ON HAND: Biased audiologists

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

A few years ago, I had to get a hearing test taken. “Mary” had told me that the University of Minnesota provided free audiological exams, so I decided to take advantage of this.

Mary told of how she had been treated at the office when she had her exam. After her test, Mary was asked how she became deaf. After she answered, Mary was asked if she had ever considered a cochlear implant. Mary decided to play along and started asking questions about how the process worked. As she recounted the experience to me, she said, “I sat there listening to the audiologist rave about how wonderful the implant was, and I left feeling so pressured to get one–in fact, I became almost convinced by its benefits just because of how the audiologist talked as if it was a miracle. I can only imagine how parents of newly diagnosed babies would feel after a trip there.”

As I went in the building, I was curious about if I’d be asked about getting an implant or not. After about ten minutes of sitting in an old office with badly beaten-up furniture, an audiologist, Sarah, came out and mouthed exaggeratedly, “Truuudy Suuugggs?” as she looked at me with a smile. I nodded, and wordlessly followed her down a gray hallway.

Sarah suddenly turned around and signed, “I know a little sign.” I was surprised–why hadn’t she signed to me upon meeting me? “But I don’t practice very much.”

I asked, “Why not?” She seemed caught off-guard, shook her head helplessly and shrugged as if to say, “I don’t know.” We walked on without saying another word.

I entered the metallic sound room for the exam, and felt a sense of déjà vu when the door shut. Looking around, I noticed the same toys from when I was tested as a toddler, such as the rainbow-colored donuts stacked on a white cone and various dolls. With the headphones uncomfortably snug on my head, I found myself feeling sleepy as I waited for the next tone to sound, just like I had when I was younger. I also kept wondering if I was imagining tones when I heard them, but raised my hand anyway.

After a dull few minutes, the audiologist motioned for me to come out and said with a nod, “You’re profoundly deaf.” I didn’t respond (I didn’t care, really), and she said she had some questions for me. She actually only had one question: “How did you become deaf?” As soon as I told her that my parents were deaf, she nodded, jotted something on the form, and stood up with a friendly smile. “Thanks for coming, Trudy!”

She hadn’t even asked if I was interested in hearing aids or cochlear implants. Even if she was right that I wasn’t interested, she shouldn’t have assumed–she should have at least asked me, and left the choice up to me.

I used to question whether people going to the audiologist, like parents of deaf children, received neutral, unbiased information or not. I know the answer now.

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