Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
1. Our favourite blog post on your site, is “But, You Don’t Look Deaf“, about peoples’ reactions when you mention your hearing loss. How was this post received by your followers – for instance, did any backlash result from the signing deaf community?
This has been one of my most popular posts because it is something almost everyone with a hearing issue can understand, whether they use hearing aids, cochlear implants or choose to communicate with sign language. The idea that people with hearing loss look a certain way is so silly, yet it remains a common misconception. That post also resonated strongly with people who have other invisible disabilities. It is human nature to jump to conclusions based on what we see. Those of us with invisible disabilities need to educate others that looks can often be deceiving.
2. How do your immediate family members keep in touch with you on a daily basis? One of the kids might need picking up from school or a playdate: Do they call, text or IM you, for example? What about family members out of state?
I am lucky that I can communicate well in many situations using a combination of my hearing aids and speech reading. I never learned sign language, except finger spelling when in grade school, before my hearing loss even began. Texting seems to work better than phone calls for quick logistical details, since I have some trouble hearing on my mobile phone, particularly in noisy settings. I speak often with my sister who lives out of state via the telephone, but mostly when I am at home so I can use the volume control on my telephone headset. The same goes for other family members who live far away. Email is also an enjoyable way to stay in touch with friends and family.
3. In past workplaces, what accommodations did you request or use? How did you educate your colleagues about your hearing loss? After a job interview, did you ever wonder if a candidate was preferred over you, due to employer fear around hearing loss and hiring?
When I was working in an office, I was still in denial about my hearing loss and actively hiding it so I was too afraid to ask for any accommodations. The only exception was a volume-controlled headset for the phone, which I needed desperately. I always made sure I arrived at meetings early to pick a seat that would work well for speech reading and that would be close to people I knew that I had trouble hearing.
I wish that I had been more forthcoming about my hearing loss. It was only after I began working for myself as a hearing health advocate and writer that I came out of my hearing loss closet. Being open about my hearing loss has made communication much easier since I am now able to ask for the assistance I need. It also takes the pressure off having to hear everything perfectly, which is quite a relief!
4. Why did you hide your hearing loss for so long? What was the catalyst that caused you to accept it and “come out of your hearing loss closet?”
When I was growing up, my father had hearing loss. So did his mother. Both felt a very strong stigma surrounding hearing loss and went out of their way to hide it from everyone they knew, even close friends. My father’s behavior taught me that hearing loss was embarrassing — an unmentionable. So when I started having hearing problems in my mid-20s, I panicked, keeping it hidden from all except my family and fiancé. I was following in the unhealthy pattern of denial and shame that I had learned from my father.
Once I had children, this all changed. I saw them watching me fake my way through conversations and hide my hearing aids behind my long hair. I knew I was passing on a cycle of despair. Because my hearing loss is genetic, I worried that I may have passed it onto them. I didn’t want them to feel the same stigma that I felt. I needed to accept my hearing loss to provide a better example for them. So I did.
5. What lessons have you taught your children about hearing health?
It is important to me that my children understand that while hearing loss makes certain tasks more challenging, that it is possible to live a passionate, happy and purposeful life despite these difficulties. Since I have accepted my own hearing loss, I go out of my way to model self-advocacy behavior like being open about my hearing problems, seeking accommodations when needed, and participating in hearing health advocacy through Hearing Loss Association of America and my blog LivingWithHearingLoss.com. I hope my children do not develop hearing problems, but if they do, I know they will be well prepared to face whatever challenges arise.
I also want my children to understand how important it is to protect their hearing. Noise-induced hearing loss is increasingly common, even among teens. I have strict rules about enjoying music at safe listening levels and about wearing earplug or earmuffs when attending concerts or other loud parties or school events. I encourage them to share what they have learned with their friends to help spread the word about hearing loss prevention.