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Hearing access advocacy: the gift that keeps on giving

Sound Advice by Ruth D. Bernstein

It’s time for my annual holiday gift column. This year I looked for inspiration in what I’ve written over the years and decided we should give ourselves and the hearing loss community the gift of each becoming hearing access ambassadors (HAAs).  I’m sure you’re asking yourself how and why you should do that. You may find answers in this blog.

Why your voice matters

In Speak Up Please  (4/27/18), I deal with the need for all of us to request hearing access because the world doesn’t understand how many people need it.

I was told by the Director of Subscriber Relations at the NY Philharmonic I was the only one who asked for access at an event introducing the new Musical Director Van Jaap. When my grandson and I walked into the hall, it was obvious more than half the audience was over 65.  Studies show at least one-third of those over 65 have  some  hearing loss.  I’m sure many of them would have appreciated the CART (real time transcription),  which only I had. The venue decided not to make CART available to all on a large screen, as I had encouraged them to do.  If providers hear from more people about their access needs, we will reach the tipping point, because they will understand our needs. As Malcolm Gladwell stated in The Tipping Point:

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a (fashion) trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate . . .

My original column asking people to speak up, Everybody is Somebody, first published in the advocates for better communications a.b.c. newsletter in the 1990s, republished in the Buzz (2/16/16) and revised this month, recognizes that we, people with hearing loss, are our own best advocates and ambassadors. We live with hearing loss 24/7/365 and know what we need to be able to communicate and enjoy the everyday pleasures everyone else does.

How to take action

In Hearing Access Advocate Shares Lessons Learned (5/5/2017), I outline in detail the steps you can take to become an HAA. Although I know it takes courage to acknowledge you have a hearing loss, which still seems to be stigmatized even though a lot of people walk around with earbuds, I can attest to the fact that the feeling of having accomplished something significant for yourself and others is well worth overcoming your reluctance to speak up.

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease (6/26/18), is a story about making a celebratory event hearing accessible at a synagogue. Houses of worship were excluded from the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990 by the recently deceased President Bush. Even though religious communities are important to many people, they have been slow to recognize our needs and have to be pushed by their members to make their buildings hearing accessible.  Because we had CART and an audio loop at the event I describe in this post, I was able to enjoy it and so were a lot of other people who attended and had never used this technology before.

I hope I have convinced you that being a Hearing Access Ambassador is good for you and for the hearing loss community. Together we can create a tipping point and make hearing access a normal part of our everyday lives.

My experiences have been positive. I have friends on staff at cultural institutions, I’ve earned a reputation for appreciating the work they do, and, best of all, I’ve made it possible for other people in my hearing loss community to have requests for access answered promptly and cheerfully. The feeling of satisfaction about what I have accomplished makes me proud to be a Hearing Access Ambassador.

I hope you will join me in this effort and enjoy this gift as much as I do. Contact me at for help or to share your HAA efforts.

Best wishes for a happy holiday season and a  healthy and hearing accessible 2019!

Ruth D. Bernstein Consumer Advocate

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