Hearing Loss Awareness in the Amazon Rainforest

By Jo Piazza, Tonic

Imagine going through high school and never being able to hear someone whispering in your ear, or whispering about you for that matter. Or being a middle-schooler with a voice so high-pitched you sound like a cartoon character. Kids laugh at you and call you Minnie Mouse. There are worse things that can happen to a person, but these things and the grander discrimination against individuals with hearing loss sting and stick with a person.

That’s why the Hear the World organization is so intent on raising awareness about the disability of hearing loss, in all its shapes and forms and why a group of eight students between the ages of 17 and 22 all with varying levels of hearing ability (some of the students have never had hearing loss and some were born with severe hearing disabilities) boarded planes from points across the United States to meet in the Peruvian jungle and experience the sounds of the Amazon.

This expedition to Peru, in partnership with Global Explorers, is bringing these students of mixed hearing abilities together in an environment where sound, and preservation of sound, is a way of life, to learn from one another by learning to use adversity to their advantage, and in turn, becoming the next generation of Hear the World sound ambassadors. By making sound a central part of the trip, they hope to convey the important role that sound and hearing plays in our daily lives and the need to protect it — for those with and without hearing loss.

Leading the students is Bill Barkeley, one of 15,000 people in the US and 100,000 in the world with Usher’s Syndrome (Type 2), the leading cause of deaf-blindness in the world.  Bill summited Mount Kilimanjaro in 2007 shattering expectations and confirming his role as an advocate and inspiration for the hearing loss community.

One in every six people worldwide is affected by hearing loss. It’s about the same amount of people in the world who own a car. As the population ages — and noise pollution in the world increases – more and more people will be losing their hearing. It is estimated that the number of those affected by hearing loss will rise to around 1.1 billion by 2015.

Image Credit: Jo Piazza

Hearing loss isn’t just a physical disability. It can also cause extreme anxiety, depression, isolation and low self-esteem in those affected.

“With kids of mixed hearing abilities on this trip, we want to make them aware of hearing challenges and train the next generation to be hearing loss advocates and make a better world by helping people to understand what these people face every day,” Barkeley says. “I met with these kids in Colorado already and they have a lot of pain, but they aren’t bitter about it. They want to make the world a better place.”

“I have very little experience on the topic of hearing loss. That is why I know it will affect me very strongly and make me more aware of the topic,” says Olivia Johnson, 18. “I hope to gain some major leadership skills, experience the rainforest, change and challenge my perception of the hearing disabled. And to learn some new and amazing things that really affect my decisions down the road in a positive way.”

And rounding out the expedition is me, Tonic reporter Jo Piazza. My father began experiencing hearing loss due to muscular dystrophy about five years ago and now he hears with a cochlear implant. He calls it his “cyber ear.” I have watched as he has adjusted to his new disability and I know that my experience in the Amazon will help me to be a more sympathetic listener for him. Throughout the nine day trip, I will be sending dispatches from the jungle and watching and chronicling as these students have the experience of a lifetime.


William C
William C10 months ago

Thank you.

W. C
W. C10 months ago


W. C
W. C10 months ago

Thank you.

Bella Cruse
Bella Cruse4 years ago

Today hearing loss has widely increased in our society not only in aged people but also in teens. Hearing loss can cause so many health diseases also like depression and low blood pressure. The condition of hard of hearing people is worst in the society. No one want to join them in their normal conversations. Our society need an awareness for these hard of hearing people.

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Satish C.
Satish C.6 years ago

I like ur article and it really gives an outstanding idea that is very helpful for all the
people on the web
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Ness F.
Ness F7 years ago

I suddenly lost hearing in my left ear in the last 18mths, all tests cannot detect why, no illness caused it, nor has it been brought on by my previous occupation prior to having my two children etc.
I'm 35.
My hearing aid is brilliant, and it's funny how some in society react to you due to wearing an aid...I think it's laughable actually, as it's like someone having to wear glasses, you need it, it helps...no biggy! :)

Walter G.
Walter G7 years ago

I suffer from moderate hearing loss and tinnitus. It has gone on for many years now. Even hearing aids only shift the audio range around, attempting to overcome tinnitus. It sure takes the fun out of the day.

Mike Masley
Michael Masley7 years ago

good article

Alberta Gentleman

I am losing my hearing too. Thanks for the info.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L7 years ago