HEARING IMPAIRMENT: THE ROLE OF MEDIA

By Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee

(mrinaliimc@yahoo.in)

-- The writer is Professor, Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Sanchar Marg, Dhenkanal 759 001, Odisha, India. For more of his writings: http://www.mrinalchatterjee.in --

What is Hearing Impairment?

Hearing impairment is the inability of an individual to hear sounds adequately. This may be due to improper development, damage or disease to any part of the hearing mechanism. Hearing is a prerequisite for the development of normal speech & language. A child learns to speak by hearing the speech of others in the family and surroundings. Deafness is an invisible impairment. Keen observation is necessary in order to identify a deaf child/individual. Deafness at birth or in early childhood has disastrous effects on the child's overall development. These effects vary depending upon the age of onset, nature and degree of hearing impairment (http://ayjnihh.nic.in/aw/awareness/audiology2.html).

There are different types of deafness, like

Conductive Hearing Loss, which results from defects in the outer or middle ear. The sound is not conducted efficiently to the inner ear. All sounds heard thus become weak and/or muffled. Usually such individuals speak softly irrespective of the surrounding environmental noise.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss, which is caused due to damage or disease of the inner ear or auditory nerve. It could also result as an after effect of infectious diseases like measles, mumps, meningitis and T.B.
Mixed Hearing Loss, which is the combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. One of the main causes of this type of loss is the long standing ear infection known as Chronic Suppurative Otitis Media (CSOM). In CSOM, ear discharge in the form of pus, blood or clear water is seen. This starts with conductive loss yielding to sensorineural impairment, if not treated immediately and regularly.
Central Hearing Loss is due to damage, malformation or infections of the neural pathways and the hearing centres in the brain. The child may hear but has difficulty in understanding what he hears. Some of the children classified as learning disabled or slow learners may have this type of hearing loss.
Functional hearing loss is due to some psychogenic condition or maybe due to deliberate exaggeration of hearing thresholds for personal gains.

Status in India: In India 25,000 children are born deaf every year. Nearly 6.3% of the population in India -- that roughly means one in every 15, suffers from progressive and acute hearing loss.

Impact: Hearing impairment has an impact on the social life, psychology, and on learning capabilities of a person. In children, hearing loss can lead to social isolation for several reasons. First, the child experiences delayed social development that is in large part tied to delayed language acquisition. It is also directly tied to their inability to pick up auditory social cues. This can result in the deaf child becoming generally irritable. A child, who uses sign language, does not generally experience this isolation, particularly if he attends a school for the deaf, but may conversely experience isolation from his parents if they do not know sign language. A child who is exclusively or predominantly oral (using speech for communication) can experience social isolation from his or her hearing peers, particularly if no one takes the time to explicitly teach the child social skills that other children acquire independently by virtue of having normal hearing. Finally, a child who has a severe impairment and uses some sign language may be rejected by his or her deaf peers, because of an understandable hesitation in abandoning the use of existent verbal and speech-reading skills (http://entcentre.com/FAQs/impact_of_hearing_loss_in_childr.htm).

Those who lose their hearing later in life, such as in late adolescence or adulthood, face their own challenges. For example, they must adjust to living with the adaptations that make it possible for them to live independently. They may have to adapt to using hearing aids or a cochlear implant, develop speech-reading skills, and/or learn sign language. Loneliness and depression can arise as a result of isolation (from the inability to communicate with friends and loved ones) and difficulty in accepting their disability. The challenge is made greater by the need for those around them to adapt to the person's hearing loss. Children who suffer from untreated hearing loss often find it extremely difficult to participate in social activities, even within their own family. Some common social problems for children with untreated hearing loss include: isolation and withdrawal, inattentiveness, bluffing, distraction/lack of concentration.

It is commonly known that untreated hearing loss may have serious negative psychological effects, which may result: shame, guilt and anger, embarrassment, poor concentration, sadness or depression, worry and frustration, anxiety and suspiciousness, self-criticism and low self-esteem/self-confidence. Untreated hearing loss often results in certain physical problems such as tiredness or exhaustion, headache, vertigo, tense muscles, stress, problems with sports, eating and/or sleeping disorders and stomach disorders.

Childhood hearing loss is a very common problem within our schools. Even a very mild loss can affect how a student learns. Academic losses occur in children as early as in Class One. Most children with losses begin to show considerable learning difficulties when they reach Class three. This difficulty may be due to the changes in language complexity, less visual clues, more verbalizations, greater need to sequence and recall and lack of development of pre-skills in the previous grades.

Media: Media is a umbrella term, which covers print, television, radio, internet, mobile, etc. Content wise Media can cover news, entertainment and education. Media can consist of everything from national newspapers to student magazines, global broadcasters to community radio, websites and blogs to social networks and virtual communities, citizen journalists to government mouthpieces.

However, when we talk of `media's role' by and large we view media as non state actors who define themselves apart from the state and from all other societal actors (what Edmund Burke described as a "fourth estate", distinct from government, and electorate). While this notion of a free, independent, socially committed, citizen-focused, do-gooder responsible mainstream media is a widespread ideal, the reality of most media worldwide is complex, rapidly changing and extraordinarily diverse. We must also note that there are at least 3 major media traditions in modern India:

Diverse, pluralistic and relatively independent press
State-controlled media like AIR, Doordarshan
Media outfits of various subaltern groups and their organizations

Despite the wide diversity, in the present Indian context, media does play an important role in the exertion of power and distribution of values. Media affects the overall quality of public life and also shapes people's engagement in the specific policy decisions.

One can ask a simple question: why should media be concerned about issues like hearing impairment? Or, for that matter issues like poverty, or hunger, or displacement, unemployment, health, sanitation and? There are basically three reasons:

Media owes its status and power to its altruistic, do-gooder role
As a product of the society media has a responsibility towards it
As a business venture it has a stake in making people capable enough to contribute to the media business

Media enjoys credibility, built over years of faith and trust as it is perceived to be truthful, unbiased, knowledgeable, having basic humane values, having a moral universe and having social responsibility. In fact these perceptions are the fountainhead of the power of media. Media has to be altruistic in order to retain its power. People want to escape poverty. So poverty is a call to action -- a call to change so that many more may have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their communities. Media as the fourth estate must share the responsibility to help eradicate poverty.

Media has a responsibility towards the society as a product of the society. We don't help someone or something because we were the reasons why they got in trouble in the first place. We act because we can. For example, if we see someone who is drowning, we don't just let them suffer or die because we're not the ones who pushed them in the water. We act because we can, and because someone may die if we don't. Hearing impairment disables human resource and that impacts us as a nation -- socially, economically and psychologically. Media must play a role in mitigating it because it can; and also because as a part of society it has a stake in it.

Media's role: In any developmental issues, media can play five roles. There can be considerable overlapping in the roles.
Media as a Watchdog: It is said that sunshine is the best disinfectant. That somebody is watching me -- is the best deterrent to lot of social maladies like corruption.
Media as an Enabler: Media increases people's access to information. Information brings them power and to some extent prosperity. If we take a look at the media consumption and development matrix of Kerala and Bihar or Odisha, we shall find that there is a clear relation between access and use of media and development across different sectors including health.
Media as a Public sphere: People can air and share their ideas through mass media. Issues can be discussed. Suggestions for solutions of problems can be aired and discussed. The more issues concerning disability are discussed, the more awareness it will generate.
Media as a provider of Information: Media can inform people about various problems, and what causes them, and what is being done or not done about them. This helps to solve/contain the problem.
Media as a Platform: Media can provide a platform, where people can air their grievances, put forth their views, and participate.

In an issue like hearing impairment, Media can play the role of an enabler by providing need-directed and need-specific information. It can also draw more public attention by playing its role as a platform and public sphere -- thereby containing the social stigma attached to any form of physical disability. It can perhaps help influencing policy makers to frame disability-friendly policies and schemes. It can perhaps help getting more funding for research on and cure of hearing impairment.

Conclusion: "At the end of the day, the media remains a public trust, which alone justifies its characterisation as the Fourth Estate. Its prime asset is credibility. The maintenance of professional standards of fairness, balance and public interest is critical to its place in society." Forget this, and media will lose its credibility, and for media, especially news media credibility and altruism is the fountainhead of its power. Media is respected because it is perceived to be a friend of the marginalized and downtrodden, the voice of the voiceless. Media, therefore, must play a proactive role in development issues in general and disability issues in particular.

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