Having lived with hearing loss all her life, Batemans Bay resident Lee Raper is familiar with the exclusion she says comes with the territory.
“People don’t mean to do it,” she says.
“If you’re out socially with background noise and whatnot, even if people are aware of your problems with hearing, they forget after a few minutes and you spend most of the time unable to participate.
“Generally you don’t want to be left out. You go along hoping to join in and be sociable. But after a while you just stop going, and that can be pretty isolating.”
Lee knew she couldn’t be the only person in the region experiencing the issue but said there were no opportunities for people with hearing loss to meet socially.
She reached out to ACT Deafness Resource Centre (DRC) communications officer Joe Symons, who gave a presentation encouraging the community to start local support groups.
And so the seed was planted for Ms Raper and fellow attendee Joe Gillman to launch The Bay Hearing Loss Support Group.
“Joe Symons from DRC was great, his talk was very well attended and he basically introduced the concept,” Ms Raper says.
“Joe Gillman and I took it from there.”
They set a date for their first gathering and settled on The Manor at Goodwin Village as a suitable setting to counter auditory challenges.
They put a notice in the local newspaper and posted flyers at hearing aid retailers, retirement sites and the public library.
Having just hosted their third gathering, Lee says it’s been a good outlet for people to meet, exchange ideas on coping mechanisms, prepare each other for what’s to come, swap stories or enjoy a cuppa with people who “get it”.
“I think many people are relieved to meet people with the same problems,” she says.
“We get tips from one another, too. I’ve always had hearing loss, so I share many insights others may not have yet thought of.”
Mr Gillman says the group provides those with hearing loss the chance to socialise without the barriers they usually face.
“Most people don’t understand that the hearing impaired are limited as to the places we can go where we can still participate,” he says.
“People in normal social gatherings do not think to stop and include someone with a hearing loss. So what happens is they stop going. Then they become isolated and lonely. That’s what we were trying to overcome.
“We want to give people with hearing loss somewhere to go where they can hear and be heard.”
He says this kind of group is “definitely something that was missing in the Bay”.
Mr Symons says the deafness support groups so easily found in Canberra are lacking in regional areas, something the DRC wants to use its Information Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) grant to help address.
“This year our main priority for the funds is to start groups as far south as Eden and as far north as Wollongong,” he says.
“We want to help facilitate support groups for people in these areas with hearing loss but also offer our services and information about hearing loss and assistive technology.
“It’s particularly important in regional areas, where people don’t necessarily have independent audiologists to give them impartial advice and guidance.”
Mr Symons says local residents with a vested interest can be the key to achieving this vision.
“Anyone anywhere can start a relaxed, friendly social group where they see a need and DRC is happy to help facilitate that in any way we can,” he says.
“It can require as much or as little commitment as you want and might make a huge difference to the lives of people in your community.”
For advice on starting a hearing loss support group in your area or more information on The Bay Hearing Loss Support Group, contact the Deafness Resource Centre.