Meteorologist Meaghan Thomas on Her Hearing Loss Journey
Some may recognize Meaghan Thomas as the morning broadcast meteorologist for the ABC affiliate, WKRN News 2, in Nashville, Tennessee. But increasingly, she is being recognized for having hearing loss and being a passionate advocate for the hard of hearing. She has recently founded her very own non-profit association and has even written a children’s book, building inclusivity for those with hearing loss.
Meaghan Thomas holding her hearing aids
Being bold about hearing loss
Thomas, 32, is one of the estimated 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the U.S. to be born with hearing loss. Her hearing loss is heredity, with both her father and grandmother also being affected. She has profound sensorineural hearing loss in her left ear and severe loss in her right.
In 2021, Thomas decided to embody the word “bold,” and this fearlessness translated as a new openness about her hearing loss. In April 2021, she asked her best friend to take a photo of her holding her hearing aids. She posted the photo on her Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, and the next morning she woke up to thousands of likes and messages from people all over the world.
“I had no idea the impact it was going to make, and I also didn't realize the impact that all of those positive words would have had on me,” she told HearingTracker. After trying to hide her hearing loss for years, she realized there were other people like her. Hearing loss isn’t just an “elderly thing,” she noted. “It’s an ‘everybody thing,’ from young to old.”
Confronting the cost of hearing loss
Growing up, Thomas developed coping techniques to help her navigate life with hearing loss. She became an expert at lip-reading and watched TV with headphones, meaning she could control the volume level. Since her father also had hearing loss, her mother spoke extra clearly in the family home, always projecting her voice. “I think my parents just didn't realize that I was utilizing all these tools at home,” said Thomas.
At the age of 23, Thomas received her first hearing aid, for her left ear, when she realized she needed amplification to be able to excel in her first TV role. Her parents helped her pay the cost, which as a young adult starting her career, she was unable to afford.
Thomas’s hearing loss was progressive. When she was 26, she realized she was missing a lot of information, which presented challenges on the job. It was time to get bilateral hearing aids. She went through a vocational rehabilitation program, which involved completing paperwork, consulting with audiologists, and having further hearing tests.
Even though half of the price of the hearing aids would be covered, they were still going to cost $2,500. She took out a credit card to pay for them. “I was about to go into credit card debt for something I needed to live my day-to-day life,” Thomas recalled.
Receiving the help she needed
She remembers sitting in the waiting area when her audiologist came back with some surprising news: “I was told, ‘We’ve talked to a couple of people, and we are going to take care of all of the costs.’” Thomas said. “I started sobbing in the office. The amount of financial relief that was just taken off my body… I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’”
Thomas wears a pair of Signia hearing aids, which she describes as “phenomenal.” In particular, she recognizes the positive impact her hearings aids have had on her work. This is especially true when she’s attending events in noisy environments. She can use a setting to reduce background noise and focus on the person she is speaking to.
Launching her non-profit, The Heart of Hearing
With hearing aids for adults in the U.S. currently being deemed “elective,” rather than a necessity, they are not generally covered by medical insurance. The amazing feeling of being told the cost of her hearing aids would be covered is what Thomas wants to give to others.
“I want to be able to give that financial freedom to others,” she told HearingTracker. And so came the idea to start a non-profit organization to do exactly this.
In December 2021, The Heart of Hearing, Inc. became an official 501(c)(3) entity, meaning it’s officially a non-profit organization. The name of the non-profit came from Thomas mishearing somebody when they said the phrase “hard of hearing,” an apt choice for a cause so close to her heart. The mission is clear and simple: To raise funding to provide hearing aids for young professionals who cannot afford them.
It’s still early in the life of the non-profit, which is hosting events and accepting donations to raise funds. The biggest fundraiser of the year will be a golf tournament that will take place in October. The organization’s aim is to help people in Tennessee, with the hope of expanding the service over time, reaching more states. There is an application process be considered for assistance with hearing-aid costs. To apply, you must be between 20 and 45 years old, employed full-time, and live within a 30-mile radius of Nashville.
Writing a book about life with hearing loss
To help raise funds for this mission and tackle the stigma often related to hearing loss and hearing aids, Thomas wrote a book for kids called The Heart of Hearing. This illustrated picture book features animal characters who all wear hearing aids, which enable them to hear the world around them.
A portion of book sale proceeds go directly to the non-profit The Heart of Hearing, Inc.
“I just wanted to reiterate to children that we are made this way for a reason, and you should use these superpowers — your magical ears — and embrace them. I also think this book is great for ‘hearing’ children because it teaches them that if these little kids don't wear their ears, they can't hear you. It can help teach inclusivity,” said Thomas.
Thomas has been reading her book and speaking to children in local schools for the deaf and hard of hearing and hopes to continue spreading its message. What she wants all these kids to know is, “Remember you are capable, deserving, and strong. Celebrate what makes you different, and ‘Cheers to your ears!’”
To learn more and support The Heart of Hearing, visit its website.