Pat Dobbs, leader of the Hearing Loss Revolution, shares one of her reflections from her blog.
About 5 weeks ago I fractured a bone in my foot and have been hobbling along with crutches ever since. It’s been hard using crutches but it has taught me something I hadn’t expected – the difference between a visible and invisible disability. Visible meaning one that you easily see (crutches/wheelchair) and invisible meaning one you can’t see (hearing loss).
My general experience with crutches/wheel chair is that people understand your needs and try to help you out by opening the door, etc. This is in direct contrast to hearing loss, which is not visible so people don’t know that you may need accomodations.
It was during this time that I flew to St. Louis to go to the HLAA National Convention. I was scared of navigating the airport on crutches but figured I wasn’t the first person to travel with crutches and that was so right …
Both the Newark and St. Louis airports had wheel chairs waiting with very helpful personnel that wheeled me from the front of the terminal right up to the gate and then onto the plane. They looked after my needs – like did I need to use bathroom, want food or books, etc.
When I got on the plane, the flight attendant apologized as the airplane was too narrow to accommodate my crutches. Yikes – that meant I had to hop from the front of the plane to the back of the plane to use the bathroom. It actually wasn’t hard as I used the seats for support. And no one complained when I brushed past their seat!
In contrast, my experience going to the airport as a person with an invisible disability is very different. No one sees that I have a hearing loss and that I may struggle to hear in that noisy environment. No one smiles at me when a public announcement is made and says oh, can I repeat that for you, as they understand how hard it is for me to hear those muffled announcements. The personnel at the ticket counter or gate don’t know that I have a hard time understanding them unless I tell them. When on the plane, I have no idea what the captain or flight attendant is saying over the intercom.
Wouldn’t it be nice if people recognized our hearing loss and automatically knew how to talk to us so we heard them best? I don’t mind telling people, but would be so much easier if they already knew. Or if people automatically came up to us to help us out like they do people with crutches? I’d love it if the ticket counters at airports all had hearing loops and if there were captions at the gate and on the plane.
For a large part it’s up to us to change how people perceive our invisible disability and educate them in a friendly manner to what we’re all bout and what our needs are. I believe people would be happy to help us out if only they understood and knew how to help us – like they know how to help someone with crutches.
We must educate the airlines letting them know that installing hearing loops at counters or having remote captioning on the plane would be a tremendous help and make our traveling experience so much more pleasant.
This can happen as we educate people to what our needs are. And we can do it and watch how the world changes their perception of people with hearing loss.