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Professional skier Robin Gillon shares his hearing loss journey

Robin Gillon never let his hearing loss hold him back from becoming a professional skier.

The 24-year-old was born severely deaf and has been climbing the ranks in his professional skiing career. He ranked in the top five skiers in the European Cup and was ranked in the top 50 overall in the World Pro Tour (Association of Freeski Professionals.)

Discovering a passion to ski

Robin started skiing when he was just two years old. His family would bring Robin along on their skiing outings, introducing him to the sport he would grow to love.

“Until I was 9 years old, my parents would sit down next to the slope to watch me ski and they would pick me up when I started to fall asleep on the lift, true story!” Robin recalled.

Over time, Robin quickly discovered his passion for skiing. Being a skier has given him several once-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as traveling the world and meeting other people from different places.

“Skiing has allowed me to travel all over the globe and I’ve met an unbelievable amount of extraordinary human beings at such a young age,” Robin explains.

Skiing appeals to Robin because of the individualistic qualities of the sport. He feels that in skiing he only has to rely on himself and “doesn’t need to count on anybody else.”

When asked why he loves skiing, Robin says, “I’m on my own, there are no rules in freeskiing.”

Skiing with hearing loss

Robin is deaf with a 90 percent hearing loss in his left ear and 70 percent loss in his right ear. Growing up with hearing loss brought on challenges for Robin.

“I was very lonely around my peers and misunderstood by society,” says Robin.

Skiing was where Robin felt he fit in and belonged. This feeling influenced other decisions in Robin’s life, such as his career. Originally, he was on a path to be a banker, but Robin desired to take a different path. When he was 16-years-old he changed his career and decided to chase his own dream of becoming a professional skier. This opened up the opportunity for Robin to attend a prestigious Swiss Olympic school in Brig Valais, Switzerland.

He describes this story further in depth in his new movie “Sound of Silence” about his life growing up with hearing loss and becoming a professional skier.

Sound of Silence – Born severely deaf – Trailer from WOOP Productions on Vimeo.

How hearing solutions help on the slopes

Hearing solutions are an important part of Robin’s ski life. They are especially important so he can hear wind gusts.

“I need my hearing aids when I ski to hear the gust winds screaming on my microphones,” says Robin.  “Although I mostly feel them with my chest, I want to make sure I have two senses for my own safety. Gusts can knock you down and get you severely injured or worse. If one of my hearing aid isn’t functioning anymore I can’t ski properly, I tend to lose balance, things get weird mid-air.”

Communication on the slopes can also be challenging, but Robin’s hearing aids help him talk to his trainers. He receives support from other hearing technology such as the Phonak Roger system. He uses his Roger when on the gondola and to hear his trainer. The Roger system carries his trainer’s voice straight to Robin’s hearing aids making it easier to communicate outdoors.

Robin Gillon

His hearing solutions also benefit him in many ways outside of skiing. Particularly in social situations, allowing him to become more social with his peers.

He knows that his hearing loss will never hold him back and will never stop him from reaching his full potential. He emphasizes that being deaf of hard of hearing is just a different way of life. It doesn’t limit you, it just means you live life in a different way with a unique way of communicating.

“We are stronger and wiser this way. It gives us tremendous abilities that no one else’s has,” says Robin. “We read lips and facial expressions, we can analyze the type of person standing in front of us just by looking with our eyes and we can guess what’s going on around us with such little clues.”

“We are stronger and wiser this way. It gives us tremendous abilities that no one else’s has.”

He encourages other deaf and hard of hearing people to take part in breaking down stigmas in sports by blocking out negative comments and staying focused on the goals you have set.

“Switch your hearing aids off every time someone is talking you down or telling you that you won’t make it,” Robin encourages. “Work hard and prove them wrong.”

Be sure to follow Robin on Instagram!

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How to live confidently with hearing loss

Yes, at times it can be hard to live confidently with hearing loss. However, there are ways to make it easier to do so!

Confidence isn’t something that just spontaneously appears. It’s an attribute that has to be built up over time, like skill levels in a roleplaying game. There are a few rules you can follow that will help you to proactively build your confidence, however!

1. Get out of your comfort zone

It can be really, really tempting to live small, to not take risks, and to limit yourself to what you know you can handle with your hearing.

That way lies stagnation, marginalization, and a path to becoming a bitter old hag reciting poetry to cats in a ditch, in sign language.

There are so many examples of how pushing the boundaries to help us grow. If you work out, in order to stimulate muscle growth, you need to push your limits. Just going through the same routine will keep you fit, sure, but if you really want to gain in strength, you must get close to the maximum you can lift, the fastest you can run, the longest you can endure before failure.

That’s not to say you should go and try scale Everest to conquer your fear of heights and be more confident near the edge of your local cliffs, though! Start small, just beyond what you normally handle, and build up from there.

“Start small, just beyond what you normally handle, and build up from there.”

Greet someone who you’d normally just walk past with your head down in the hopes that they don’t notice you. Assert yourself by asking someone to repeat themselves if you didn’t hear even if it’s the fifth time they said something. Explain, firmly, what they need to change for you to understand (speak louder, slower, don’t shout.) From there, work out how you can play to your strengths in that arena.

For example, if you’ve managed to get people to take you into account during meetings at work, offer to chair the next one if that’s an option because your requirements of people speaking one at a time is a natural requirement in meetings anyway. With you taking firm control and ensuring that people stay on topic and respect others by waiting for them to finish speaking, you ensure that you get what you need in that environment!

2. It’s OK to fail

Think for a second – if you fail in any given situation, what’s the worst that will happen? There are shockingly few everyday scenarios that will result in death, dismemberment, or disfiguration of yourself or anyone around you.

Failure is not something to be feared. On the contrary, it’s one of our greatest teachers. The example of Thomas Edison going through 99 failed attempts to create a working lightbulb before finally solving the problem is probably the one I’ve seen cited most often.

“Failure is not something to be feared.”

There are others, however. Numerous attempts were made to swim across the English Channel to the mainland before Matthew Webb made it across on his second attempt in 1875. Another 80 failed attempts by others followed before the feat was repeated in 1911. Those failures informed later attempts of what they needed to be wary of, let them know what worked and what didn’t, and the feat has since been repeated time and time again. We learn from our failures.

Don’t throw your hands in the air and give up when things go wrong! In fact, there’s a military maxim that rings true across much of life. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” This applies to pretty much every plan you make. When we run into opposition or difficulty, things often don’t go exactly as we imagined they would. Roll with it, look for where you can make changes, whether on the fly or on your next try and learn from where things went wrong. Everything turns out OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end!

3. Be yourself – don’t compromise your character to appear “confident”!

This one is important. Don’t follow what everyone else is doing just to make it seem like you’re confident. Don’t do things that your own ethics and morals scream out against for the sake of appearances. If it’s not going to build you up as a person and it doesn’t take you in the direction you want to go without costing you some part of your heart and soul, don’t do it!

Don’t put yourself into situations where you’ll be miserable just for the sake of appearing “confident”. There’s nothing that will break down your confidence faster than trying to be something you’re not and don’t want to be, and it takes quite a bit to come back from the kind of confidence knocks that this can give you.

4. Fake it ‘til you make it

OK, I know that this one looks counterintuitive after rule number three, but hear me out on this. Where rule three is about avoiding things that make you uncomfortable and compromise some part of who you are.

“Fake it ‘til you make it” is about acting as though you’re already where you want to be. The difference is that by roleplaying the kind of person you want to be, pretending you’re already doing the things that you aspire to, you will start to make that your reality. Act as you want to be, and you will grow to become that. I read an excellent piece from a roleplaying gamer the other day that highlights the power of roleplaying, which is literally doing exactly this.

Part of doing this is actively moving towards the things you want to do and the people who are involved in it, as the power of doing things socially, as part of a group sharing a passion or interest is certainly not something to be underestimated. Believe me, passion for a topic, a hobby, a field of work or science or whatever else it might be will be more than enough to overcome any obstacles hearing loss might put in your way.

“Believe me, passion for a topic, a hobby, a field of work or science or whatever else it might be will be more than enough to overcome any obstacles hearing loss might put in your way.”

Passion pushes us to find whatever means of communication we can. You may well find yourself scribbling down thoughts at a furious pace before handing your notepad over to someone who will scribble their thoughts back with equal fervor if that’s what it takes to connect. Heck, I had an entire conversation about an obscure Mechanima series with a group that was solely comprised of .gifs over WhatsApp this morning alone! (Yes, I’m weird. But I own it!)

Attitude gives us so much power over what happens in our lives. Even if you feel like you’re faking it, just changing the perception of others through a new approach will help you to grow and change.

There’s another part to this, though. So far, I’ve focused on the “fake it”, but “’til you make it” is probably the key here, you have to remain dedicated! Keep at it until you are comfortable and it doesn’t just happen overnight.

5. Let your passions and interests guide you

Again, this is something that follows on from the previous rule. The things that will really define who you are and which will provide you with the motivation you need to grow your confidence are the things that make you excited and keep you up at night in glorious anticipation.

Don’t waste your time on those who tell you that the things you enjoy are not worthwhile – instead, find your people. You’ll know them when they’re excited to share things with you rather than break down your interests.

There isn’t enough time in this world to waste the little we get on things that don’t make us the best people we can be. Yes, there will be things we don’t necessarily enjoy, but we can look to actively avoid those things that break us down and instead pursue those things that make us happy and fulfilled.

“There isn’t enough time in this world to waste the little we get on things that don’t make us the best people we can be.”

What’s funny is that these really are the same principles that anyone looking to grow their confidence could use – it’s not restricted to just those of us living with hearing loss, and I think there’s a lesson in that. When it comes to confidence, living with hearing loss can seem like a huge, daunting, almost insurmountable obstacle at times. When it’s faced by someone who has just a spark of determination and living by these five rules, however, it barely even registers anymore. JK Rowling had it absolutely right in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”

– Albus Dumbledore

Our hearing, or lack thereof, does not hold us back from growing to be who we were meant to be if we choose to break the mold. Choice really is the greatest gift we have. Use it.

Read more: Breaking the Box: Why I don’t let hearing loss stereotypes set limits on my life

Oh, and if you’ll indulge me with one final Dumbledore quote to encourage you to look beyond shrinking your world to being Deaf or hard of hearing and instead find friends and allies all around you:

“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.” – Albus Dumbledore

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5 tips to prepare for social outings with hearing loss

Having hearing loss doesn’t ever have to be a curse on your social life.

The important thing is to make certain that you are well informed and as prepared as possible before going out on social outings. Having hearing loss doesn’t have to change the person you are. Using a little extra thought can change the way you experience all the important moments in your life.

“Having hearing loss doesn’t have to change the person you are.”

It is important to be aware of any limitations you have and let’s be honest, we all have one or two of those. If one of your challenges is following the conversation of many people, you need to make certain that your party will be able to sit away from the main groupings of people. Perhaps off to one side or in a far corner.

If your hearing aids have a tendency to pick up loud noises in public places such as coffee machines and smoothie makers, you will want to make sure you can be seated at a distance that will level out your hearing and have your hearing aids pick up more than just background sounds. Having prior knowledge about overcoming siutations like these in social settings can help make the experience more enjoyable.

Here are five tips for preparing to be in a social setting.

1) Express a preference

When asked if you have a preference, make sure to speak up if you do. All too often those of us with hearing loss are so happy to get an invitation that we readily just go with the majority vote and fail to put our ideas forward. We tend to not want to make a fuss. However, this can be the worst thing, because if we end up having an awful time, we can hardly complain, if we were offered a choice in the first place.

No, it is far better to offer preferences and explain why we like these places. This, assuming that those inviting us are aware of our hearing loss and its associated issues and challenges. Even if our friends have intimate knowledge of our issues, always be aware that unless they have hearing loss themselves, they will not truly understand how you experience any given situation.

If you are a confident person you might suggest a venue yourself, this way you’ll ensure that at the very least you’ll be on an even footing with whoever else will be joining you.

2) Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as possible about both the event and the venue. This doesn’t need to be too daunting, as most places can be emailed easily. Remember the more well informed you are about the situation to come, the more relaxed you’ll feel and of course, the better your experience will be.

If a venue has a hearing loops system, ask if it is fully working and also whether their staff is trained in its use. Surprisingly many places fitted with loops are unaware of how they work and even that they must be switched on in order to operate. Asking puts you in control.

Read more: What are hearing loops and how well do they work?

3) Find the best seat for you

Even if you do not consciously lip read, it is important to be aware that all hearing loss sufferers do make use of facial expressions and body language up to a point. Be sure you can sit in the best position in order to enable you to communicate at your best.

“Be sure you can sit in the best position in order to enable you to communicate at your best.”

Some places have very subdued lighting and this can put someone with hearing loss at a serious disadvantage. Instead, if this is one of your challenges, look for even lighting. It doesn’t have to be searchlights, just bright enough for you to be able to see faces clearly. This will make all of your communications run a lot smoother.

4) Carry spare batteries

Anyone who has been wearing hearing aids for a while will be all too familiar with that sudden realization that your batteries are about to quit on you. The feeling is one of sudden panic, but it doesn’t need to be. You can get little keyring hearing aid battery holders and these will hold up to three spare batteries. Alternatively, you can slip spares into a wallet or purse. The confidence this will give you will be a real boost and give you a solid foundation for the time ahead.

5) Be a planner

So often when asked where we would like to go, we take the easy option and choose to go with the flow. This can be great and it is certainly a good way to discover new places and enjoy new adventures. The only problem is if we always allow those with hearing to choose for us, it can often be less than perfect. So, instead of worrying about the experience ahead, be proactive well in advance.

“So, instead of worrying about the experience ahead, be proactive well in advance.”

Explore new places to eat and see how they make you feel; even just grabbing a coffee will give you an idea of how the place is. Take a good hard look at the seating area and the tables. Do they use cloths? Or are they hard surfaces? Does the sound of cutlery being place down make you nervous? Is the lighting bright enough to clearly see people’s faces?

In a nutshell:

1. Express a preference

2. Ask Questions

3. Be Well Seated

4. Take Spare Batteries

5. Be A Planner

By doing these five things you will put yourself in the perfect position to enjoy any social situation, whether it is a quiet drink with friends, work gathering, party or family event.

Having hearing loss doesn’t have to cut you off from people and a social life, it just offers you challenges, challenges which with a little thought and forward planning can be overcome.

Go out, have fun and enjoy yourself, you deserve the best.

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7 tips for helping your child hear

We’ve all seen the first-time hearing videos; when a child’s eyes light up after first hearing their parent’s voice… maybe you’ve even experienced it your own family. But while this moment is encouraging in showing their technology is working, hearing aids and cochlear implants alone don’t solve all the communication challenges for a hearing-impaired child.

Many infants, toddlers and children who wear hearing aids still have difficulty hearing and understanding words. This is especially true when there is background noise, when there is distance between the speaker and child, and also when the child is in rooms or situations with hard surfaces or echoes. These communication challenges can also happen with children with normal hearing who suffer from concentration-related disorders, such as Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Auditory Processing Disorder (APD).

So, how can you help a child with hearing loss understand better, or facilitate communication?

Here are my 7 tips for helping your child hear:

Start Young

If your child has hearing loss and has been fitted with hearing technology, encourage them to wear their hearing aids or cochlear implants as much as possible. Young children are especially notorious for removing their hearing devices, but it’s important that you keep putting them back on, and encourage them to wear them as much as possible during the waking day. This will ensure they have optimal access to your voice and other stimulating sounds.

Provide a Calm Environment

If your child is having a difficult time focusing on a conversation, try to reduce the level of background noise when talking with them. This could mean turning off the TV, music or other noise.

Utilize Additional Devices

Hearing aids or cochlear implants allow most children to understand speech from about 6 feet (1.8 meters) or less. There are additional devices that can be used to improve your child’s listening ability over distance.

For example, a Phonak Roger or FM system is proven to be significantly beneficial in improving speech understanding across distance and in noise. The Roger/FM microphone can be worn by a teacher, placed on a table for small group discussions, or passed around between students to ensure the child is able to fully participate and interact in classroom discussions. These solutions can also be useful at home, in the car, at the park, when playing sports, at restaurants or when shopping.

Roger, FM and other wireless devices can also connect to multimedia devices like TV, MP3 players and mobile phones, allowing the child to hear those devices clearly

Be Patient and Repeat if Necessary

Hearing loss makes it so certain sounds are more understandable than others. It’s important that everyone around the child is able to remember this, practice patience if the child doesn’t understand, and be prepared to repeat key points or rephrase sentences using different words.

Inform Others

Ensure your child has a good relationship with their teachers or caretakers, and they understand the needs and expectations of your child. This may mean facilitating communication techniques, such as setting up a signal for your child to let the teacher know when they are struggling to hear. This allows the teacher to change their techniques, without interrupting the entire classroom.

Encourage Independence

Encourage your child to become their own hearing technology specialist. As they grow older and gain independence, they should be able to identify when their devices are not working and to do basic troubleshooting.

Continue Advocacy and Awareness

Stay in frequent contact with the teacher or professional who specializes in working with the students with hearing loss in your school or school district. Ensure the communication needs of your child are supported. Find out if your school district provides or funds devices such as a Roger or FM system, and advocate for communication accessibility in the classroom.

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Why you’re never too old to try hearing aids

Walk down any busy street and you will see a plethora of people engaged in their technology. Specifically, their mobile phones.

It’s sometimes surprising when we notice a number of these people plugged into cyberspace fall into the 70-80 age bracket.

It shouldn’t really be a shock to think of the so-called older generation being interested and invested in new tech. As age, as the whole, has little to do with abilities and interests.

However, there is a downside to this. It is the simple fact that there is a significant figure within these age parameters that take the completely opposite viewpoint and find the whole idea of technology abhorrent in the extreme.

If the technology in question was only related to mobile phones it wouldn’t be that big a deal. However, this problem goes much further and a lot deeper and includes why many people don’t wear their hearing aids.

Not wanting to continue learning

There is a group of old older people who shun new technologies and offer the reason as a blanket statement, saying they are too old to learn new things.

The idea behind this statement comes from a once common misconception. The misconception was the idea that brain cells died every single day and were never replaced. So, learning new things was deemed a young person’s place.

This myth is still prevalent in workplaces, where often people are retired in favor of younger people because they are seen to have the mental advantage.

The truth is very different because the decline in question, as regards the mental processes, in fact begins at twenty years of age. It is also only between five and fifteen percent. The reality is that the playing field is level. It just depends on the individual and has nothing at all to do with a person’s age.

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms can be delayed by years, just by applying education and knowledge. It seems that the more thinking we do, the healthier our brains become. So, it seems that we really can think ourselves better.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

This does not help those people who have this particular mindset. Because they have convinced themselves that they just have no means to acquire a new skill set, such as is needed for technological interaction.

I know of two people both over seventy who refuse to even carry and use a mobile phone, despite a number of serious health-related emergencies. One of them who has hearing loss, keeps his hearing aid shut away in a drawer because it seems annoying and too difficult to get used to.

The other person is a lady who loves to talk and will stop and chat to anyone. She has a keen mind and enjoys historical days out. She would adore the internet and all it offers, including being able to communicate with loved ones in different countries. Regardless, in her mind, like that of the gentleman, is firmly made up.

There are many of us that know how much benefit we gain from using our hearing aids. Imagine if you will just for a moment, shutting away your aids in a drawer and just getting along without them. I know I would struggle. Not only that, I would also go out less and not feel as comfortable and confident in social situations.

Read more: A year on my hearing loss journey

My hearings aids have been nothing short of liberating and I would never want to be without them, even for a day. Having hearing loss distances a person and cuts them off from hearing society. A simple phone call can be nothing short of a frightening experience. The alternative to speaking on the phone, if you are of the generation and mindset we have discussed is alienation and loss of control.

“My hearings aids have been nothing short of liberating and I would never want to be without them, even for a day.”

A serious emotional and social issue

Untreated hearing loss has serious emotional and social consequences for older persons, according to a major new study by The National Council on the Aging (NCOA). The study was conducted by the Seniors Research Group, an alliance between NCOA and Market Strategies, Inc.

This news shouldn’t really come as a surprise. If hearing loss goes untreated, especially in someone of advancing years, it can extremely life changing. Many older people live along and may have little or no contact with family or friends.

A hearing disability can weigh very heavy when it comes to communication and social interactions. According to the above study, untreated hearing loss can also lead to depression.

Therefore, it is surely vital that we all take the initiative and attempt to gently encourage a change from the old myths and help those around us to fully engage with technology and all it can achieve.

It is important to demonstrate to parents and grandparent, family friends and others, just how intelligent, aware and capable they really are. Sometimes it is all too easy for us to treat older people as though in a sense they are childlike, taking technical tasks away from them, but this helps nobody and achieves nothing.

It isn’t as though the problem has affected an entire generation because this is clearly not the case. I can attest to this, because of the number of older people going past clutching mobile phones and tablets and ignoring the world around them.

No, it is only certain people and this makes it all the more isolating for those who find themselves in this situation.

A call to arms

Look around you and think carefully. Is there anyone you know who would fit into this category. If the answer is yes, why not at least attempt a conversation on the subject. Who knows, you might just change a life.