Hollywood helps fight hearing loss stigma: The Hearing Journal


Hearing loss and deafness play central role in new Apple TV+ family miniseries El Deafa television adaptation of Cece Bell’s award-winning graphic novel originally published in 2014. In this charming and insightful three-part series, Bell recounts her experiences as a four-year-old deaf girl in the 1970s and 1980s, as she was hard of hearing. and deafness were less readily accepted than they are today. 1 The animated series explores Bell’s understanding of his deafness by imagining himself as a superhero called “El Deafo” to help him overcome various social challenges, such as bullying by his peers. Indeed, this series reflects a recent trend; depictions of hard of hearing and deaf individuals in popular media have become increasingly common in recent films such as A Star is born, Sound of Metaland CODA. A recent TV show, Marvel Studios Hawk Eye, highlights Clint Barton, a master archer with noise-induced hearing loss due to heavy exposure to noise after many battles as a member of the superhero group The Avengers. A lot of these movies and TV shows focus on hearing loss as a central plot point.


The television and film industries can support better representation of people who are hard of hearing and deaf. The creators of El Deafo use a unique audio design to recreate the experience of hearing loss – viewers can actually “hear” what it’s like to be deaf and wear hearing aids. For example, when the show depicts Cece (the main character) listening to someone speak, the sound is often distorted to recreate the experience of what it’s like to hear with hearing aids. Sometimes the audio is so muffled it’s incomprehensible, meaning instances where Cece’s ability to understand speech is particularly hampered by environmental factors, such as when a character turns away from Cece or if the lights go out. turn off. In another scene at a birthday party, Cece quickly becomes uncomfortable when another girl tries to use sign language with her after learning that Cece is deaf. The encounter is awkward – just like not all people with hearing loss use sign language, Cece doesn’t know sign language herself. Later, another girl loudly repeats jokes from a record player in an exaggerated way for Cece, who quickly becomes frustrated with the way she is treated. By recreating these experiences, the show reminds the audience how to communicate with people who are hard of hearing (for example, not to shout or exaggerate speech) and the stigma experienced by people who are hard of hearing.

A widespread condition requiring more representation

Hearing loss is quite common. By 2050, nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide are expected to suffer from some degree of hearing loss. Of these, at least 700 million will need hearing rehabilitation. Almost three-quarters of people aged 70 or over have hearing loss. 2 This condition also affects children at surprisingly high rates. A study found that almost one in five children are affected by hearing loss by the age of 18. 3

Although hearing loss is widespread, there is a substantial lack of accessible media through which children can better understand hearing loss. Wearing hearing aids and hearing loss must be de-stigmatized and eventually normalized. Inappropriate stereotypes are common in the media – characters with hearing loss are often portrayed as stupid, helpless and clumsy. 4 Indeed, the stigma of hearing loss is often overlooked and can be more harmful than the condition itself. Unlike glasses, considered fashionable, a hearing aid is often considered a sign of disability. Such stigma can affect the provision of hearing care, making patients reluctant to undergo a hearing test or wear hearing aids. Even for hearing aid users, stigma can impact when and where hearing aids are worn. 5 For children, wearing hearing aids probably becomes easier when it is accepted by friends, family and the rest of society.

In a study of 191 women with normal hearing, researchers found that younger women perceived more stigma than older women, and that stigma was associated more with hearing loss than device use. auditory. 6 Thus, the authors suggest that the use of hearing aids may alleviate some of the stigma associated with hearing loss. seven Further research is needed to better understand how hearing loss is stigmatized, its impacts on the hearing health of the public, and how to prevent stigma.

Superheroes to the rescue

Both El Deaf and Hawk Eye use superhero imagery to show that people with disabled bodies can still embody strength. Children often look up to superheroes as role models, and the entertainment industry can play a valuable role in public health by giving deaf children more personalities to look up to. Shows such as El Deafo can also remind families that societies are often the ones that disable by not accommodating the physical and health needs of children with hearing or other disabilities.

Shows like El Deafo or Hawkeye can help patients and their families better understand some of the challenges faced by people with hearing loss. Accurate and positive portrayal of people with hearing loss and hearing aids in the media will help normalize the condition. These efforts will make it easier for patients and their families to treat this condition and fight the stigma that keeps them from getting treatment. Clinicians working with patients with hearing loss, such as audiologists, otolaryngologists, and speech therapists, often spend time educating their patients about this condition. For the pediatric population, the use of effective visual aids with diverse and positive representations of hearing-impaired characters can be a useful tool to improve both the physical and emotional health of patients.


1. Denham MW, Chern A 2022 Giving children with deafness a cape: amplifying diverse media representations of hearing loss Ear, Nose & Throat Journal ■ 01455613221087941 https://doi.org/10.1177/01455613221087941

2. Collins JG 1997 Prevalence of Selected Chronic Diseases: United States, 1990-92 ■ National Center for Health Statistics https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9046223/

3. Lieu JE, Kenna M, Anne S, Davidson L 2020 Hearing loss in children: a review JAMA 324 2195 205 https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.17647

4. Foss KA 2014 (De)stigmatization of the silent epidemic: Representations of deafness in entertainment television Health Communication 29,888,900 https://doi.org/10.1080/10410236.2013.814079

5. Ruusuvuori JE, Aaltonen T, Koskela I, et al. 2021 Studies on stigma related to hearing loss and hearing aid use among working-age adults: a scoping review Disability and rehabilitation 30, 43 436 446 https://doi.org/10.1080/09638288.2019.1622798

6. Erler SF, Garstecki DC 2002 Stigma related to hearing loss and hearing aids American Journal of Audiology 11 83 91 https://doi.org/10.1044/1059-0889(2002/020)

7. Qian ZJ, Nuyen BA, Kandathil CK, et al. 2021 Social Perceptions of Pediatric Hearing Aids The Laryngoscope 131 E2387 E2392 https://doi.org/10.1002/lary.29369


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