10 facts about deafness and hearing loss

November 19, 2020 1:50 pm

10 facts about deafness and hearing loss

Am I a person with disability needs?

Almost a decade ago, I was filling in a student halls application form when I felt myself hovering between the ‘no’ and ‘yes’ tick box.

It was one of the only times I was made aware that in fact, my needs are a little bit different from regular students: I have a hearing loss that requires me to wear hearing aids.

It is estimated that by 2050 over 900 million people will have disabling hearing loss.

In the UK, this number is currently at 12 million people and is estimated to be around 14.2 million by 2035.

People who are not related to someone with a hearing loss may assume this is something which only affects elderly people. These are, however, not the only people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

As a person who is hard of hearing myself but not part of the deaf community, I was, for example, quite oblivious to various phenomena in the deaf culture. For the purpose of this article, I distinguish between deaf people (who are part of the deaf community) and people with hearing loss (who are not part of the deaf community and function in the hearing world).

Since accessibility research with people with hearing loss is currently underinvested in, I wanted to share 10 facts about deaf people and people with a hearing loss.

  1. Hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia by up to five times, but evidence also suggests that hearing aids may reduce these risks.
    At 9 percent, hearing loss trumps as the highest risk factor on the list of all the potential risk factors for dementia in research published in the Lancet. Researchers have also found that hearing loss can get misdiagnosed as dementia or that hearing loss can make the symptoms of dementia worse. This has to do with that the symptoms for both conditions are very similar: being confused during conversations, fatigue, stress and so on.
  2. In 2018 less than 1% of the total public and charity investment in medical research in the UK was spent on hearing research.
    It is important to highlight that this does not mean that there isn’t any research in this realm at all, however, since hearing research is underfunded, it may unconsciously affect how confident researchers feel in making web and other products and services accessible for everyone.
  3. People with hearing loss rely heavily on visual cues as concentration fatigue is more common amongst them than amongst people with normal hearing.
    Concentration fatigue is the result of prolonged periods of intense concentration, which can get to the point you are no longer able to concentrate. Concentration and paying attention generally requires more energy for those with hearing loss and as such concentration fatigue is more common in individuals with hearing loss. One symptom people with a hearing loss may grapple with is difficulty concentrating towards the end of the day, which obviously has implications for productivity.
  4. For many people who have a hearing loss, covering your mouth can actually make them ‘hear’ less.
    Lipreading helps those with a moderate hearing loss cope better with their hearing so as to process information. Many people with hearing loss who have to make use of public transport or move in other spaces where face masks are mandatory, may have all found communication in this current pandemic particularly worrying.
  5. There are differences in grammar and vocabulary with British Sign Language (BSL) compared to English, but BSL is not universal. 
    However, just like the English language, there are regional differences in how words are signed. What may surprise you is that there is a single sign dedicated to “I haven’t seen you in ages“, which obviously takes longer in English to say and write. It is also important to note that BSL is not a universal language like English. There are at least 138 different sign languages across the world, such as Australian Sign Language, American Sign Language, Dutch Sign Language and so on.
  6. There are people with hearing loss whose first language is British Sign Language (BSL).
    British Sign Language takes the preference over English for over 87,000 Deaf people in the UK – English being a second or third language. This figure excludes interpreters, professional BSL users and translators, unless they use it at home as well. This is an important consideration for those who are looking to create accessible video content or otherwise have a need to communicate with people in the deaf community. As such, Deaf people who primarily communicate in BSL may not be able to read and understand text at the rate it is presented in captions in video content.
  7. Of all the people worldwide that need hearing aids, only 17% of people actually get them.
    In the United Kingdom 6.7 million could benefit from hearing aids but only about 2 million people use them. This could be attributed to many things, amongst one known reason within the community is the stigma that is attached to people who are deaf or have hearing loss. Children who are in dire need of hearing aids can risk being misdiagnosed with other conditions, when in reality they have hearing issues.
  8. Deaf people are more likely to have poor mental and physical health outcomes.
    In a comprehensive study, researchers found higher blood pressure readings and similar rates of diabetes although not all deaf adults who had the diabetes were aware of the problem. Furthermore, deaf people reported higher levels of depression compared to the general population. As compared to hearing children, deaf children are more vulnerable to mental health problems by approximately 1.5–2 times .
  9. Over 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents with no prior experience with deafness or hearing loss.
    Personally, I am extremely lucky with having had observant, proactive and parents with the means to help me. They noticed my hearing loss just before school starting age which enabled them to develop and adopt coping techniques. However, there are children with extremely late diagnoses who are left struggling to adapt in a hearing world. This brings me to my next fact.
  10. Early identification is vital.
    With early identification and services, children with hearing loss can develop communication skills at the same rate as their peers and live a life that can help them reach their full potential. Potentially this could reduce the financial burdens on parents and the educational system that need support for children with hearing loss, but this would need to be researched further. Furthermore, it could help prevent poorer mental health outcomes at later stage in their lives.

While there are many more unknown facts about people with hearing loss and those who are deaf, we hope that a glimpse of these 10 facts have been able to shed a light on the importance of research within this domain.

As for the student halls application form: I did end up ticking “yes”.

The student halls office proposed to give me a vibrating pillow (I did not know these existed), but I get by just fine with my alarm on my mobile phone. Ironically, I was not really asked what my day-to-day problems were. Consequently, the solutions that were offered were not at all essential for me, so I proceeded as a student without accessibility needs.

Insights from research amongst the deaf and people with hearing loss, can make the difference between children reaching their full potential or ending up in systems that are poorly adapted to their needs. Inaccessibility can leave people isolated from society, becoming excluded to participate in higher education, the job market, (online) events and many more social engagements.

Article by Cheyenne Ritfeld.


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