technologies can also be a big help. Remote microphones like the Roger™ pen can be a lifesaver in a crowded restaurant or at a lecture, while speech-to-text apps work well in group meetings and interviews. Providing your patients with a variety of tools they can use in different environments will help improve their satisfaction and quality of life.

Promote hearing loss accommodations

For many people, hearing loss is a first touch point with disability, so they may not be aware of the many accommodations that are available for the asking. Teach your patients about open captioned performances at the theater, using caption readers at the movies and the increasing prevalence of hearing loops. Show them how to search museum and other venue websites for accessibility information and how to request accommodations before visiting. The more these types of features are asked for and used, the more likely their availability will spread.

Recommend peer support

Recommend that your patients meet other people with hearing loss. My hearing loss peers are a constant source of new tips and tricks for navigating the many facets of life with hearing aids. Once I realized how effectively others were living with their own hearing issues, I felt emboldened to tackle mine. Before I met other people with hearing loss, I felt alone in my struggles. Meeting other people with hearing loss helped me build my confidence and taught me how to ask for the help that I needed. I am proud to be part of this empowered community.

Teach self-advocacy and its benefits

Self-advocacy is a skill that can be taught. It takes courage to identify yourself as a person with hearing loss and to request help when you need it, especially if you are still weighed down by stigma. I practiced on strangers at first — a seatmate on a plane or bus or a cashier at a store I did not frequent — before I found the right words to use. Provide your patients with a starter script like, “I have trouble hearing, can you please repeat that more slowly,” or “I wear hearing aids, can I please have a table in a quiet corner.” Let them practice with you or with your staff to build their confidence. Since hearing loss is an invisible disability, self-identification is an important part of advocating for the assistance they need.

Include the family in appointments

When a loved one has hearing loss, everyone around them is impacted. Including family in your appointments will help you get a better sense of what communication challenges are most pressing, and what tactics your patient is already using to offset them. Family support can help inspire your patients to self-identify, ask for the assistance they need, and experiment with different assistive listening devices. Counsel them together to save time and to boost effectiveness and follow-through.

Prescribe communication best practices

While hearing aids and other technologies are critical tools for your patients, simple communication best practices can also have a great impact on communication success. Tricks like getting the person’s attention before speaking or making sure you are facing the person with hearing loss when talking to them may seem obvious to you, but they are not to the uninitiated. Teach communication best practices tips for both the communication partner and for the person with hearing loss and encourage your patients to share these tips with all communication partners.

Living with hearing loss can be challenging, but with technology, creativity and self-advocacy, your patients can lead lives full of purpose, fulfillment and success. Audiologists are important partners for teaching patients the skills they will need to help them on this journey.

We recommend another insightful article by Shari Eberts, titled Proper hearing loss language may drive better outcomes.

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She is the founder of Living With Hearing Loss, a blog and online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.