Listen: Awareness needed for those with hearing impairment

Throughout school, we learn about the five basic senses: vision, taste, touch, smell and hearing. Hearing is one of the most basic senses for people — yet, when one suffers from hearing impairment, the resources that can help them thrive like everyone else is lacking.

According to the World Health Organization, over five percent of the world’s population suffers from some form of hearing impairment, or 466 million people. Additionally, this statistic also includes over 10 million Americans, according to the National Library of Medicine. Hearing loss does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages, races, ethnicities and genders equally.

Hearing impairment does not necessarily mean complete deafness. In fact, being “hard-of-hearing” is much more complicated than “not being able to hear.” People with hearing impairment do not all suffer in the same way. Difficulties in hearing can range from having just minimal complications, all the way to severe hearing impairment.

As Johns Hopkins Medicine states, there are around four different types of documented hearing impairment.

Sensorineural hearing loss, the most common form of hearing loss, happens when the inner ear or nerve becomes damaged due to aging, injury, disease or an inherited condition. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss can happen, as its name implies, quickly over a few days and requires urgent medical attention and treatment — if not, the chances for a full recovery will be reduced. 

Conductive hearing loss can occur due to obstructions or injuries, such as an abundance of earwax or an infection. Mixed hearing loss is a combination of the above-mentioned disorders, creating even more difficulty and confusion for those with hearing impairment.

With that being the case, why is there such a minimal effort in nurturing and supporting the millions of people with varying levels of hearing impairment?

When there are little to no outlets or mediums that can assist people with hearing impairment, it is difficult for them to communicate with others. Being unable to communicate properly and having to live in a world of silence rife with muted and dissonant sounds is surely damaging to the mental health of these individuals. The consequences of suffering from such a debilitating disability are scary, dehumanizing and humiliating.

People with hearing impairment have to rely on various solutions or methods to be able to properly communicate with and understand others normally. It requires either ridiculous and straining adaptations or solutions that not everyone is able to reach.

Hearing aids are usually the first solution that comes to mind with hearing impairment. However, hearing aids are not treated as a deserved right — but as a privilege. Hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars, and despite that cost, they are not able to fully treat hearing impairment. When it comes to surgical procedures, not everyone is able to find and set up an appointment for treatment. Out of those who can, they can suffer financially due to the cost of treatment.

Despite all of these challenges, hearing impairment can be easily helped with one feasible method: Sign language.

The National Institute of Health encourages parents and educators to expose their hard-of-hearing child to the unspoken language as early as possible, stating that “the earlier a child is exposed to and begins to acquire language, the better that child’s language, cognitive and social development will become.”

This soundless language is the key to proper communication for those with hearing loss. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Sign Language uses “hand shapes, direction and motion of the hands and facial expressions” and also comes with “its own grammar, word order and sentence structure.” In fact, sign language is more efficient and worthwhile compared to written language, which cannot account for nonverbal communication.

You do not have to wait for any initiative or program to help solve this crisis of an ignored disability. The effort can start with you. 

All it takes is a quick Internet search to learn sign language terms in order to start conversing with the hearing impaired. In time, you too can enhance your sign language skills and can help create an environment of equality and acceptance for people with a hearing impairment. Even by just learning American Sign Language, you can help over 10 million Americans with a hearing impairment.