Hearing loss changemaker Moses Serwadda

Moses Serwadda Acting President of AFHOH Uganda

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“I am Moses Serwadda, a 33-year-old Ugandan. I work with the Uganda Federation of the Hard of Hearing (UFHOH) and I am a member of the Make Listening Safe working group of the World Hearing Forum. My profession is in information and communications technology, but in practice I am deeply involved in social work – hearing loss changed my trajectory. I am a leader for hard of hearing persons serving in different capacities, a mentor for people with hearing loss to overcome stigma, and a peer educator on hearing loss among the youth and the general public.

I was born and grew up without any hearing impairment. I attended school without any challenges until I was 16. This was when I started having difficulties – at home, at high school, and in the community. Most of my challenges related to communication barriers, and sometimes they involved prolonged pain in the ears and background noise in the head. I became more introverted, which made some people think I was too proud of myself.

It all started in 2005, when I bought a portable radio. Without adequate information of the potential consequences, I enjoyed music through the earphones at maximum level. To me and my groupmates, the determinant for a good portable radio was based entirely on its capacity to play music louder with a huge sound base. I was so addicted to earphones that sometimes I would listen to music and doze off without removing them till later in the night.

At this point, my friends at school noticed that I had developed challenges related to my hearing. I had also noticed it myself. They would tell me something and I would struggle to hear. The same applied to the teachers. They told me to leave school and seek medical support.

In a nutshell, the earphones incapacitated my natural hearing process and my hearing deteriorated at an early age. Efforts to look for medical interventions were unsuccessful. I was recommended to visit an ENT specialist at Mulago national referral Hospital, who told me that my audiogram indicated I would need hearing aids. My hearing loss was gradual but progressive. It kept materializing until finally I gave up hope of regaining it. I bought hearing aids, but they didn’t work as expected. Sometimes, I would put them on and still would not be able to hear. One of the hardest decisions I had to make was to accept living with the impairment. But eventually, I did.

To help me cope, I read a lot of inspirational literature to build my confidence, e.g. Hear and Beyond by Shari Eberts and Gael Hannan. I also interact with senior colleagues who are hard of hearing, and I look to them as role models. For instance, Dr. Ruth Warick, Founder of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, is a great inspiration.

Essentially, I am a self-advocate. I speak up about the real-life challenges I face, both at an individual level and at the policy level. Having a hearing loss may have been a massive deterrent – but not powerful enough to stop me from exploring education and other capacity building opportunities.

I use my experience to teach others about the reality of hearing loss, about good hearing care and safe listening. Using my own example, I engage young people and help them understand that hearing loss doesn’t come with a warning signal that it’s about to happen. And if it happens, it has no visible signs. Noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible once the damage is done. It’s permanent.

I encourage everyone to take my story seriously – it’s not fiction or just a narrative – it’s based on a real-life experience, and it can happen to anyone. For those with a hearing loss, I would encourage you to continue to look out for people to inspire you so that you can become a self-advocate and be able to conquer stigma at an individual level. And remember: With collective action and community support, we CAN make ear and hearing care possible for all.

Moses Serwadda is a Changemaker who supports the call in the World Report on Hearing for hearing care for all, now. Help change the world for those with hearing loss by sharing his story.