I recently went to a Christmas Party, there were 30 or so people attending, and as the party wore on the noise level went up, my hearing ability went down. Yes, this happens to most people, and we just talk louder to each other to make a conversation. But if you are hard of hearing in the first place, people don’t know you have a ‘disability’ because you can’t see it. I admit I am becoming hard of hearing, though most wouldn’t know it, and I began to feel isolated because I couldn’t even hear the person sitting next to me and I started feeling invisible. Other hearing-impaired people will understand this so well.

In most cases, hearing aids are worn to improve low-level hearing impairments that fall well below the thresholds set by any regulations for hearing disabilities. The logic here is that wearing a hearing aid helps to provide some assistance for hearing loss or impairment, and this eliminates, to some degree, the state of disability. Therefore, you cannot be classified as having a disability just because you wear a hearing aid.

Bit of a Catch-22 situation isn’t it.

If you suffer from slight sight loss, you would wear glasses, right? You go off to the optician, spend some time having your sight tested, then find frames that ‘suit you’, and people complement or admire your ‘aid’ to seeing. Before you take the step to wearing glasses, jokes about ‘arms not being long enough’ or ‘blind as a bat’ abound, and it’s all socially acceptable.

But, be a bit deaf, and see what happens. You look blankly at the person talking to you, try to work out what they might have said, and maybe because you have the gist of the conversation, you are able to make some - probably noncommittal – response. Admit you can’t hear, and people roll their eyes behind your back and try shouting - not always the answer, as anyone who is deaf will tell you - or they say, in an exasperated voice ‘oh it doesn’t matter’, and you are dismissed as being a half-wit or something.

Wearing an aid for hearing loss is somehow not as socially acceptable as wearing an aid for sight loss. You don’t go to a showroom and pick something that ‘suits you’, and people don’t complement or admire your ‘aid’ to hearing. They are ‘hidden aids’, as if being deaf is shameful and should be concealed.

According to the World Health Organisation, disability definition can be broken down into three categories: Impairment (this looks at the physical appearance of the body), Activity Limitation (this deals with the limited physical movements or hindrance due to the impairment), Restrictions in participation (this involves the notion that society has reduced your involvement in certain situations because of your impairment).

Hearing impairment falls into all three categories mentioned to some degree. Some organizations define disability by breaking down the severity of the loss. Thus, the exact disability classification that a person’s hearing impairment will fall under depends on the impairment’s precise diagnosis. Therefore, hearing impairment may fall under four categories – profound, severe, moderate, and mild.

Have you any idea how many people are affected by hearing loss? In Portugal, I understand one in 10 suffer from some type of hearing loss - and it’s not just confined to old age. There are thousands who suffer from mild hearing loss, and currently, there are 60,000 people in Portugal that are deaf sign language users, and among that number are 100 working sign language interpreters.

Hearing loss is a serious condition that can sometimes be resolved with a very simple solution that greatly improves the quality of life. Devices are available in both analogue and digital forms and come in a variety of types, shapes, and sizes – behind the ear, in the ear, in the canal and completely-in-the-ear. Hearing aids available on SNS tend to be large in the ear, but ones from the private sector are almost invisible, and there are all-singing-all-dancing devices with controls from an app on your phone – but believe me, you need a mortgage to afford them!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan