Sometimes audiologists get a bad rap. “Mine only wants to sell me a hearing aid,” one person complains to a friend. Another adds, “Mine doesn’t seem to understand the real world struggles I am facing. Hearing aids are great, but they don’t solve every communication problem.” Complaints are part of any service industry, but there are ways that audiologists can demonstrate that they care deeply about helping the hearing loss community they have chosen to serve. The vast majority of them truly do.
How can audiologists show the hearing loss community that they are more than just providers of hearing aids — that they are genuinely here to help? Here are my ideas.
1. Become a part of the hearing loss community
To serve the needs of the hearing loss community, providers must begin to truly understand people with hearing loss. The best way to do this is to become part of the community. Interacting with the community outside of a clinical setting will help you understand our concerns, see firsthand the struggles we face as we navigate the world, and learn which issues are most important to us. The easiest way is to join a local hearing loss support group such as a Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) chapter or similar body and attend the in-person or virtual meetings. If there is no group in your area, consider starting one of your own.
People with hearing loss love when audiologists attend meetings because we can ask them the questions that are on our minds, share our concerns, and learn more about the challenges that audiologists face in their businesses. You can also volunteer to speak at a meeting, either in person or virtually. Possible topics include: How to get the most out of your hearing aids, when does a cochlear implant make sense, or how to include family in audiologist appointments.
Outside of monthly meetings, you can help support people with hearing loss by participating in outreach events like HLAA’s Walk4Hearing or Annual Convention. Or you can join Mayo Clinic Connect’s Hearing Loss group – an online discussion form for people with hearing loss and their supporters. The more often you meet people with hearing loss in their space, the more clearly you will recognize their needs, struggles, and wish lists for audiological care.
2. Advocate for improved accessibility in your local area
People with hearing loss already advocate for better accessibility, but your voice as an expert in the field will carry significant weight. With only so many hours in the day, it may not be possible to advocate in all of the ways listed below. Pick the one or two that resonate most with you and give them your attention.
Reach out to local government officials and business leaders about the importance of hearing loops and the benefits of providing captioning at public events and entertainment venues. When you go to the movies or attend the theater, use a captioning device or infrared listening device to better understand how they work or don’t work and speak to management about your experiences. Consider sponsoring an open captioned screening at a local movie theater for your clients or a hearing friendly tour of a museum so your clients can experience the joys of accessibility themselves. Many may not be aware options like this even exist.
Work with local schools to include hearing loss prevention as part of the curriculum. Teacher toolkits exist on the It’s A Noisy Planet’s website and are free for the public to download and use for educational purposes. It’s a Noisy Planet is a program of the US National Institutes of Health. Target elementary and middle schools so students learn healthy hearing habits early.
3. Partner with the medical community on hearing care
Educate doctors in your community about the importance of healthy hearing and its links to other health issues. Suggest that doctors screen patients for hearing loss at wellness visits and refer patients to audiologists for further testing when needed. Teach medical staff to use communication best practices. Many people with hearing loss miss important information at medical appointments because doctors speak rapidly and do not face them. Masks make this even more challenging. Show doctors how to speak so they can be understood.
Partner with local senior centers and senior care facilities to educate staff and residents about hearing loss, treatment options, and how to maintain the devices they do have, including changing batteries regularly. Staff members are often not as familiar with hearing aids as they should be.
People with hearing loss look to their audiologists for expertise and advice that they can use to help them live their best lives. Showing your commitment to the broader hearing loss community will cement your position as a partner who understands their needs, one that empathizes with their struggles, and one that knows how to help.
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. She recently authored “Person-centered Care from the Patient’s Perspective,” an e-book detailing her experience with hearing loss. She hopes the book will provide audiologists with valuable insights they can use to make their practices more person-centered. Connect with Shari: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.