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5 Minutes With Hard of Hearing Activist and Creator Elisa Richards

March 27, 2023
Blake Cadwell
Written by
Blake Cadwell
Blake Cadwell

Blake Cadwell is a hearing aid wearer and co-founder at Soundly. He regularly tests and reviews hearing technology to share his experience with Soundly’s readers. Blake's research and perspectives have been featured in the The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, AARP and FastCompany.

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Elisa Richards is a multi-talented creator, director, and actor based in Los Angeles. Alongside her work in Hollywood, Elisa is an active advocate for the hard-of-hearing community. She has gained a large following on Instagram and TikTok through her entertaining videos that cover various topics, such as tips on styling hearing aids with jewelry and relatable experiences while getting used to new hearing aids. Her videos have accumulated millions of views and showcase her lighthearted approach to raising awareness and promoting inclusivity.

I had a chance to sit down with her to learn more about her hearing loss story, creative inspiration and (very cool) online web shop.

Q: Can you share a bit about yourself? 

I’m a hard-of-hearing creative, and small business owner. My crafts include illustration, acting, and directing. I’m absolutely obsessed with the sun, and I can almost always be found outdoors. I recently tackled Half Dome at Yosemite and climbed Mt Whitney, which is the tallest mountain in the lower 48. Yeeee-haw!!! Next up, I’d like to bicycle across the US. 

Q: When did you first start wearing hearing aids and how was the experience for you? 

I got my first hearing aids at age 7 and absolutely hated them. I was constantly overstimulated, and I pulled them out of my ears ALL. THE. TIME.

Hearing aids in the 90s were so bulky that they weren’t very comfortable. However, now that I’m in my late 20’s, I have a great relationship with my ears and my hearing aids. That’s 100% because I have great boundaries with my aids.

Growing up, the audiologist told me to always keep them in except when sleeping or showering, but now as an adult, I’m aware that hearing aids are just a mobility tool to serve me when I need them. I get to make my own rules about them.

I now know when my aids will be helpful or effective and when I should take them out due to listening fatigue. There’s no reason for me to wear my aids for the convenience of others :) 

Q: What inspired you to begin sharing your experience with the world on social? 

I was inspired to share my journey with hearing loss online because I wanted to stop hiding my deafness. Until I was in my mid-20s, only a few friends and coworkers were aware that I struggled with hearing.

I covered my hearing aids with my long hair, and I could hide my hearing loss by always laughing in response to things I didn’t hear…and trust me, a  laughter response wasn’t always the best idea.

I love to de-stigmatize deafness through funny, relatable content. I’m enjoying building a safe, inclusive community where others can express themselves without fear of judgment. That’s really important to me.

If you could change one thing about the way the world thinks about hearing loss, what would it be? 

I think deafness is often associated with a lack of intelligence, and I and many other Deaf creatives are working on changing that perception.

People often find Deaf people rude because they aren’t often responsive - but we aren’t responsive because we’re Deaf, not rude.

There’s a gap in communication sometimes - but that doesn’t have to do with rudeness or intelligence, just awareness and access. 

Tell us about your merch shop. What are your favorite designs? 

My shop is called Bionic Outlaw because I consider myself bionic with my hearing aids, and I consider myself an Outlaw as I’m changing the perception of deafness.

Whenever I would shop for merch that was about disability or deafness, it was always incredibly boring.

Disabled or Deaf merch would only come in the classic colors of disability, blue and white, and sometimes the art would look like a warning sign, like, “HEY, I’M DISABLED.”

So, since there were no cute, fun, colorful designs, I decided to create Bionic Outlaw - where everything is colorful, expressive, and a bit tongue-in-cheek. My favorite design is probably either a sticker that is a drawing of lips that reads, “Your lips are my roadmap,” (hey lipreaders!!) OR my ghost design that says, “Invisible disability.”

I want everyone who wears something from Bionic Outlaw to feel sassy and proud of who they are. 

Where can people find you online? 

You can find me on Instagram & TikTok: @Elisa.Richards 

You can find my shop Bionic Outlaw on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/BionicOutlaw

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