Self-education: The golden hack for people with hearing loss

By Gael Hannan

Almost 30 years ago, I unintentionally stumbled onto the secret of living better with hearing loss: learn about it!

Self-education became part of my hearing loss path. Defined as “the act or process of educating oneself by one's own efforts” (Merriam-Webster), self-education is both a process and a practice. It takes time to change how we communicate – if we choose to – involving new ways of thinking and interacting.

Learn all you can about your hearing loss. Look at it from different angles. Take charge of your own success. Embrace strategies that improve and enrich your daily communication.

These lessons emerged from the powerful realization that life could be different than the previous years spent struggling to hear better. 

The life-changing moment occurred when I reached out to other people with hearing loss. I went to a hearing loss conference with a single question – how could I keep my soon-to-arrive baby safe from a mom who didn’t hear well? 

With this tentative step, I discovered a population of people thriving with their hearing loss because they were learning from each other. I wanted what they had; newly and wildly inspired, I set out to get it.  

From hearing better to communicating better

The first thing I discovered was that I had to learn for myself and from many sources – no single source was going to deliver this knowledge directly to my door. My intentional learning curve grew over time, with small chunks of information that I quietly absorbed and the occasional lightning bolt moment such as the first time my telecoils delivered sound directly into my ears! 

A surprise outcome of my early years of self-education was how my goal changed. It was no longer enough to simply want to hear better; that’s a moving target I can’t always control. But when my goal shifted to wanting to communicate better, magic happened. 

With hearing technology as a base, I discovered new strategies which I could control because I had to practice them in daily life. I used mind shifts that dispelled stigma and established my belief in the right to communication access. Non-technical strategies such as speechreading, self-identification, and self-advocacy allow me to express my needs and have them met.

Finding reliable information

The highlights of my year are the live meetings and conferences where people with hearing loss can share best practices and learn, laugh, and cry together. 

However, not everyone has the time or the resources to attend these events. Online peer support has become an anchor in my life, but peer-based opinions must be viewed with caution. Misinformation swirls around on social media where some people vent their anger, frustration, and ignorance, offering as fact what works for them or what they wish or think they should be getting from the hearing health profession. 

Thankfully, many chat groups are populated with people who do know what they’re talking about; their online support and lively conversations help others make informed decisions.
The internet is also a rich source of well-researched articles and studies related to hearing loss.  

Learning from professionals and caring for myself

But where would I be without the education I receive from my professional providers? The quality of this care has improved dramatically through the years, partly because of changes in hearing healthcare delivery such as person-centered care. 

But the better-educated me knows the questions to ask and how to express my needs and feelings. Because I believe in the transformative power of a strong client-professional relationship, I choose providers who embrace the same philosophy and who refer clients to strategies beyond the hearing aid. This is a marked change from my earlier adult years when clinical interactions were limited and not always successful. 

The quest for better communication has also led me to improved self-care and better physical, mental, and emotional health. In the last few years, I have added meditation and yoga practice to my health regime. These game-changers – accessible even with minimal time or resources – have helped me to deal better with severe hyperacusis and tinnitus. 

I actually shudder to consider what my life would be like if I had not gone to that conference in 1995. I went with a single question and the inspiring answer has led to thousands more questions that are answered and practiced every day. It has become my passion and life’s work to share these ideas with others. 

There is no shame in having hearing loss. I have the right to participate, to hear, and to be heard. When I have the confidence to express my needs, I can improve communication with others. My family is integral to my communication success. My hearing loss is also theirs, and their needs must also be understood and respected. 

Self-education is a golden hack for living well with hearing loss. Learning should never stop. As a child, when I asked my father an unanswerable question, he’d say, “I have no idea. But you just keep asking questions, honey, because that’s how you learn stuff!” and we would always laugh. But he was right.