Understanding Stigma Evelyn McKnight, AuD, CCC-A “We’re not going to tell anyone about this,” I whispered to my husband as my doctor exited the exam room after sharing very sobering news. For a year we kept quiet. As an audiologist, I have often been frustrated by my patients’ inaction because of ... First Person on the Last Page
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First Person on the Last Page  |   March 01, 2012
Understanding Stigma
Author Notes
  • Evelyn McKnight, AuD, CCC-A, owns the Professional Hearing Center in Fremont, Nebraska. Contact her at evelynmcknight1@msn.com.
    Evelyn McKnight, AuD, CCC-A, owns the Professional Hearing Center in Fremont, Nebraska. Contact her at evelynmcknight1@msn.com.×
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Hearing Disorders / Hearing Aids, Cochlear Implants & Assistive Technology / Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / First Person on the Last Page
First Person on the Last Page   |   March 01, 2012
Understanding Stigma
The ASHA Leader, March 2012, Vol. 17, 47. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.17032012.47
The ASHA Leader, March 2012, Vol. 17, 47. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.17032012.47
Evelyn McKnight, AuD, CCC-A
“We’re not going to tell anyone about this,” I whispered to my husband as my doctor exited the exam room after sharing very sobering news. For a year we kept quiet.
As an audiologist, I have often been frustrated by my patients’ inaction because of the stigma of hearing loss. “I can’t wear hearing aids,” they would say. “Everyone will know I have hearing loss.” I inwardly gritted my teeth as I tried to defuse the ignorance and fear that are the foundation of stigma. How much better off they and their family would be if they would just move forward and take action!
But when I was diagnosed with hepatitis C, I found myself in the same situation. Because a nurse at my oncologist’s office reused syringes during my chemotherapy for breast cancer, I was one of 99 Nebraskans who were infected with hepatitis C. This diagnosis brought about intense feelings of shame, even though I did nothing wrong. For a year, I was stunned, immobile.
As I worked through my grief, I overcame the stigma. With a variety of key supporters and partners, I established a national patient safety foundation, Hepatitis Outbreaks’ National Organization for Reform. We work hard to prevent health care-associated infections and partner with national hepatitis education and advocacy organizations. I’m proud of our work.
However, I regret my year of inertia. If I had started our advocacy work right from the moment of my diagnosis, how many other outbreaks could have been prevented? How many people could have been spared from being infected while receiving medical treatment?
The year of paralyzing stigma taught me several things. Stigma isn’t rational. Also, stigma harms everyone—the person with hearing loss, her family, the wider community. And, above all, stigma is real and it is powerful.
I now understand my clients when they are immobilized by stigma. I talk with them about my personal experience with stigma and the resulting regret that fills me. But I also share that anyone can overcome stigma—and begin to take steps to cope with hearing loss that lead to a richer, more satisfying life.
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March 2012
Volume 17, Issue 3