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Hearing Week 2012: Can you tell?

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

One in six or over 700,000 New Zealanders are affected by an insidious and invisible disability: hearing impairment.

It is well reported that hearing loss can cause social isolation and in some cases, this will lead to depression.

It can occur at any age - from newborn babies to the elderly - and affect people from any socioeconomic group. Their hearing losses can range from mild to profoundly deaf and if it occurs later on in life issues of grief and loss are very real for some affected people.

The theme of Hearing Week 25-31 March 2012 is The face of hearing impairment. The awareness week includes public awareness campaigns, advocacy and bullying prevention workshops. It is a poignant reminder to all of the New Zealanders affected by hearing loss that they aren't alone.

"It's not always easy to know if someone has a hearing loss and we need people to under- stand what hearing impairment is and how to communicate effectively with people who are deaf and hearing impaired" says Louise Carroll, CEO of the National Foundation for the Deaf.

As technology advances, many hearing impaired people are benefitting from hearing aids, FM systems and cochlear implants, all of which have made a huge positive difference in the way they communicate.

However those fortunate enough to receive these aids to support their communications often still experience communication challenges, although these are far less than if the aids were not available.

Six people of different generations who have received this equipment are the faces of Hearing Week. They have all experienced hearing loss in different ways and are progressing well with their aids.

"Nevertheless, communication can be exhausting for a hearing impaired person even with an aid," says Ms. Carroll. "And if people have had a hearing loss for a while and have not had rehabilitation support, the language pathways in the brain change, making it more difficult to communicate when they do get the aid."

But, there are still many people who can't afford them and either aren't funded or are funded insufficiently to get the equipment they require. One of the greatest challenges that the deaf and hearing impaired community faces is this lack of funding.

Hearing impaired and deaf people come from all parts of the community and it's in everyone's best interests to make sure they can be as involved as possible. To do this, society needs to be accessible to them.

"Access for all people with disabilities is one of the pillars of the New Zealand Disability Strategy," says Ms. Carroll. "The government has a lot to do to make this a reality. Forming a working group to identity and address the issues facing deaf and hearing impaired people in New Zealand would be a start."

Communicating with a hearing impaired person

- face the person who is hearing impaired

- speak clearly

- speak slower

- don't shout

- if necessary write down the points you are trying to make.

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