Mediaplanet What was it like growing up with progressive hearing loss?

Gael Hannan I was born with hearing loss that wasn’t diagnosed until I was 2-and-a-half which was very typical of the time. And I wasn’t able to get a hearing aid until I was 20-years-old, so I missed out on a lot of information. It was challenging. Being a teenager is tough anyway, but when you have a communication problem, it’s even tougher.

MP Can you tell me about your transition to hearing loss advocacy and activism?

GH When I got my hearing aid I kind of lopped along, did my thing, and life was good. At the age of 40, I was pregnant and expecting my son. And for the first time, my hearing loss was really impacting someone other than myself. How was I going to hear him crying in the night? Or burp? So, I reached out to the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association and it was really life changing because I started to meet people like me, and I understood that I wasn’t alone.

MP Hearing loss advocacy is now your career—how did that start?

GH I wanted to find a different way to communicate about hearing loss and its effects. It’s important to validate those emotions of hearing loss. My background is in community theatre, so I created a one-woman show, I started writing, and I learned more about my hearing loss at the age of 40 than I had in the 40 years prior to that.

I’ve been able to communicate that learning to others through my writing, performances and workshops. And it’s also been a journey of discovery for myself. That’s what I’ve been doing for quite a while now. I’ve traveled all over North America and Asia for presentations and workshops. I write a weekly article for Hearing Health Matters, and I just finished a book called The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss, which comes out later this month.

"I want people to understand that hearing loss is a common issue, and that everyone has it to some degree. "

MP What was your motivation for writing the book?

GH The reason I wrote the book is to reach a larger audience, and it is more comprehensive than weekly thousand-word articles.

MP Who should read this book?

GH People with hearing loss, their families and friends, because as I said before, they are also dealing with the emotional issues of hearing loss. In the book—I call it part memoir, part survival guide—I talk about strategies one needs in order to communicate well, including how important it is to be open about your hearing loss.

There’s no cure for hearing loss. There’s no pill or group therapy that’s going to change you hearing. The book discusses that and draws on my blogs, anecdotes, and there’s a lot of humour in it. It has some spoken poetry that I both write and perform. What I want from the book is for someone to read it and be like, “Ohhh, I get it!”

MP What are some of the bigger topics that you hope to tackle with the work you do?

GH I want people to understand that hearing loss is a common issue, and that everyone has it to some degree. That people shouldn’t be ashamed of their hearing loss, that they should be open and honest about it, because communication to me is one of the fundamentals of life. It’s right up there with air, water and food. With hearing loss, communication can be sabotaged if it isn’t addressed properly, and it doesn’t need to be that way. 

The key points are that people with hearing loss need to reach out and learn from others with hearing loss. They don’t need to go to meetings, but they should reach out to an organization of people like them, because that’s where you learn how to live better.

MP What’s next for you?

GH I do a lot of public speaking and I expect that will increase after my book comes out. I also write a weekly article that takes a day out of my life each week, and I’m already thinking about another book. For the time being, I’m going to carry on as a writer and speaker on hearing loss issues. It’s what I do best!