By Kelsey Hampson
As someone who has worn hearing aids since early childhood, I have always worried about what people think of when they see them. Back in the 90s, hearing aids and cochlear implants were usually a uniform shade of unflattering beige.
Twenty-something years later, I’ve watched hearing aid technology change quite a bit. We’ve moved away from that ugly beige to… shades of grey, black, blonde, and brown. Instead of the beige intended to blend in with our skin, it’s now blending in with our hair.
Hearing aids and cochlear implants are getting more inconspicuous with each new generation released as well. Most people don’t even need custom earmolds anymore – just pop this little dome in and you’re good to go! Tubing has gone from half a centimetre thick to less than a millimetre, and you can barely see the hearing aid itself over the top curve of your ear.
To me, this feels like the opposite of progress. People don’t want others to see their hearing devices; they choose the smallest device they can and hide it against their hair for fear of being judged.
I don’t understand the shame behind wearing hearing aids. Would you drape a wheelchair in black fabric? Paint a crutch or cane camouflage? Wear only clear plastic glasses frames? All of those are accessibility aids too! So why do people not want to accessorize their hearing aids? We have a thriving industry for glasses frames and decorated canes have been around for centuries. Folks even have trendy wheel covers for wheelchairs now!
When I worried what people were thinking at the sight of my hearing aids, it wasn’t because I was ashamed of them. I wanted people to see that they were part of me and reflect on my needs as a person with hearing loss.
“I’m wearing these because I need them,” I wanted to say, “but I also need you to help me out too! Don’t get frustrated with me when I ask you to repeat things!” If I could put big flashing lights on my ears to ensure everyone saw them, I’d do that in a heartbeat!
Instead, I’ve been up and down Amazon, Wish and Etsy for ways to accessorize my cochlear processors, which are bright white to stand out against my hair. My processors are now works of art on each side of my head, coloured in several different shades of purple. I even have custom vinyl stickers on my coils and little butterfly charms attached to the wires.
One search on Etsy brings up hundreds of different vinyl stickers for hearing aids and cochlear implants, while another shows options for ‘bling’ like dangling charms or coloured coil for tubes and wires. There are even options for children: device skins covered with cartoon characters or superheroes, patterned headbands for retention, coloured accessories so their dolls or stuffed animals can have matching hearing aids.
When I used to work retail, I got in the habit of checking every single one of my customers for hearing aids (when you’ve worn them your whole life, you know what to look for!). I wouldn’t say anything about them in case they were self-conscious, but it was easy to subtly change my behaviour during our interactions. That little bit of a heads up let me know to speak up a bit, face the person, and not speak too fast. That accommodation may be what you’re missing out on if you hide your hearing aids.
Hearing loss is the fastest growing disability in Canada, and more and more people are accepting that they need hearing aids. Even if you don’t want to bling out your devices like I do, don’t be ashamed of them. Hiding them after you’ve spent a thousand dollars on them is doing yourself a disservice; they can be an important factor in self-advocacy.
In the end, whether you want them to be camouflaged or centre stage is a personal decision, but if you come across someone with two little neon signs saying “CAUTION: I HAVE HEARING LOSS” on each side of their head, that’s probably me because I’m not hiding mine anytime soon.