By: Kate Olson (WeCo Administrative Assistant)

It’s difficult to have a healthy self-image when walking into a room full of people can trigger anxiety. I have encountered enough uncertainty with my hearing abilities to know that I should be prepared for confusion and embarrassment, on my part as well as the person speaking with me.

Portrait of Kate Olson

I have an 80 percent hearing deficit, the result of a genetic sensorineural hearing loss that has challenged my family for generations. I do not speak or understand American Sign Language because I was “late-deafened,” fitted with my first hearing aids at the age of twenty-eight. With the use of hearing aids, sounds are amplified for me, but I still must deal with understanding the words and sounds I hear. This is accomplished with a combination of speech-reading, noticing body language and facial expressions, and asking the speaker to please repeat, to name a few. This works to some extent for one-on-one conversations. Background noise? Forget it. I can rarely decipher conversation in such a scenario.

Striving to hear is exhausting. It takes continual concentrated effort to glean enough words and sounds to make sense. Imagine doing that for hours on end. Throw in debilitating chronic pain from my unrelated-to-hearing-loss physical anomalies. Sometimes I just don’t have the strength to deal with additional audio obstacles during business hours, to say nothing of my relaxation time.

It should be no surprise that I am all about visual elements. I would be lost without them. That is why it is so important to me and many others with hearing loss to have access to captioning. If movies, television, and websites with an audio aspect offer no captioning or poor captioning, the content is lost on me.

With the burgeoning emphasis on accessibility, along with monumental strides in technology, I am optimistic about the future for those of us with hearing loss. Approximately 17 percent (36 million) of American adults report some degree of hearing loss. Those 36 million adults are more likely to visit and revisit websites and services that are sensitive to their needs.