In our series INTERVIEW, we present people who have made an exceptional contribution to support people with hearing loss. One such individual is Jonas Straumann, a 22 year-old true all-rounder: publisher of hearZONE (www.hearzone.net), passionate musician, and, in his own words, hearing impaired since birth. In our interview, he told us what drives him and why he is sometimes met with opposition.
Jonas, how did you come up with the idea to start your own magazine at the age of 18?
Jonas Straumann: I’m not actually sure myself any more. I just had the feeling that I needed to do something for people with a hearing disability. In September 2013, I founded hearZONE initially as a social network; four months later the first PDF magazine was available to download for free. After completing my education, I realized that I wanted to become independent and bring the online magazine into print. Just under a year later, the first edition was published in May 2015.
What is your aim with hearZONE?
JS: The top priority is to educate people about hearing disabilities and provide interested parties with highly diversified up-to-date information. I also want to give people with a hearing disability in German-speaking countries the opportunity to network on a platform so they can work together to make things happen, break down barriers, and build a bridge to the world of hearing. Even though this sometimes results in controversial discussions, I believe that things can be changed and improved in the future.
You talk specifically about “hearing disabilities” – a term that can also be perceived as being discriminatory. Why?
JS: If I say I am “deaf,” “hard of hearing,” or “hearing impaired,” then I’m using a term that refers to a physical deficit, a problem that needs to be solved so that I can fit into society. With “hearing disability,” it is the exact opposite; it is not me who is the barrier, but rather the hearing people when they do not accommodate me and my needs. The term also has a broad scope and includes all people who have difficulties communicating because of their hearing. That’s why I find “hearing disability” to be a powerful term, which we should also use in publicity work.
You are actually also a passionate musician. Does your hearing loss affect this?
JS: I rather see my hearing loss as a blessing. I perceive music differently from my peers, and that is a great feeling. The greatest disadvantage is the barriers in the heads of the people around me who believe that I can’t play or make music as well because of my hearing disability. However, this is not just the case in the hearing world. I am met with occasional disapproval once in a while even among people with hearing disabilities when I speak enthusiastically about music. It’s a shame.
Do you feel that you are disadvantaged by your hearing loss? And if so, how do you deal with it?
JS: The hearing world presents me with obstacles time and time again – that’s actually why I am a person with a hearing disability. It’s not just the lack of subtitles on TV, but also the great ignorance when it comes to dealing with people with a hearing disability. So many places where work needs to be done come together that I could not possibly name all of them in this interview. How do I deal with it? By doing public relations work and continuing with hearZone until the all that work has been done.
Many parents are taken aback at first when they find out that their child is affected by hearing loss. What advice would you give to these parents?
JS: Dear parents, it’s not the end of the world. You will first find yourself in a grieving phase that you need to deal with. At the initial consultation, I recommend finding out about the possibility of early bilingual support – speech and sign language, depending on the severity of the hearing loss. Sign language is a great form of communication and provides lots of opportunities. I see lots of advantages in early bilingual support and positive development of the child. Most important, however, is that you are not ashamed of your child. Children can sense and feel that. Instead, give your child attention, affection, and make them feel that they are just as important as others.
The hearing aid industry is making rapid progress. If you had one wish for the industry, what would the perfect hearing solution of the future look like for you?
JS: Generally speaking, I am not the type of person who wants “improved hearing” or feels the need to “hear better.” I am very happy with the present-day solutions. Nevertheless, I am excited to see what the future has in store for us. I would, however, love for my hearing aid to connect directly to my smartphone via Bluetooth without having to use other interfaces. That would create fantastic possibilities.