Dining Room Discrimination

Hearing aids are a blessing and a curse. A blessing for obvious reasons. It’s great to hear the low-talkers and mumblers of the world. A curse because I believe they lead some of the hearing-abled to think that if we wear them, we’re cured!

A hearing aid is just that, an aid. A guide dog doesn’t restore a blind person’s sight. A cane doesn’t make someone walk perfectly and fast. Hearing aids don’t restore hearing. They help.

Lately, my brothers and sisters in the hearing impaired community are getting frustrated with restaurants. No one seems to care that sound is bouncing off walls and everyone’s conversations combine into a loud hum. Dolcetto in London is the worst for this problem. It’s a large, open space with no buffers and gets extremely noisy. Even those without hearing issues, like Derek, loathe its ambience. (But damn, the food is good!) This article in The Washington Post goes so far as to call such an atmosphere at type of discrimination.

There are several misconceptions about hearing loss: First, that everything needs to just get louder. One of the first signs of hearing loss is having difficulty hearing a conversation when you’re in a noisy room. The ears bring everything up to the same level. The person you’re talking to is as loud as someone a few feet away. And some sounds are amplified to an uncomfortable level when you don’t hear normally. With my hearing aids in, metal cutlery on plates and, God forbid, in glass, sounds like crashing a cymbal in my eardrum. Certain musical notes are jarring. I could hardly stand to endure some episodes of the wonderful series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, because of the music. But the drawbacks are few compared to rejoining the hearing world.

A waiter holds a white bowl full of spaghetti with red sauce and a bay leaf on top

Now, I don’t mean to pick on Dolcetto, but it is a good (and by that I mean bad!) example of this phenomenon. And restaurants like it are being targeted by activists on behalf of the hearing impaired. They’re fed up. We’re an aging population. Estimates show as many as 25% of North Americans have some type of hearing impairment. One percent of the population is in a wheelchair or scooter and we demand – rightly so – ramps and access for them. Why not make things better for us?

Acoustic panels and other noise barriers and absorbers cost money. They also take up space where a table full of paying customers could sit. I get it. It’s not all about me. But noisy environments over time can lead to hearing loss in others, and I believe it’s an aspect of our health that we often overlook. Sitting in a noisy restaurant is like listening to a blender chop ice all night. You have to yell at the server and to have a discussion with a fellow diner. I want a good dining experience, not just good dining. Can you hear what I’m saying?

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