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Tackling Youth Hearing Loss at Listen Up 2019

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

The Listen Up 2019 Conference was held on the 2nd of October at SkyCity in Auckland in order raise awareness about youth hearing loss, and to discuss inclusivity and hearing loss in the workplace.

National Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s Chief Executive, Natasha Gallardo, shared powerful statistics from their initial pilot study regarding rising rates of youth hearing loss in New Zealand schools, and discussed how employers can help make the transition from study to the workforce more seamless for Deaf and hard of hearing youth.

Natasha explains, “Globally, nearly 50% of young adults are listening to unsafe levels of sound on their personal devices…initial results [of our pilot study] indicate that youth hearing loss rates are following alarming global trends.”

Hilary Barry led the event as our fantastic MC. She shared the stage with many inspirational speakers, including Lily McManus, Mike King, Nigel Latta, and Minister Carmel Sepuloni.

A major highlight was the courageous Youth Panel who shared their emotional stories of growing up hard of hearing.

One of the youngest Youth Panel members reflects, “There’s always that fear of judgment…how people will see you as ‘that Deaf kid.’ They saw me as a different person…there’s always that fear that people will see you as different.”

Lily McManus, Youth Ambassador for NFDHH, described the isolating effect hearing loss can have on kids when it is not addressed.

“I think not wearing a hearing aid as a young person…socially isolates you. As a child…for healthy development, all the friends you have, all the conversations you have, and the people you surround yourself with and how you interact with those people really shapes who you’re going to be as a human being.”

She also shared her story of finding out she was hard of hearing at fourteen years old. She struggled to wear hearing aids and didn’t put them on until university, because she was afraid that people would judge her.

Lily says, “I think if we can make [hearing aids] more accessible in the media for young people, to be able to see young people wearing hearing aids, it would break that stigma that they’re for old people and not cool... I think young people need to see this [representation] in order to accept their hearing loss.”

Madeleine Uaine, also a part of the Youth Panel, described how she didn't wear hearing aids, because she thought she could get by with lip reading. However, not hearing spoken communication increasingly became a barrier for her.

Madeleine describes, “I went from being loud and confident to someone who was very quiet…I found myself feeling more isolated from everyone and…I fell into a deep depression.”

After reaching rock bottom, Madeleine was inspired by a counsellor to begin taking New Zealand Sign Language classes and to embrace Deaf culture. Her story highlighted the importance of communication, and how a hearing loss can greatly impact an individual’s ability to interact with those around them.

Madeleine shares, “Just two months ago, I started wearing my hearing aids, and I’ve noticed I’ve been feeling confident and happier with them. I didn’t realise, but without my hearing aids, I just felt isolated…but now with them I am able to communicate, and it has helped so much.”

Mike King put the spotlight on mental health, and how growing up with holes in both eardrums created additional barriers to positive self-image and confidence. He offered insights into the increasingly clinical topics of depression and anxiety by sharing that the way we think and talk about ourselves in our heads has a huge impact on our mental health.

Mike says, “The inner critic is the biggest problem in mental health today that no-one is talking about. It is bigger than depression, it’s bigger than anxiety.”

Nigel Latta, a Clinical Psychologist and influential Broadcaster, shared the very real benefits that diversity can bring to organisations. He focused on why Deaf and hard of hearing professionals can bring unique skills to the workplace. These key benefits include creative communication, an increased ability to read body language and experience with finding unique paths around obstacles.

Nigel explains, “If hearing is more difficult for you, then you think about communication much more consciously. You become a much better reader of people…you look at body language.”

James Fletcher, CEO of Treescape®, provided an insightful case study based on his organisation’s experience of being a part of the Hearing Accredited Workplace Programme. He described the ways in which the programme helped to transform Treescape®’s health and safety policies and changed how they think about disability in the workplace.

For James, it has been a game changer. “How do we ensure our people can thrive in their business environment? How do we support our people? It is this type of thinking that really informed our journey around how we address hearing loss.”

Listen Up 2019 was a moving and inspirational day that highlighted the lived experiences of youth hearing loss and outlined practical steps toward how to become a more hearing loss aware workplace. Thank you to everyone who participated and shared their personal stories.

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