Q&A with Authors Shari Eberts and Gael Hannan
Looking for a compelling summer read that could change your life for the better? We recommend Hear & Beyond, the new book by Shari Eberts and Gael Hannan dedicated to helping you live skillfully with hearing loss.
With a focus on advocacy, technology and real-world strategies, Hear & Beyond provides a roadmap for better communication with hearing loss. It's an approach we very much embrace here at CHC through our comprehensive services and client-centered care.
We had the opportunity to connect with Shari and Gael recently to learn how the book came about, what their own experiences with hearing loss have been like, and the key takeaways for readers.
CHC: What were the circumstances that brought you together to work on this project?
Gael: We are passionate advocates and writers who have shared our individual hearing health philosophies through our blogs, articles and, in my case, a first book called The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss. I wanted to write another book that clearly focused on the strategies for a more productive hearing loss life.
Shari and I knew each other through mutual friends at the Hearing Loss Association of America and we admired each other’s work. I liked her attention to strategies, tips and tricks and she liked my focus on the emotional and practical impacts on everyday life. When considering a co-author, Shari Eberts was the perfect one for me. I reached out to her just a few weeks into the pandemic, and we immediately jumped into what would be a two-year Zoom-text-email writing and publication process. It has been a joyous collaboration.
CHC: In what ways have your experiences living with hearing loss be similar or different?
Shari: People with hearing loss, regardless of type or cause, share many experiences. The differences often lie in personal circumstances—time of onset, personality, family and societal attitudes, and access to information and hearing health care.
My hearing loss was genetic and adult onset, but I had to deal with the devastating legacy of my father’s hearing loss; he felt so shamed by his condition that it affected every aspect of his life, including our family relationships. When my own hearing loss started, I too did everything I could to hide it—until I realized the terrible example I was setting for my own children, who might someday experience hearing loss themselves. That changed my attitude. And now I am an advocate for people like me.
Gael: I was born with hearing loss that was progressive, but my family was always supportive, and we had a collective sense of humor about it. When I left home, however, feelings of inferiority rose to the surface as I navigated life without parents to advocate for me. It took me years to recognize those feelings, however, and when I finally did, it was a watershed moment similar to Shari’s, one that propelled me forward, more positively. Both of us learned how to live more skillfully, but we had to do this on our own, because there were no guidebooks available to help us do it. (And that’s why we wrote this book!)
CHC: We love your three-pronged approach to communicating well with hearing loss. Can you briefly describe it and explain why it's so important?
Shari: Thank you, we love it too! With traditional hearing health care, the focus is on the almighty hearing aid. But we know, through life experience and trial and error, that a hearing aid goes only so far, especially in noisy environments. Most of us also depend on visual cues and other strategies. We need to self-identify and advocate for ourselves, which means letting other people know what we need.
Most importantly, we need to change how we view our hearing loss; we need to address our inner negative attitudes and, as Gael mentioned, change them into positive actions. In the book, we call this transformation a MindShift. It is one leg on our three-legged stool of strategies. The other two are Technology—using a full range of devices and apps—and Communication Game Changers, which are the interpersonal, non-technical tools that can improve any conversation and listening situation.
CHC: The chapter about choosing the right hearing care professional (HCP) is very much in the spirit of care here at CHC. What are some of your recommendations?
Gael: We believe strongly in the power of developing support networks of all types—family, friends, colleagues, and our HCPs. To us, the best HCPs are communication specialists who create personalized solutions that include both technology and non-technical strategies—as in our three-legged stool! For Shari and me, the top requirement is an empathetic, qualified professional who can explain the Big Picture of hearing loss to clients, look beyond just the hearing aid for communication solutions, and include the client in the decision-making process. That’s actually several top requirements!
CHC: Your book is a wonderful source of hearing loss hacks. Can you share a couple of your favorites?
Shari: We love our Hearing Hacks! Gael’s favorites are the general ones—always be prepared, anticipate challenges, be battery-stocked at all times, and most of all, be open and honest about one’s hearing loss. I get excited about the nitty-gritty tips for individual situations such as how to protect our hearing devices from water and sweat in various outdoor activities. When boating, for example, secure them in a dry kit. In the theater, call in advance to ensure that assistive devices are available and on arrival, make sure the device is fully charged. We have pages and pages of Hearing Hacks, covering social events, family dinners, all types of exercise, and health care situations.
CHC: Were there topics you were especially excited to write about?
Gael: Writing the section on MindShifts was exciting and satisfying. Traditional advice on the mental aspects of hearing loss was always less than helpful. “Hearing loss can cause anxiety and depression.” “Have realistic expectations.” We took a deep dive into our own lives—and the lives of so many people we’ve met through the years—to identify the many limiting attitudes that we may not even know we have, and then turn them around to thoughts that help us become better communicators. For example, many people with hearing loss wonder, “Why me?” But when we transform that attitude into “I have the potential to change my journey. The person with the most power in my hearing loss success is me,” we have taken that first step towards skillful living.
CHC: When you envision your book having a positive impact on people's lives, what specifically do you hope it accomplishes?
Shari: A realization that Gael and I both came to, in individual aha moments, was that to be successful, we needed to shift our goal for our hearing loss selves. When we changed our goal from merely wanting to hear better, to wanting to communicate better, that’s when magic started to happen. We would love readers to come to that same realization, and if our book can help achieve that, we have done what we set out to do in Hear & Beyond. Adding the enlightened HCP who can help clients with the Big Picture, and our three-legged stool to that realization, makes for even greater magic. That is what living skillfully is all about.
About the Authors
Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate, author, and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. 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. Her book “Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss” (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide for living with hearing loss. Shari holds a BS in Psychology from Duke University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Gael Hannan is a hearing health advocate, writer, and speaker/performer who lives with profound hearing loss. She creates award-winning awareness projects that help people live more successfully with their hearing challenges, including the acclaimed one-woman show “Unheard Voices,” a humorous memoir “The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss” and a regular blog for HearingHealthMatters.org that has a passionate international following. Gael lives on Vancouver Island. “Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss” (co-authored with Shari Eberts) is the supportive how-to guide she wishes she’d had at the start of her hearing loss journey.