Audiologist Saravanan Selanduray hopes that one day soon, people will regard hearing aids without prejudice.
“Just as how spectacles are accepted as an instrument to aid those who can’t see well, hearing aids help those who can’t hear well. Why don’t we see it this way? Nobody stares at a person wearing glasses but nobody wants to be seen wearing a hearing aid,” he says, puzzled.
The way to achieve this is by raising awareness about hearing loss – that’s it’s treatable and doesn’t prevent a person from leading an active and full life.
“We must get rid of the stigma that is attached to hearing loss. Adults don’t get hearing aids because they feel embarassed or afraid about how people will perceive them. Why is that?” says Saravanan.
Speech and Language therapist Ruziyanti Mokhtar knows all about the stigma and misconceptions attached to hearing disability.
Ruziyanti, whose daughter Rhianna was born with total hearing loss and wears a cochlear implant, says many assume that people who are hearing impaired are also “less able” than others.
“Most children with hearing impairments are capable of learning and doing anything that hearing children do. It doesn’t affect their cognitive abilities. But when people see children with a hearing aid or device, they assume that they aren’t as bright or that they are abnormal. We need to clear this misconception because they are capable of anything. Rhianna’s hearing isn’t a problem for us anymore,” she asserts.
At the moment, most private hospitals here practise universal screening for infants – testing all newborns for hearing deficiencies. This has helped in early diagnosis of hearing loss. Public hospitals currently only screen high-risk infants,
Saravanan feels that infant screening alone is not enough – schoolgoing children should also be screened because the onset of hearing loss sometimes develops later.
“Hearing is an important sense but it isn’t given as much importance as other senses … like vision, for example. When I enrolled my daughter for Year One, we were asked about her vision, her general health, about her vaccinations and even dental history but there was nothing about her hearing.
“Why isn’t hearing a priority? If undetected, a schoolgoing child will not be getting the intervention and attention he or she needs at school which will affect not only her learning but her experience in school,” he says.