A Flawed Superhero Can be a Powerful Role Model

What makes Daredevil so appealing?

Netflix debuted its original series “Daredevil” this month, starring Charlie Cox as the blind superhero created by Marvel comics back in 1964. Daredevil, aka lawyer Matt Murdock, grew up with his single dad, a mid-level boxer, in Hell’s Kitchen. An accident involving radioactive waste left him blind as a boy. (Luckily, he was not otherwise disfigured, since Cox is a heart throb.) His father insisted his son get a good education, which would serve him well in the daytime world. By night, his blindness would become an asset in the crime-ridden Hell’s Kitchen of the series’ present, dominated by evil real estate developers

Murdock is blind but his accident enhanced his other senses. Matt Murdock’s powers are increased by the effect of the radioactive poisons, but this is not just superhero lore: it’s well known that if one of the sensory pathways in the brain is not being used (thanks to blindness, hearing loss, a loss of taste, smell, touch) those pathways will be take over by the other senses. Helen Keller could recognize familiar people coming into a room by the vibration of their footsteps.

In his daytime persona as attorney Matt Murdock, as well as in his secret nighttime Daredevil persona, hearing, smell, and touch are all powerful tools for fighting crime. Murdoch can detect a lie by hearing the increase in a subject’s heartbeat. He can smell the cheap cologne on a bad guy pretending to be a cop when the intruder is still three flights away on the tenement stairs, with a closed door between them. The buzz of a fluorescent light tells him he’s not hidden by darkness. He picks out the sound of a chain clanging on a fire escape just to time to use it as a last-ditch defense. Standing on a rooftop, he listens to the noises of the city below until gradually one sound emerges, a kidnapped boy’s cry of “Daddy, Daddy, help me!”

But this strength is also his most vulnerable point, and this makes him interesting. Daredevil is human, and subject to human weaknesses. He’s a devout Catholic, with a strong sense of guilt about his nighttime vigilante activities, for which he asks forgiveness from his priest. He’s a complex, flawed character.

Daredevil was not the first Marvel character with a disability. Charles Xavier, leader of X-Men, is paralyzed and uses a wheelchair. Each of the X-Men has a disability, “perceived or actual, mental, physical, or behavioral,” wrote Michael M. Chemers, Center for Arts in Society, Carnegie Mellon University in an essay in Disability Studies Quarterly in 2004. The X-Men, he wrote “confound the hyper-ableism that many superheroes of that era promoted.”

As for deafness, Hawkeye from the Avengers series becomes deaf. Recently, the Marvel illustrator began incorporating sign language into his panels. Marvel also created Blue Ear, who has hearing devices, in response to a mother’s request for a superhero her deaf son could relate to.

Last October Marvel teamed up with the Children’s Hearing Institute in New York to create a superhero with hearing loss, Sapheara, who has cochlear implants. The superhero and the partnership was the idea of Dr. Ronald Hoffman, director of the Ear Institute at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. The idea is for children with hearing loss to have a superhero they can identify with, as well as to use the Sapheara comic to educate children about hearing loss and to create tolerance for hearing loss.

Sapheara and the Blue Ear teamed up with Iron Man in a special one-shot comic, which is given out to children at the Ear Institute. The Institute’s hallways are decorated with images of Ironman and Sapheara.

Positive images of disability are important to all of us, but especially to children whose “differentness” can be psychologically as well as physically disabling.

Part of growing up is realizing that everyone has disabilities of one kind or another–some physical, some  psychological, some obvious, some covert. It’s here–in the example of these differently abled and often differently disabled superheroes– that teaching children about the acceptance of ‘differentness’ of every kind will lead not only to tolerance of and patience with each other about what they can’t do but admiration for what they can do.

This post first appeared on Psychology Today What I Hear, April 23, 2015.

Can’t Hear in a Restaurant? Ignore it now, pay for it later.

If you’re finding it hard to hear what your companions are saying in a restaurant or at a party, it’s time to get your hearing checked.

The inability to hear speech in a noisy environment is one of the first signs of hearing loss, and although it may bother you only in certain situations, it’s not something to ignore. Hearing loss should not be dismissed as a natural sign of aging any more than high blood pressure or cholesterol would be.

On the contrary, it is at this early stage when you most need hearing aids. Read More

For practical tips about dining out, read Chapter 16, Dining Out, in my new book: Living Better With Hearing Loss: A Guide to Health, Happiness, Love, Sex, Work, Friends… and Hearing Aids.”  Pre-order here for June publication. 

Hearing Aids as Fashion Accessory

When I got my first pair of glasses at age 6, they were big, clunky things that covered a third of my face and were heavy in the bargain. As soon as I was old enough, I traded them in for contact lenses.

Nowadays, eyeglasses are not just stylish, they’re downright chic. Sophia Loren started the trend with a fabulous array of specs. Meryl Streep, who is 65, often wears glasses, but so do younger stars like Alicia Keys, 34, Jennifer Aniston, 46, and Anne Hathaway, 32. When Sarah Palin appeared on the scene as John McCain’s running mate, there was more talk about her spectacular rimless glasses than there was about her political positions — at least at first.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is a “Hearing Loss Celebrity Ambassador”And now hearing aids are finally getting some attention. One of the major online hearing aid retailers, Audicus.com, has partnered with Advanced Style to offer stylish new hearing aids for women in a variety of designs, including sparkles, polka dots and leopard prints, which are interchangeable with adhesive stickers. In the Advanced Style video they look like little jewels in the box.

Cochlear implants are already offered in an array of designs. …

Read more of this post about hearing aid style and cochlear implants, and why the beautiful Maggie Gyllenhaal is the illustration, at AARP: Healthy Hearing….

Me and My Smartphone: A Love-Hate Relationship

Woman on her smartphoneFirst the savior aspect: I have at least two and sometimes three ways to communicate using text. The first is email. The second is texting. And the third, when it works, is captioning for telephone calls.

I can also pay for my coffee, go to my gym, download an airplane or theater ticket, take a picture. I can figure out what a 25 percent tip comes to. I can see in an instant what the weather is in Moscow or Kathmandu. I can go on the Internet, I can find out when the subway or bus is coming, I can tweet, Facebook, Instagram and check my stocks. I can read books and magazines, do brain acuity exercises, and I can even measure the decibels in an environment I suspect is too loud.

The one thing I can’t do on my phone is talk on it. Yes: The original and by now venerable function of a cellphone as a way for one person to communicate orally with another when not using a landline is the one place where the phone fails me. Read more…..


Photo: PeopleImages/iStock

Police Officers With Disabilities. Why ADA Protection Makes Us All Safer.

When public safety and the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act come into conflict, public safety prevails. But that doesn’t mean the ADA should be tossed aside.

In fact, compliance with the ADA gives us a more effective police force.

Which would you rather have when you needed protection: police officers with hearing loss who won’t report it because they’ll lose their job if they do?  Or police officers who have passed the stringent official hearing tests wearing their hearing aids.

Read more here to find out how giving police officers with disabilities their rights benefits us all.

Surprising Bonus of Cochlear Implants in Elderly

New research finds that cochlear implants in older people not only help with hearing loss but may also improve thinking, mood and — most significantly — memory.

Dementia word cloud

In a study published March 12, French researcher Isabelle Mosnier, of Assistance Publique-Hopitaux de Paris examined the effect of cochlear implants on elderly patients, ages 65 to 85, with profound hearing loss.

Previous research has found older people with severe to profound hearing loss are at greater risk for cognitive decline and dementia than those with normal hearing. The more severe the loss, the greater the risk. Researchers don’t know why this is, or whether one causes the other.

So far no large-scale research has determined whether using hearing aids offsets the risk, but a recent French study, using cochlear implants, found marked improvements in three areas: speech perception, quality of life (depression) and cognitive performance.

To read more about the study and possible explanations for these promising findings, go to the full article:

Cochlear Implants Shown to Reverse Cognitive Decline 

Good Friends Make for Better Health

Friendships and social connections are a key factor in living a longer, healthy life. This was demonstrated in“The Longevity Project,’’ a book-length report on an 80-year study of 1,528 individuals that began with Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman in 1921 and was completed by the psychology professors Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin.

In a 2011 interview, I asked Friedman and Martin what the single strongest social predictor of long life was. Their unhesitating answer: a strong social network.

People with hearing loss sometimes have to make themselves keep up those social connections. If you know you’re not going to be able to hear at a lecture, a party or a restaurant, the tendency is to stay home. This is true also of places of worship. It’s one reason why assistive listening devices and hearing loops are so important.

Lectures, classes and worship services are places where many of us go for social, intellectual and spiritual stimulation. They are where we meet new people and hear new ideas. If a venue like a lecture hall or place of worship is looped, it becomes accessible to those with hearing loss simply by a flip of the T-coil switch on their hearing aid….

Read more here to find out about some studies on the negative effects of social isolation and depression on cognitive health. And read more to find ways to keep those old friends and find new ones.