SayWhatClub

Don’t be Afraid to Travel with Hearing Loss: How Communication can be Better Overseas

Photo by Agustín Diaz on Unsplash

I have traveled quite a bit over the course of my life. From family vacations – to mission trips – to several years working abroad in Indonesia and Ghana, I have tried to see as much of the globe as I can. I even met my husband in Ghana and got married there. Traveling is in my blood. But as someone with moderate hearing loss, travel can also pose some unique challenges. I always worry that I won’t hear my boarding call when waiting for my flight and end up in the wrong zone or miss my flight altogether (while I have gotten in the wrong group to board, I have yet to miss my flight). Here are some tips for traveling with hearing loss and some ways communication is actually easier overseas!

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask for Help

Gate agents are there to help you. If you worry that you won’t hear your boarding call, explain your situation to the agent. They can make sure you board on time and in your correct group. The same goes for train or boat travel. Even if you are in a non-English speaking country, most people who work in the tourism industry can speak English and are willing and able to help you. If you can’t find an agent, your fellow travelers are usually able to help. When I have traveled by train, there is always someone willing to tell me if I am at the correct stop. Generally, people are friendly and want to assist fellow travelers.

There are Usually Signs Everywhere

The airport always has signs directing you to your gate and letting you know your departure time and gate location. The same is usually true for train stations (but not always, especially in a developing country). But if you can’t find the signs to direct you where you need to go, there are always agents around that can help. Or you can usually find maps and directions in English inside the terminal.

Hand Signals: an Effective Form of Communication

When I lived in Indonesia, I walked everywhere. I would often get a bit lost as I was exploring and have to stop to ask directions from someone who didn’t speak English. I found if I said “Paris Van Java?”, the main mall in Bandung, the city I was in, they could always point me in the right direction. Even general conversations could be had mainly using hand signals. If ASL is your primary language, you can usually get away with writing down a few words and using gestures to explain yourself. On the plus side, many people in non-English speaking countries can write English better than they can speak it. And people are often more willing to have a written conversation overseas than they would in the U.S. Especially in Indonesia, I found there were a lot of people who jumped at the chance to practice their English, whether by writing or speaking. Teach them some signs and you may find a new friend who is willing to show you around and introduce you to new adventures.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask People to Repeat Themselves

I say “What?” a lot. I’ve found that if I am constantly asking someone to repeat themselves in the U.S., they tend to get annoyed. On the contrary, when I don’t understand someone overseas, they assume it’s because of their accent. They are usually more gracious to repeat themselves multiple times or say something in a different way so you can understand them. They also don’t tend to dismiss you by saying, “Never mind.”

If People Don’t Understand You, They Think it’s Because of Your Accent

Because I can’t hear certain soft speech sounds, I don’t always enunciate my words properly. Or I may not pronounce a word correctly. While some people are understanding, others are not. However, when I am abroad, people just assume it’s because of my accent. I would say ‘American accent’ but I’ve frequently been told that I don’t sound ‘American’. Most people tend to guess that I am German by the way I talk and by the way I look (my heritage is mainly German so that makes sense). But I have never had anyone ask me if I have hearing loss based on my accent (or on the fact that I can’t understand them).

Find the Local Deaf Advocacy Group or Visit A Deaf School

Different countries have different resources for people with hearing loss. If you are in Europe or another wealthy country, the local Deaf advocacy group may have different resources for you as a traveler or be able to recommend places to go and people you can connect to. If you are in a developing country, there are often very few opportunities and resources for those with hearing loss. Oftentimes isolated, a person with hearing loss has little communication with their society and denied educational or work opportunities. By visiting a school or group, you can provide encouragement and connection. And you can advocate for change by your example.

It may seem intimidating to travel when you have hearing loss. But you will usually find that people are willing to help and it is easier to communicate than you initially thought. Don’t be afraid to get out and explore!

About the Author

Jenny Beck is a chiropractor and advocate for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. She has had moderate hearing loss since a very young age. She is passionate about health, travel, writing and spending time with her family.

 

Everybody Loses Their Hearing

What? You heard that right.

We won’t get too existential here, but it is simply a part of life that we age. And, as we age, the many different processes of our body slow down, wear out, and deteriorate. The same goes for our sense of hearing. You can see it in the numbers: hearing loss is currently the third most common physical condition in the United States, following heart disease and arthritis.

While some 48 million Americans, or 20% of the population, have a hearing loss, the bulk of people who experience this condition are older than 65. Approximately one in three people over 65 and 50% of people over 75 experience some degree of hearing loss.

With the understanding that everyone loses their hearing, we take a look at presbycusis (age-related hearing loss), how hearing loss and brain function are related, and why it is important to take an annual hearing test – no matter how young you are.

 

Understanding Presbycusis

Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, is a form of sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss is one of the three main types of hearing loss. Deep inside your inner ear, there are several thousand tiny inner hair cells. These cells are responsible for translating sound waves into neural signals, and then sending these signals to your brain to be registered as sound.

Presbycusis – and sensorineural hearing loss – occurs when structures of the inner ear deteriorate or when there is damage to inner ear hair cells (which do not regenerate once they have died). Presbycusis occurs with the natural process of aging: inner ear hair cells naturally deteriorate and do not regenerate with presbycusis. As a result, sound signals may be muddled and are not sent to the brain in an efficient and clear manner.

Unlike other forms of hearing loss, presbycusis occurs naturally and gradually over time. According to Dr. Justin S. Golub, presbycusis is often undiagnosed and undertreated, with under 20% of people receiving treatment for age-related hearing loss. Even more distressing is that “this statistic has not changed in over 40 years,” according to Dr. Golub.

If left untreated for a long period of time, presbycusis could lead to other issues that affect different areas of your life and overall well-being.

 

Consequences of Untreated Age-Related Hearing Loss

As an invisible condition, hearing loss often goes untreated. Age-related hearing loss, in particular, goes untreated simply because the symptoms are often relegated to the idiosyncrasies of older people. When hearing loss is “just a part of growing old,” there isn’t much motivation to do anything about it.

Unfortunately, if left untreated, age-related hearing loss (and other kinds too) could lead to a number of negative consequences in different parts of your life. People with untreated hearing loss tend to withdraw socially, as communication becomes challenging. Rather than going through the awkward motions of asking people to repeat themselves or to please turn up the volume, people with untreated hearing loss may end up avoiding social gatherings altogether. This social isolation becomes a risk factor of developing dementia. Coincidentally, untreated hearing loss is also a risk factor for developing dementia.

Numerous studies from Johns Hopkins University have found links between untreated hearing loss and a higher risk for developing dementia. When the brain struggles to make sense of sound, its cognitive load is heavier and thus detracts from the brain’s focus on other functions, such as memory or concentration.  Over time, this heavier cognitive load to lead to dementia.

 

Schedule an Annual Hearing Test

Indeed, the signs of hearing loss are subtle and often, hearing loss develops gradually, which means that we find ways to accommodate our diminishing hearing abilities. With the understanding that everyone loses their hearing, we counter with the fact that hearing loss is treatable.

Treating hearing loss is a simple way to restore your abilities and reconnect yourself to your loved ones and the world around you. It is recommended that people schedule annual hearing tests at the age of 50. If you are younger than 50, it wouldn’t hurt to take an annual hearing test anyway – people of all ages experience hearing loss.

The Hearing Loss Association of America estimates that people wait an average of seven years from the time they first notice changes in their hearing to the time they decide to seek treatment for hearing loss. By scheduling an annual hearing test, you are committing to your overall health and well-being at every age.

About our guest writer Gabe Nelson

Gabriel Nelson is a man of 31 years old. He is the kind of guy that loves to watch superhero movies, to read Harry Potter, and play video games. Gabe enjoys freelance content writing occasionally and tends to write about his passions. Gabriel also loves water, streams, brooks, lakes and oceans, which is probably due to once being a crab fisherman in Alaska for a couple of years.

 

5 Points of Volunteering

By Chelle Wyatt

Finding your people.

Hearing loss can be lonely. The world feels against you, sometimes your family too. It’s a deep, dark pit of quiet (and tinnitus). If you’re lucky, you wander across a support group like the SayWhatClub and start to feel a little less like a freak.  You begin feeling at home with a bunch of new friends, making meaningful connections.  

After another big hearing drop in 2009, I re-joined the SayWhatClub. Six months after being on the list, someone asked me to volunteer. I hadn’t thought about it, but why not? It wasn’t like I had anything else going on. I had just quit doing hair after 20 something years because I was deaf in noise. My self-confidence was at an all time low. I was cleaning a few houses (not much hearing involved with cleaning), and I had nowhere else to go so yes, why not give of my time.

Point 1: Volunteering opens up other worlds, the 2nd phase of leaving isolation behind.

I became a list representative for a SWC email list. I was introduced to another part of the organization, meeting more who were hard of hearing and gaining new friends. Friends were important because I’d already lost a few because of my hearing loss (I couldn’t “chat” endlessly on the phone anymore). I appreciated my fellow volunteers just as much as I did the others on my email list and over time, one of those volunteers became a very good, dear friend. SWC became my safe place for communication, it’s a written world with no hearing involved.

Point 2: It kept me busy and stopped my negative thinking cycle.    

Being a list rep gave me back some of the responsibility I had been missing. I popped into email often to make sure the list was moving along smoothly. I welcomed new people to the list, trying to make sure their questions were answered hoping to pass on the same sense of home I felt. Occasionally I helped settle differences of opinion, in the spirit of teamwork. It kept me busy and kept my mind off my own troubles.

When the SayWhatClub held a convention in town, I volunteered for that too. I enjoyed being a part of building the con and putting faces to names, gathering more friends in the hearing loss world.

Point 3: Volunteering for SWC gave my own hearing loss a sense of purpose.

Over time, my hearing loss became less of a burden and started to feel like experience to share; on the email list, in the List Rep committee, conventions and writing on the SWC blog. I became a professional full time volunteer, I joked, as I became the List Rep chair. I was reaching out more into the hearing loss world for convention purposes, meeting more people. My self-confidence built back up. I was far from isolated and my hearing loss was asset in this world.

Point 4: Learn new skills while volunteering.

While stepping into my roles, other volunteers with experience supported me along the way. I wasn’t sure about being List Rep chair but the former chair was on hand to answer questions and offer advice when needed. The same with the convention committee, I knew nothing coming in but had the will to learn. I learned to reach out further into the hearing loss world, looking for guest speakers and sponsors. It was all valuable experience and I learned to be a leader again.

Point 5:  It looks good on the resume.

A local part-time job opened at the state Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center as a Hard of Hearing Assistant. The job required teaching classes and giving presentations on hearing loss. I almost didn’t apply for a few reasons. I thrived in the online world. Also, I was still trying to find my way back into doing hair, clinging to my old life, should I give up on that? What the heck I decided, maybe I could do both hair and hearing loss part time so I applied.

 

Which required writing a resume, the first in a long, long time. Adding information to the resume made me realize I had more experience than I thought, thanks to SWC. I learned I could organize events. During the two years I was off from doing hair, I built new skills and worked well with others. Because  I hadn’t been idle, I got the job. I worked part time for 5 years, and in January 2018, it became a full time position.

The hearing loss world gave me a place to belong.
I found my tribe, across the United States and right here in Utah. I never would have pictured myself ‘here’ nine years ago when I was struggling after another big drop in hearing.   And ‘here I am in a whole new life!   I have let go of doing hair almost entirely. Now I embrace the hearing loss community. This is where I belong, and SWC helped me get there.

I encourage others to volunteer, especially if you’re in that pit of isolation. The 

SayWhatClub emphasizes the benefits of volunteering in its Mission Statement. We understand that helping others reduces feelings of isolation, frustration and despair, while enhancing feelings of self-concept and optimism. Open yourself up, and see where it leads. Other SWC volunteers will support you in learning new skills.  What do you want to learn? Where might you go? The

re’s lots of opportunity in SWC.  

Some areas SWC needs volunteer help

  • The SWC website committee needs people to keep the webpage current by checking links and editing pages.
  • Help the Hospitality Committee welcome new people into SWC who inquire on the website.
  • The List Representative Committee could use help on the Facebook groups, and if you’re on an email list already, inquire if they might need help.  Two of the lists are looking for new List Representatives.
  • The Social Media Committee is looking for people to help with the main SWC Facebook page, making memes for SWC, writing on the blog, and would love to have someone make our Twitter account active again.

Remember no experience required, just a willingness to learn.