I WEAR hearing aids. Most people are surprised to learn this. They are not only surprised I wear them—and have for more than 15 years—but that I share that I wear them. Evidently, I’m supposed to be embarrassed that I wear them. I’m not.
I also wear glasses or contact lenses. Obviously, people can see when I wear glasses, and I was called “four eyes” as a child. Today, no one seems to care. There’s no stigma attached to wearing glasses.
But it seems some people think I should feel shame that I wear hearing aids. I’m actually proud that I’m smart enough to know that hearing aids help me, both professionally and personally.
For years, my family had said that I couldn’t hear well. I was forever asking my husband and elementary-age children to repeat themselves. While interactions with my family are important, I didn’t address my hearing issues until I realized I was missing comments in meetings.
In my first dean position, we had a conference room with a long rectangular table that could accommodate at least 20 people. I typically sat at the head of the table when holding staff meetings. At some point, I realized that when people seated about halfway down the table made comments, I couldn’t understand them. And when the comments were evidently funny and I didn’t laugh while others did, I figured out something was wrong.
My school had an audiology clinic. Students in the audiology degree program offered hearing tests for free. After making the appointment, I went across campus to get my first hearing test since my college orientation (yes, back in the old days we actually got a hearing test!). I put the headphones on and began the exam.
When the professor and student came in to review the results with me, I was not surprised to learn that I had “mild to moderate” hearing loss in both ears. They tested each ear individually. During the exam, you’re asked to click a device when you hear tones. There were periods when I realized I wasn’t clicking much, which told me I was probably missing a lot of the tones. It seems that I have a hard time hearing low tones and some high-pitched tones.
So I purchased hearing aids. They are expensive, but as I told someone recently, they are an “investment in relationships.” And the aids I wear last for years, so I think of the concept of amortization. With amortization, the annual cost is a bit more than a year’s worth of contact lenses, but again, I’m investing in relationships.
Let’s remove the stigma for wearing hearing aids. Just like aids to help us see better, hearing aids help you work better. You hear comments the first time and don’t have to ask people to repeat.
I am proud I figured out that I had a need and did something about it. Most people cannot see my hearing aids, but even if they could, I would not care. Just like my contact lenses, my hearing aids help me work more effectively. Reach out to me if you’d like to talk about how to improve your effectiveness by investing in better hearing!
Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.