Life with a Hearing Aid: Traveling

Life with a Hearing Aid: Traveling

It’s my hope that some readers of this blog might be looking for more information on everyday experiences that those with hearing aids may have–whether it’s for themselves or others. So while I can’t speak for everyone in the d/Deaf or hard of hearing community, I hope I can at least provide some insight from my point of view.

(Want to know more about me and my hearing impairment? Click here.)

Traveling is one of those things I don’t give a second thought to, but it does have SOME particularities when you’re hearing impaired.

The Airport

When I was younger, I had to remove my hearing aid and place it in that little basket (ew, germs) to walk through the metal detector at the airport. Today, I don’t have to do anything of the sort, and I’ve been through the body scanners in the U.S. and Europe tons of times. Not even a hesitation there on the part of the security workers, and I’ve dealt with some pretty strict (ahem, touchy) ones.

Airports are great for me, because there’s so much visual information–departure and arrival boards to tell you where your gate is and give any pertinent info. Intercom announcements have always been REALLY tough for me to understand, though. Nowadays I tend to travel with my husband and his super-ears, but I try to make sure I have the appropriate smartphone app for whatever airline I’m flying. For example, Delta will send me a notification about any gate information/changes in a really timely manner, which gives me that extra reassurance. If I’m flying by myself, I make sure to find my gate early on and stay nearby for eating/shopping.

img_2727Boarding at the gate can be tricky if I’m by myself. I’ve found that while most gates have visual screens, they’re not updated as quickly as the gate agents announce boarding zones. I’ve flown so much now that I can sort of “count” the order: handicapped/strollers/elderly, first/business class, priority, and then zones. You can always ask someone standing around, too!

Note: you can always let a gate agent know you’re deaf/hard of hearing. I know Delta will even let you put in a request for special assistance ahead of time–I haven’t ever used it because I’m worried they’ll send over a sign language interpreter or something (I don’t sign), but it’s a nice option.

After a flight, sometimes my ears need to pop and my already-bad hearing is even worse. Not much you can do when that happens, but most people are pretty understanding as it’s happened to them, too.

Trains

Experiences with taking a train and trying to listen for the right information can vary drastically. The first time I took a train, it was an unmanned Amtrak station in Fredericksburg, VA, with an extremely crackly intercom system. There was an unintelligible announcement, and the only two people on the platform with me suddenly ran to the other platform, clearly having heard of a change. Agh!

I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area for a combined few years now, and taking Metro with a hearing impairment hasn’t been terrible (there are some good visual aids even if the rest of the infrastructure is a mess), but I often can’t make out what the train driver says when there’s an unexpected delay. Stop announcements aren’t automated, so it’s usually something  like “Archivesdoorsopenleftside.”

img_0646In Europe, trains are definitely more efficient and easy for me to use–I think improved visual aids are partially because of people that speak so many different languages traveling around the continent. I lived in Germany for 3 years, and the local and long-distance trains were a breeze, with a clear-voiced automated loudspeaker and visual update on the stops. If I missed something, it was usually a language barrier. I will tell you, though, Italian trains are a whole other beast sometimes, and you might need a bottle of wine to celebrate a successful journey after a day on those trains.

Buses

I can’t say there’s anything particular about taking a bus with my hearing loss, but when a local bus doesn’t have the visual stop announcement, I do get a little anxious. But I imagine, most people feel that way on a bus they haven’t taken before, right? I often research the bus route/stops in advance, but I can’t tell you if that’s just my obsessive planning or if it stems from my hearing impairment.

Driving

Do I even include driving? I’m not sure it really counts in this context, but just in case you’re wondering, driving is really not impacted all that much by hearing loss. Deaf people can absolutely drive their own vehicles! In fact, I’ve found that because I rely more on visual cues, I’m very alert to my surroundings. Usually, I’m the first car to pull over for an emergency vehicle because I saw the lights so early. When I hear a siren but can’t see it, though, I typically can’t place what direction it’s coming from since I only have some hearing in the one ear. That causes a little stress, but I’ve found that this sometimes happens to people who can hear perfectly.

Because I wear my hearing aid in my left ear, and I can’t hear in my right, and I generally default to lip-reading, it does make it tough for me to carry on a conversation while driving sometimes, especially if my passenger is soft-spoken or someone whose voice I’m not used to. I had an audiologist once tell me I could wear something in my right ear that would then transmit to my left-side hearing aid, but I’ve never heard of anything like that since. If you have, let me know!

What else would you consider to be sort of a unique consideration in traveling with a hearing aid?
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2 Comments

  1. Personally, I don’t rely on my hearing aids when I travel. I use them but I can’t understand anything without lipreading, and even that is not 100% effective for me.

    However, you are right about the difficulties of communication access while traveling.

    As someone who relies on visual communication, it is important that transportation providers make text announcements.

    It’s a royal pain when I discover I missed my stop or a flight has been delayed or even changed gates, etc…

    It is part of the reason why I am focusing on accessible/inclusive travel and tourism for the deaf and hard of hearing. There’s a lot of research I have to do in this area before I can make some kind of an impact.

    But one thing is safe to say, even hearing people have trouble with audio announcements so that validates the need for text announcements.

    Traveling is fun, isn’t it?

    1. Author

      Thanks Mark! It’s great that you’re focused on travel and tourism for the deaf/HoH. I still remember visiting the Uffizi Gallery in Florence on a study abroad trip in 2008, and finding out the tour was only conducted via audio units with earbuds… hugely disappointing! I’ve seen it get marginally better since then but there’s a long way to go.

      And, you’re right–as I get older, the more I realize that the people around me have a lot of trouble as well, and that my anxiety just tends to be a little greater due to my loss.

      Traveling IS fun! I was fortunate enough to live in Germany for three years (just moved home in June), and despite any challenges that arise, it’s hugely rewarding.

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