Hearing loss isn’t just about your ears–it’s about your ability to communicate with others and your mental health, too. One of the primary goals of hearing loss treatments is to avoid any correlational decline in mental health. That’s why your hearing specialist will probably want to see you in hearing aids sooner rather than later.
The problem is that communication is key to the human experience. So when we have trouble communicating–when you have to ask your son to repeat himself over and over again and you can see the irritation he’s trying to hide on his very expressive face–our instinct becomes to engage less, to pull back. To isolate.
And that’s where the real trouble starts. But that’s also where we might find some hope in new pieces of legislation designed to help those with a hearing impairment.
Improving Access to Mental Health Care for the Hearing Impaired
There is a well-documented relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline. With that link firmly established, you’d figure there would be well-worn protocols in place for helping those who are hard of hearing find mental health treatment. But that hasn’t always been the case–at least not as it’s written in law.
In many states, the law requires only that those who are hard of hearing be given access to an interpreter who can use sign language to communicate with you. Imagine sitting in a counseling session and having to rely on an interpreter. You can, perhaps, see why this situation would be… less than ideal.
What’s in a Law?
The idea behind a new law in Arkansas–and already enacted in several other states around the country–is to give those who are hard of hearing more meaningful and effective mental health choices. This new law:
- Establishes a “bill of rights” for deaf individuals seeking a wide variety of care
- Creates a certification process so that, in theory, you can find therapists who are better trained to handle hard-of-hearing cases
- Establishes a Deaf Services Coordinator position to help individuals find the necessary care.
- Create an advisory committee to, well, advise state government on how to better serve hard of hearing individuals.
While these are all clearly steps in the right direction, they don’t help people who still have some hearing or developed hearing loss later in life and have not learned sign language. For these people, getting hearing aids or other hearing loss treatments would be more helpful. Thankfully, some states are working on this issue too, making hearing aids more affordable for everyone.
Making the Little Things More Accessible for the Hearing Impaired
You know that feeling you get when you go through the drive-thru and the speakers are so garbled you can’t understand what anyone is saying (and you know you’re going to have to double check your order at the window)? Or that feeling when you’re trying to tell Siri to set an alarm but your phone keeps giving you results for arm exercises instead?
You can probably feel the frustration just imagining something like that. But that’s what daily life can be like when you suffer from hearing loss. The clarity of sound often just isn’t there.
But it’s just a drive-thru, you might think. It’s just a little thing. And that’s true. But the little things matter. And that’s the idea behind a legislative push in Tennessee, designed to make drive-thru windows a little more accessible to those who have hearing loss. By incorporating some very simple technology, drive-thru restaurants can be a source of comfort (and delicious, comforting food) instead of frustration.
Accessibility and Acceptability
Pushing for more and more accessibility for those with hearing loss is a battle that mainly involves raising awareness. It’s not as though businesses and organization don’t want to be more accessible. It’s just that they don’t think about it or they don’t know how.
But just by making a few simple changes–by being a little more thoughtful about the matter–those who are suffering from hearing loss can have more and easier access to the fundamental activities of our society.
That link between hearing loss and negative mental health effects, after all, is often driven by self-isolating behaviors. So the more we can do to make isolation less tempting, the more the hearing impaired members of our society can remain active and involved. In some cases, that takes legislation; but in all cases, that takes understanding and it takes access.