Lights, Cameras…and Hearing Aids
Updated: Dec 2, 2022
We sit down with Lily McManus, of The Bachelor NZ, Bachelor Winter Games, Celebrity Treasure Island, and The Bachelorette NZ, to talk about her experience of working in the media industry with hearing loss. Most people know Lily McManus for her quick wit, natural charm and honesty in front of the camera, but it’s been a journey to find her own sense of self-acceptance in the public eye.
Of the TV shows you’ve been on so far, which one made you laugh the most and why?
Honestly, I’ve laughed a lot on every show that I’ve been a part of. If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think I would have kept doing them. Although, a lot of the laughs aren’t seen...Often what’s worth laughing about happens behind the camera. It’s the exchanges between crew members, that later become friends. Everyone’s tired, having late nights and early mornings away from their families. So you tend to make your own on set. If you can share a laugh… it makes the time more bearable for everyone involved.
When did you decide you were ready to publicly share about your hearing loss?
The first time I was on tv I didn’t talk about my hearing loss publicly because I was still a bit shaky. I was young, I hadn’t fully come to terms with it. I had only been wearing hearing aids for two years. So, I withheld that information, which I’m glad I did. I wasn’t ready for people to, you know, do what they do [on social media] about my hearing loss because it wasn’t cemented in me enough. When I felt confident and comfortable and at peace with it, I could talk about it. That was maybe two years later.
I would recommend to anyone, if you’re not quite comfortable, you don’t have to share about your hearing loss. But when you do feel ready, I encourage people to share, because the more people know, the easier it gets for you.
Were there any mentors or people with hearing loss you looked up to in the media industry?
I never intended to be in the media industry or in the spotlight. So, for me, I never had any people I wanted to be like or that I looked up to. It was an opportunity that came at me. It’s kind of a big fun accident.
I didn’t even know anyone wearing hearing aids growing up. I was really void of people like that in my life. I guess that was the reason why I wanted to talk about it publicly. Because maybe I could be that person for a young girl who is 13 and getting hearing aids. And, she can say “she looks like she’s having a good time and that means I can have a good time.” I didn’t have that.
Also, through being open about my hearing loss, I’ve become more immersed in the community. It’s been great. My advocacy has led to me being more connected and giving me a sense of community.
The media industry is fast paced and often demanding. Has it been challenging to get people to accommodate your needs?
People have definitely gotten frustrated with me because of my hearing loss… The industry is very fast paced and things have to be done very quickly. People tend to be a bit on edge…I’ve had producers who have yelled at me because I couldn’t hear them, and they’ve had to come run and grab me. But at the end of the day, people just need to check their ego…It’s like, okay, you’re upset in this moment but think how upset that person [with hearing loss] feels their entire lifetime because of something they can’t control.
I’ve had to learn to very clearly communicate my needs and I don’t feel as though anyone couldn’t meet them. I need people to realise – “oh she really can’t hear!” That’s often the situation I find myself in. They’re like – “I knew you wore hearing aids but I didn’t realise you were that deaf.”
I’m like “yeah that’s what that means – I wear hearing aids because I can’t hear.” I think a lot of people take a while to connect the dots, which is wild. My hearing loss is quite severe.
How do you manage to keep things in perspective?
I really try not to play the victim or feel sorry for myself in any situation because of my hearing loss…but I think with speech being our main form of communication in the media, and Deaf or hard of hearing people not being able to hear speech, it definitely feels like you need a bit of extra help…
You have to have a really good support system and coping mechanisms in place. Therapy is great. Professional help is awesome. I would recommend that to anyone in the media industry.
I think being in the public eye… well it can be brutal on your mental health. You definitely have to be in a place where you feel secure in yourself. You can’t not face scrutiny. There’s just no way to avoid it.
Do you feel that some of the stigmas and stereotypes around being deaf have impacted you in your work?
Being young when I came onto tv, being a woman and then also being hearing impaired, I was 100% facing a lot of stereotypes and stigmas. People were acting on their pre-conditioning... I’ve been very aware of that. And honestly, I still face that every day. You have to navigate your own path, because the stereotypes are unfortunately a normal part of life.
I love making people laugh. I love being part of a funny conversation, I think laughing is the best possible thing ever. In order to make people laugh… you need to hear what people are saying. I do find myself asking people to repeat themselves a lot, and I remember there was one guy who would say “oh she’s a bit slow,” because I was asking people to repeat themselves.
It’s frustrating, but I don’t beat myself up when I miss something because I find the happier and healthier I am in my real life, the easier it is to be funny.
Do you have any tips for people who have a hearing loss and are starting a career in the media industry?
Make sure you express your needs and don’t let people make you feel like your needs are too much, because they’re not. People can accommodate you in this industry. Don’t ever feel bad for how you are or for asking for what you need. Take up space - is what I would say. And, be as true as you can to yourself.