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Give Our Hearing Loss Community a Gift: Be Visible!

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Sound Advice by Ruth Bernstein

Ruth Captions Bernstein, Hearing Access Ambassador

On Thanksgiving Eve, 2022, newly elected New York State Governor, Kathy Hochul, vetoed a bill that would have created a State Hearing Loss Commission for the Deaf, Deaf Blind and Hard of Hearing because it lacked funding. New York is only one of 12 states without such a commission.

Despite active support from HLAA NY State and the NYC chapter and other groups, the Governor ignored the needs of a group of people who have an invisible disability. My immediate reaction to this announcement was: We have to become visible!

Recent Adventures in Hearing Advocacy

In 2022, I asked for captions so often I decided to change my middle name from Denise to Captions. I recently received a video from the president of Incrediwear, a company that makes flexible braces for knees, elbows and wrists. (When you are heading into your 90s, as I am, a little support for creaky parts is helpful.) I promptly wrote back and asked for captions, sharing these statistics:

About 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. The rate increases to 8.5 percent for adults aged 55 to 64. Nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.

A representative of the company thanked me for sharing this information. I am hopeful the marketing department will make the necessary change soon.

I’ve also been investigating a new senior residence which will be built in Riverdale by the Jewish Home for the Aged. In my discussion with their sales rep, I again shared the statistics. He passed them on to the planning group who had not taken the needs of the hearing loss community into account! They now plan to add access at the front desk, community rooms and hearing loops in individual apartments, if requested. Although I decided to stay in my apartment, I will follow up on this project to make sure people living at the residence get the access they need.

Advocacy Through the Years

Ruth (2014) receiving Ruth R. Green Advocacy Award with Ruth Green

After these incidents, I decided to see what I had written in the past about being an active advocate. I was not surprised to find this is a subject I have written about multiple times because I feel it is so important to our whole community. In 2019, I suggested becoming a Hearing Access Ambassador (HAA), a concept I really like.

In Hearing Access Advocate Shares Lessons Learned (5/5/2017), I outline in detail the steps you can take to become an HAA. 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.

Speak Up Please (4/27/18) deals 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 fifty percent of the audience were over 65. I’m sure a lot of them had some degree of hearing loss and would have appreciated the CART, real-time transcription, only I had. If providers hear from more people about their access needs, we will reach the tipping point, because they will understand our needs.

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…

Malcolm Gladwell

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 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 this event, I was able to enjoy it and so were a lot of other people who attended and had never used this technology before.

My original column asking people to speak up, Everybody is Somebody, was first published in the advocates for better communication's a.b.c. newsletter in the 1990s, republished in the Buzz (2/16/16) and revised in 2019, 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.

Together Let's Create a Tipping Point

Although very few people are willing to wear rabbit ears to make hearing loss visible (as my friend Barbara Bryan and I were at the NYC Disability Pride Parade) speaking up and being a Hearing Access Ambassador is good for you and for the hearing loss community. You help yourself and a lot of people who will benefit from your efforts. Together we can create a tipping point and make hearing access a normal part of our everyday lives. If everyone reading this column asks for the access they need once in 2023, maybe Governor Hochul will become aware of our needs. My experiences have been positive. 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 2023!

Ruth Bernstein

Hearing Access Ambassador

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