The point of acknowledging a ‘disability’, in my opinion, is to raise an alert, for a need for consideration and accommodation. So just as someone in a wheelchair needs a ramp in order to participate in certain events so does someone with a hearing disability need some consideration and adjustment in order to participate.
It is astonishing how many people react to deafness almost as if the individual couldn’t be bothered to really try to hear. As if the hard-of-hearing didn’t really want to participate.
And it is just as amazing how many don’t realize that hearing aids are not a panacea. They don’t move us from ‘deaf’ to ‘hearing’. They primarily make sounds louder, but often the greater problem is really not volume so much as it is lack of clarity. Especially when there is loud background noise.
My deafness makes sound fuzzy and muffled. Like when you try to tune in a radio station, and it goes a little ‘off’ channel. Or, I often say, like being under water. It’s hard to hear the difference from one consonant to another. I might not catch the difference between ‘tea’ and ‘pee’. To a companion with a sense of humour, this can lead to great hilarity.
But I’ve been surprised – and hurt – by ‘friends’ who would feel sympathy for someone blind or in a wheelchair, yet who react with impatience to a request to repeat. And then mumble the repeat. And some even in close relationships for a long time, continue to mumble or speak with their back turned, despite knowing the importance of lip-reading as an aid to understanding.
It happens often enough that we build a tendency to just nod and smile as if we heard – but even that can come back to haunt us when ‘the other’ realizes we hadn’t heard – as if we simply hadn’t been listening, or didn’t care.
My friend Sara seems to almost intuitively speak so that I can hear. She faces me, repeats, waits til a noise ends before she speaks, and so on. And never reacts impatiently when I don’t hear. She has spent a lot of time with elderly people and built up a wonderful sensitivity to their needs. I am a lucky beneficiary.
Subtle differences among speaking styles can make a huge difference to the hard of hearing. For example, last night I watched a current British mystery drama. I doubt if I caught 50% of the lines. But when I watch an old movie – from the days when actors spoke ‘theatrically’ – I catch almost everything. Most people probably would not notice the difference.
Modern technology has meant some improvements for us: like “Blue Tooth”. I had stopped watching TV with others because for me to hear, the volume had to be too loud for them. But Blue Tooth has made it possible for my new hearing aids to tune in loud to sound that is low for others . Amazing.
But what do poor people do? Well, we can see what they do: they tune out, stop participating, and feel sad and lonely. Apparently this diminished participation can also have a negative impact on one’s brain. They live increasingly ‘inside their own heads’.
For some, that may be the only place where they can participate.