Recently I had two conversations with strangers about hearing loss. Both took place at work and in each instance I wondered if it was appropriate to broach the subject.
Right outside the library's technical services department is an elevator being repaired. At various times throughout the day a loud drilling sound can be heard. Behind closed doors and at quite a distance from it I am still aware of the sound. I wondered what it would be like to be the one doing the drilling in such an enclosed space. One afternoon I passed the elevator repairman and asked him, "Do you wear ear protection?" At first I think he thought I was joking. After I explained that I had a hearing loss and he could see I was serious, he replied that he did not because he hadn't considered the noise to be that loud. After some more thought, he told me that his mother was hard of hearing and that perhaps he ought to be more careful with his hearing. I walked away thinking possibly my question had done some good.
The next day in the university cafeteria I noticed someone new at the cashier's station. A middle-aged man with plastic tubes in his ears. Hmmm. I wondered if they were attached to BTEs like the ones I wear. I always have trouble hearing in the noisy serving area and I wondered if this was a problem for him too. When it was my turn to pay, I asked him, if he had BTEs like the ones I wear, lifting my hair so he could see them clearly. "Yes," he replied. He went on to say that he had no difficulty hearing in the cafeteria and that he enjoyed wearing hearing aids. He was amazed at all the sounds he could now hear that he had missed without realizing it. One example he mentioned was being able to hear his dog panting. We got rather involved in our conversation and the person behind me in line moved to another cashier. Oops. My only excuse is that it was wonderful meeting someone else in the same situation.
Usually the only people I spot wearing hearing aids are elderly. Occasionally I have considered talking to them about hearing aids and hearing loss but have always decided against it. When I'm at a stoplight and another driver pulls up with a car stereo blaring away, I often think of saying something about how noise affects hearing. I'm not the only one as Cindy explains in this story.
When is it okay to discuss hearing loss and/or hearing aids with a stranger? Is it better to let the opportunity pass by out of politeness or is it worth the risk of embarrassment if you can perhaps educate someone or make a new friend?