I immediately stiffened up at the suddenness of the question, then relaxed again just as quickly.
“Oh, it’s a hearing aid,” I replied with a smile.
The customer looked directly at me, frozen on the spot. I knew she hadn’t expected that answer, and her face spelled out shock, confusion, and embarrassment. “Oh I’m sorry…” she began to say, before tailing off into an inaudible whisper. I smiled at her again.
“That will be £23.86 altogether, please.” She handed some cash over, and I rooted through the till for her change.
“I’ve never seen hearing aids that cool before,” she said, quietly, “I like them… I thought you were wearing a Bluetooth earpiece.”
This type of scenario is a regular occurrence in my life. You see, the general public believes that people who use hearing aids want to hide them away as best they can; if you’re a woman, hearing aids are easy to hide behind long hair, and if you’re a man, it’s essential to find the closest possible match to skin or hair color.
As much as we don’t like it, hearing loss continues to carry a stigma, particularly as it is perceived as being an “old persons’ problem.”
According to the National Health Service, there are an estimated 4 million people in the UK who could benefit from a hearing aid but don’t wear one. One of the main reasons why people are put off wearing hearing aids is because they believe them to be large and unsightly.
I understand this worry on a very personal level.
When I wore beige hearing aids, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed by them; they felt like large, ugly bananas behind my ears, and I was compelled to constantly hide them. Nobody knew that I was deaf, and anyone who caught a glimpse of my hearing aids wouldn’t ask me about them out of fear of upsetting or embarrassing me.
In contrast, when I began to decorate them, my confidence gradually increased as I felt a sense of ownership and pride over my hearing aids. My bright hearing aids also directly challenge society’s perceptions. They are pink and often covered with brightly colored stickers and patterns and have pink, lilac, and white swirled ear molds and colored tubes attached to them.
My hearing aids are bold and bright, and that’s the way I like them. No wonder people get caught off-guard – they see my hearing aids and want to ask about them.
“…When I began to decorate them, my confidence gradually increased as I felt a sense of ownership and pride over my hearing aids.”
People who ask me about my hearing aids soon realize that although I am just like any other 21-year-old woman, there are different ways for them to effectively communicate with me, whether it be through speaking clearly, writing things down, or using British Sign Language. People regularly leave my company and go on to teach their friends and family the communication tips or bits of sign language that they’ve learnt with me.
That’s what I believe is the most important thing: when people ask, they learn, and when people learn, they teach.
Over the past few years, a new movement has emerged – a movement which actively encourages people to personalise their hearing aids and cochlear implants.
New design for Spring which seems to have attracted a lot of attention already! ? Three (yes, 3) people have complimented them today! #hearingaids #hardofhearing #pimpmyhearingaids #flowers #spring #LifeisOn
A photo posted by Eloise Garland (@eloisegarland) on Mar 20, 2016 at 6:39am PDT
Manufacturers of these devices, including Phonak, have jumped on board and are making personalization even easier by adding bright colours to their range and pairing up with companies such as Skinit that provides custom-fit hearing aid stickers.
I’m so in love with these stickers from @tubetasticpimps ??? There are loads of designs and they are SO easy to stick on as they’re pre-cut for your hearing aids! I love my current Paisley style @phonak hearing aids! #hearingaid #hearingaids #Phonak #oticon #paisley #rainbow #zigzag #hardofhearing #tubetasticpimps #pimpyourhearingaids #pimpmyhearingaids
A photo posted by Eloise Garland (@eloisegarland) on Feb 24, 2016 at 9:25am PST
Decorating hearing aids isn’t just about making them look nice. I have seen many more children and adults in recent years show off their hearing aids with a newfound sense of pride.
And, if my experiences are anything to go off of, I find that it is a bigger movement, of breaking down barriers, one person and one custom designed hearing aid at a time.