Why There’s No Such Thing as Being “Too Young” for Hearing Loss
When Dr. Laura Pratesi, the 30-something founder and audiologist at Citrus Hearing Clinic in Florida, shows her patients her hearing aids, she is often told that she is “too young to have hearing loss.”
The truth, however, is that she was born with hearing loss. The ageist reaction she often faces when sharing her hearing loss can be off-putting. “It can feel very ‘othering’ to have people act like no one your age should have hearing loss,” Dr. Pratesi told Hearing Tracker. “There is this entrenched idea that hearing loss is only an ‘old age problem,’ when it’s more of an ‘anyone with ears can have it’ problem,” she said.
Laura Pratesi, Au.D., is often told that she is “too young to have hearing loss.”
Despite stereotypes that people with hearing loss are elderly, many young people are born with or develop hearing loss. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, two to three out of 1,000 babies are born with a detectable level of hearing loss, and one in five teens in the United States experience some degree of hearing loss.
Hearing Tracker heard from people who grew up with hearing loss to learn more about this situation. We learned their frustrations with ageist stereotypes, the importance of accessibility, and some silver linings they’ve discovered.
Avoid the “too young” assumptions
Like Dr. Pratesi, Evie, a primary school teacher who’s in her 30s, has also been told that she is “so young” to have hearing loss – even from her general practitioner. This shocked Evie, but she told Hearing Tracker that these interactions are not uncommon. “The comments made me feel inadequate,” Evie shared. “They inflate my sense of ‘imposter syndrome’ that’s already present, as I don't feel part of the hearing community or the deaf community.” These kinds of comments can only intensify a person’s feeling different and “less than.”
Popular culture often fails to accommodate the diversity of hearing experiences among younger generations too. While many kids learn about deafblind activist Helen Keller in school and through the media, it’s not enough: More representation of people with hearing loss is needed. It can really change our society. A 2019 report found that authentic representation of disabled people in children’s shows can increase the acceptance of disabled people in real life.
“Generally, the media only portray deafness as something associated with the elderly or with those who are profoundly Deaf,” Evie said. “Those of us who are hard of hearing or lower-case deaf don't fit either expectation and so often have to justify our lives and experiences.” Recognizing the impact of assumptions about age and hearing loss can surely improve this situation.
All ages need accessibility
Aisha Malik, the Ontario-based shopping editor for The Tempest website, has found that digital events (so popular during the pandemic) are often not accessible for people with hearing loss. For example, Malik (who is in her 20s) has been asked to join the hot new invite-only app Clubhouse and participate in its events. But the platform is exclusively audio-based, making it inaccessible for people who are hard of hearing or deaf. “I always feel like, ‘I get that your intentions aren't bad, but I have a hearing problem,’” Malik told Hearing Tracker.
Malik wishes that people would take accessibility into consideration from the get-go and realize that she’s not the only young person who may need accommodations. And it’s not just audio-based platforms that are the issue. Video ones often leave the hard of hearing and the deaf struggling as well. “It would make me feel less awkward in work environments and when I volunteer,” she said. “I wouldn't have to ask that they ensure videos are closed-captioned.”
Shine a light on the silver linings
Another factor to contend with is how people tend to express pity towards those who are born with or develop hearing loss at an early age. Non-disabled people should not feel bad for young people with hearing loss as it is part of their identity. Authentic media, like Nyle DiMarco’s Deaf U, shows just how vibrant the deaf and hard-of-hearing community and culture can be.