Remaining Independent as a Deaf Person
There are myriad causes for hearing loss; it can be congenital, result from an illness or injury, and be part of the natural ageing process. Regardless of cause and age, it’s important for those who are hard of hearing to live independent and self-sufficient lives. A healthy sense of self and all it encompasses, including self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-acceptance is essential.
Fortunately, there are many support services for deaf and hard of hearing people. We’ll take a look at some of them below, but first let’s look at how to instil a resilient and positive self-identity in deaf children and teens.
It’s been found that tweens and teens who think they have a hearing problem as opposed to a disability have a healthier self-identity than those who think of themselves as disabled. (Kent, B. (2003). Identity issues for hard of hearing adolescents aged 11, 13 and 15 in mainstream setting. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 8(3), 315-324)
Parents’ attitude and parenting approach is crucial for this. It’s from their parents that deaf and hard of hearing children are first accepted, supported, and challenged. Their parents must prepare them for a world in which they will not always be understood and provide opportunities to socialise with other deaf children. In this way, they learn healthy coping strategies and benefit from support from their peers; both of which are essential for psychosocial development.
Lessons to be taught
One of the most important lessons is how to express themselves and communicate their needs.
Each family has its way of communicating at home, but hard of hearing children must learn how to express themselves when communicating with strangers (cashiers) and when interacting in a group (classes, visiting friends, parties).
It’s important for them to be comfortable telling other people that they are hard of hearing and asking people to face them when talking so they can see facial expressions as well as lips. As they get older and spend more time socialising, especially in groups, they need to retain that confidence so they can remind their friends to include them in conversation.
Part of confidence-building is allowing and even encouraging children to participate in a variety of activities and follow a variety of interests. Don’t treat children as disabled and cocoon them in cotton wool. Obviously, you need to bear their deafness in mind, but that just means you adapt the manner of participation rather than forbidding participation completely.
Hearing loss in adulthood
Adults find it very difficult to accept hearing loss. They may not realise that, as with any significant loss, they need to work through the grieving process.
Denial: By denying the condition you deny yourself support from your family and friends, and from dedicated support services. Refusing to admit the problem and refusing assistive devices starts to erode your confidence in public settings and results in social isolation.
Anger: This includes anger at the world in general – Why me and what did I do to deserve this? It includes anger at family and friends – Why aren’t they doing more to help/supportme. It includes anger at health care professionals – Why can’t they fix this? It includes anger at self – What is wrong with me, what weakness contributed to the condition?
Anger can be internalised, which can lead to all sorts of problems, both physical and emotional.
Anger can be directed at family and friends, with blaming, shouting, accusing, shouting, and shutting out. This also leads to all sorts of problems, both physical and emotional.
Bargaining: This can be described as the “What if?” and “If only” stage. You try to negotiate your way out of the condition or justify bad decisions in the quest for a solution.
Depression: Social isolation and learnt helplessness take hold and you don’t see how your situation could possibly improve. You dread interacting with people who are not in your small circle of trust. You feel you’ve been judged and come up wanting. You still refuse help and don’t have the confidence to experiment with different types of assistive devices or support mechanisms.
Acceptance: Acceptance can happen gradually, as you slowly start to resume your life. It can happen with the help of counselling and medication. It can happen suddenly with an epiphany that flips a switch and lets the light in. Or it can happen in a manner entirely unique to you.
Remember that the process isn’t linear. You may be in several stages at the same time, or go from acceptance back to another stage. The trick is to know what support services are available so you can avail yourself of them when you are ready.
Support services to facilitate independence
There are plenty of assistive hearing devices, but assistance and support don’t end there.
Hearing Link lists a number of organisations in the UK that provide assistance and support for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. We’re going to provide an abbreviated list; you can find the full list of resources here.
- AbilityNet: how to use digital technology
- Access London Theatre: a brochure of performance listings available in audio, captioned, and signed formats for those who are hard of hearing
- Age UK: assistance and support for the elderly
- Association of Teachers of Lipreading to Adults (ATLA): lipreading classes
- British Academy of Audiology (BAA): association for professionals specialising in hearing loss
- BID Services: services include access to specialist equipment and social work
- Hearing Dogs for Deaf People
- Lipreading skills: lipreading classes and classes to help manage hearing loss
- National Association of Deafened People (NADP): run by deafened people it provides information and support for deafened people as well as their families and friends
- RNID (Royal National Institute for Deaf People): works for inclusivity
- RAD (Royal Association for Deaf People): centres in various parts of the country that assist Deaf children and adults, as well as people who are deafblind.
- Sense: supports people who are deafblind
- UK Council on Deafness (UKCoD): an umbrella body for voluntary organisations dedicated to providing assistance and support to deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK
SignHealth is a charity that provides assistance to vulnerable Deaf people, enabling them to be independent through personalised support plans. Areas of assistance include:
- Skills for daily living
- Job applications
- Access to resources
- Social activities
Action for Deafness also contains a list of organisations and charities dedicated to the wellbeing of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.