Being Me

Posted by jennifer gibson on Monday, January 30, 2012
I'm sure everyone has dreamed of donning the invisibility cloak at some point in their life, relishing the idea of remaining hidden as they did whatever they want, anywhere at any time.  Unfortunately, being invisible doesn't exactly work like that and it has it's drawbacks.  Having a hearing loss is literally like being invisible, especially if the society is not aware of the disability.  The stigma of wearing hearing aids has forced many people, particularly the elderly who just lost their hearing, to go to great lengths to hiding their hearing aids - namely choosing to wear the tiny ITE's which fit inside the ear as opposed to BTE's (behind the ear aids). 

This unfortunate decision does not solve the problem, in fact it enhances the issues.  How? Hearing aids can only go so far in providing the missing information, not all of the sound is returned through the device, especially in cases of severe permanent damage. Therefore, the hearing impaired individual will still miss vast amounts of the conversation, particularly in noisy environments.  The more severe the hearing loss, the more information that is lost. 

On average, in a quiet room, I personally tend to hear about 60-70% of what is being spoken.  If I'm tired or dealing with an illness like a cold, that drops dramatically to 50% or less.  Now, add on a TV playing in the background, children blathering away or the washing machine making a racket nearby.  I may only end up hearing 40% of what is being said to me.  The rest is based on visual clues or body language.  Say someone wanted some change for a five dollar bill.  If they happened to turn their head away from me, I will miss most of what is being said since I read lips.  However, since they are holding a five dollar bill, I will quickly decide that they either are giving it to me or want some change. I will then have to ask them what it is for, basically making them repeat the question. 

Now, imagine someone with a severe loss such as mine (I'm deaf without my hearing aids), trying to talk to people at a noisy social function, coffee shop, restaurant or even a venue like a hockey game.  My ability to hear them dramatically drops to below 40%.  This forces me to really focus on lip reading the person I'm with, rely on body language, facial expressions and if I'm lucky, even sign language.  It really is that hard for me to follow conversations. 

Most people often realize right away that I'm different, primarily because I wear bright, colourful hearing aids.  You can't miss them.  I do that on purpose.  Why?  Because I have had far too many incidents where people walked away from me because they could not deal with my hearing loss.  I've also had repeat situations when someone asked me a specific question that I couldn't answer (because I couldn't hear them or understand them).  This led to more problems where they ended up ignoring me or refusing to repeat their questions or comments.  They made the erroneous assumption that I did not want to talk to them or that I was simply too weird based on my answers. 

More than anything, I want to be a part of the society and participate in conversations.  Unfortunately, the severity of my hearing loss prevents that from happening.  It's very difficult for me to have discussions with most people simply because it's a lot of work to follow them, understand them and reply in an appropriate manner since I miss so much information.  Not only do I have to listen to the person speaking to me, I have to also process the information.  Hearing and listening are two distinctly different functions and since I was born without the ability to hear properly, it takes much longer for me to understand what is spoken. 

Hiding a hearing loss by wearing tiny in-the-ear hearing aids does not solve this problem.  It masks the true issue and that is learning to deal with it and accepting it.  No one else will know about the hearing problem and as a result, continue talking to you in a manner that is not acceptable.  In the long run, you will become ostracized from most social circles since no one will take the time to slow down, speak clearly, show more patience or be considerate of the difficulty in being able to hear them. 

Hearing impairment is considered to be an invisible disability since most people don't realize that there is a problem because it's not as obvious as someone in a wheelchair, a person using a white cane, or mobility aids.  Those are instantly recognizable devices that send a signal to others that there is an existing disability.  Hearing loss cannot be seen, it's a hidden handicap that hinders their ability to fully engage in the society and converse freely with others.  Being invisible is not fun.  It's a debilitating and isolating experience. 



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