BIHIMA is pleased to support the latest campaign of the charity Action on Hearing Loss, called “Working for Change”, aimed at combatting the stigma of hearing loss in the work place and breaking down barriers to employment.

Indeed, the stigma of hearing loss is an issue that our member organisations, the hearing technology manufacturers of the UK and Ireland, take very seriously when designing new solutions – offering both maximum discretion and style, depending on the individual’s needs and tastes.

The writer and blogger about hearing loss, Shari Eberts, has said that it took her “10 years to come out of my hearing loss closet, mostly because of the stigma that I felt was associated with hearing loss”. She observes that the particular stigma around hearing loss is peculiar, given that there is not the same embarrassment about wearing glasses or other assistive devices.

Perceived prejudice against disability is certainly one of the reasons people with hearing loss experience a sense of being stigmatised. But Curtis Alcock, founder of the hearing think tank Audira, also points to the problem of ageism in our society. He refers to a study by Levy and Banaji at Cambridge University which shows that most people have an unconscious negative bias towards the elderly. Because hearing loss is often associated with ageing, stigma becomes almost inevitable in a society which venerates youth.

We see the evidence of this in the fact that the majority of “non-adopters” (the people who know they have a problem but don’t get help) are below the retirement age, suggesting that there is some resistance among younger potential hearing aid users. This is a particular concern given the increasing amount of teenagers who are experiencing hearing loss due to exposure to loud music.

Our members are constantly pioneering new solutions to help hearing aid users overcome this sense of stigma, whether it be through unobtrusive stream-lined products, or bolder, colourful designs. Smart hearing technology is also increasingly enabling users to integrate their hearing instruments with their smart phones and other technology in their lives.

There is also much anticipation about the role wireless ear bud technology (so called “hearables”) might play in reducing stigma. As more and more people begin wearing ear buds for other purposes such as listening to music or biometric monitoring, in-ear technology will become the new normal.

But even before these technological advances come to fruition, more campaign efforts, such as those driven by Action for Hearing Loss, are vital in creating awareness and openness about hearing loss so that more people receive the help and support they need.