Closed Captioned for the Hearing-Impaired.

On being hard of hearing…

 I was diagnosed with my hearing impairment when I was about 3 years old. My Mother (who is a Psych nurse) realized I was having trouble when she’d play a whispering game with me where she’d whisper something to me and try to get me to repeat it and I couldn’t because I didn’t hear her. Turns out I had lost about 80% of my hearing in my right ear, and about 20% in my left. We still have no idea why. Theories linger of potential infections I might have had, of a drunken father dropping me on my right ear, etc… My guess is, it’s going to be a lifelong mystery methinks.

I never use the term “Hard of Hearing” because every time I tell people I am HOH or “a bit deaf” in order to get them to repeat something or speak louder, they think I’m kidding. As soon as I use the term “Hearing Impaired” people seem to take me more seriously and are quicker to accommodate my hearing needs.

I wore a hearing aid from the time I was in 4th grade until I was in 8th grade. It was one of those ginormous things that hung in the back of your ear (wore it in my left ear, the one that still works ;). It had a terrible echo and occasionally “whistled” which could hurt if the whistling got too loud. The kids in school would constantly pull on it, try and pull it out, or scream in my deaf ear to see if I could “hear” in it. Just because I can’t hear in that ear doesn’t mean the act of screaming in it is comfortable or pleasant. Because the nerves are so damaged in my deaf ear, I can’t *hear* sounds in it, but sound can still hurt. This behavior would continue for years even after I stopped wearing the hearing aid due to bullying and my then-easy embarrassment. Other children, until I was in high school, refused to believe I even had a hearing impairment because I seemed so well-adjusted and didn’t need sign language or I don’t know, an ear trumpet, to understand them. I finally got around to getting another, far less visible (and insanely expensive!) hearing aid a few years ago.

I did have a speech impediment for a little while when I was small due to the hearing problem. I wouldn’t hear words correctly and so I would pronounce them all wrong. I was with a Speech Therapist for two years in Kindergarten and 1st Grade to help correct the issue. I still say Breakfast without the K, and Library as if there is a “berry” in it.  So that was time well spent 😉

As I said in class, I also had to be tested to make sure my hearing wasn’t getting worse, or to see if by some miracle it might have improved, annually at the Austine School for the Deaf in Vermont (I grew up in Vermont). They would put headphones on me and I’d have to listen for a series of beeps that would get louder and then softer and let the tester know when I’d heard it. I’d have to do repeating word games. I found out that I subconsciously lip/body language read when they would say a word and ask me to repeat it while they held a piece of paper in front of their mouth. Turns out, I can read the way a mouth forms words sometimes, and that is how I’d been able to adjust to living without a hearing aid for so many years. So that was NOT a waste of time on their part!

In terms of adjusting and accommodating in the classroom when I was a student, I would always sit at the front of any room I’m in (I still do this in meetings). I always talked to the teacher/professor well ahead of time so they would know I needed to  sit near them, and so they could be aware that they might need to repeat something or speak/enunciate more clearly so as to be understood. The only problem with this, was that sometimes the teacher (and this still sometimes happens in meetings or at family events, as well-intentioned as it is) would stop in the middle of a lecture and ask me in front of G-d and everyone else if they were speaking loudly enough for me to understand them. As much of an extrovert as I am (and I’m a pretty darn big one!), this still sort of makes me squirm a bit. I now try to request this NOT occur well before the moment of truth can get the chance to take place. I also still lip/body language read, though not nearly as skillfully as fully Deaf people do.

Before I finally got my hearing aid, I used to cup my ear a lot and lean forward to hear more effectively. And because I cupped my ear for long periods of time, and used primarily my left hand to hold the phone to my ear when on the phone, I often got tendonitis in my left elbow/arm. A hazard of being too poor for a hearing aid!

I do have terrible balance. It  makes me atrociously clumsy and fall-prone. I dance about as well as Elaine Benes on her very worse day. I trip a lot, fall a lot, and feel like I’m walking a tightrope anytime I attempt to wear even remotely heelish shoes. Kitten heels are about all I can manage, and even those are a big challenge for me in terms of not falling to my death in some open vent next to a street bodega in the Village. While I have no fear of heights (in fact, they excite me…I think it’s overcompensation for being so short), Downhill Skiing, rollerblading, and roller-skating are also big No-Nos for me. And you oughta see me stay standing on the A train during rush hour! A feat to behold, I assure you :-p

I almost never took notes in class. It was far too distracting for me to be looking up and then looking down, potentially missing whole chunks of what was being said, or misconstruing what was being said. When I had to take certain info down that I knew would not be in the book or WOULD BE ON THE TEST, I typed it up. Writing by hand is almost completely useless for me. I have to completely look down and I can’t even read my own handwriting. I had to be able to see the person’s face that was speaking or I wouldn’t catch a lot of what is being said. Classes with bad acoustics (like my high school, which had no walls, only cubicle separators from class to class) also made it difficult for me to follow lectures/conversations/discussions.

I have had people suggest recording lectures instead of copying notes. This is rather futile. If I have a hard time understanding a person when they’re speaking right in front of me, how is listening to a recording device any better? Other than pressing “replay” 800 times, it’s really quite counter-productive. Notes, when typed, or taken from a fully-hearing person, tend to be far more reliable and with tons more in the clarity department.

The positive of this issue is that I have trained myself to type lightening fast. I can type up to 80 words per minute. I have had to in order to keep up with what was being said. I don’t always process what I hear as soon as I hear it. This happens a lot when I listen to the radio if I’m not wearing my hearing aid (and even then, it still does. Hearing aids don’t make my hearing perfect, it just makes it slightly better). It can take me nearly a minute or more sometimes to identify a song that’s on, even if I know it well, because it takes time for my ear to filter what I’m hearing. Some people mistake me for being ‘slow on the uptake’ because of this issue, but I promise you that is one thing I am definitely not! Oblivious, well..that’s another ball of wax 😉

When walking alone at night, even with my hearing aid in, (and even though most people should do this anyway as a safety measure), I am extra vigilant in looking around me because I will not hear if someone comes up behind me. I just will not hear it. This is why it is a terrible idea to jump up behind me/try to startle me. This is NOT something you should ever do to a HOH/Deaf person. It takes us completely by surprise and most of the time we really don’t find it funny (though I can totally see the temptation).

Yes, I do turn the TV up too loud. My ringer on my phone (as well as the Text Alert Noise) is super loud. Even then I don’t often catch the calls on my cell on time because I don’t manage to hear it in time.

Yes I sometimes speak far too loud. I can’t tell what my volume really is, it’s tough to regulate (which can make for some awkward private phone conversations if you’re nearby!). If I’m being really loud, just gently let me know buy giving me the “lower” signal with your hand. I’ll get it 😉

When I have the opportunity, particularly with a movie, or with a show I love, I try to put on the CC (Closed Captions) because it’s just easier for me to follow everything that’s being said without turning the volume on the TV up very high (yes, again, even with a hearing aid, it’s a challenge). But not every TV, or show, or film has CC available. It also drives other people who can hear nuts!

Do not assume that being hearing impaired means I never hear anything. It often can mean I DO hear you speak, but end up completely getting wrong exactly what was said! For instance, you can tell me you like the game Pick-Up Sticks, and I will hear—well, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that one 😉 (Being a partially-deaf Scorpio is a bit of a humorous curse! 😉

I did take ASL for a year, but I’m not very good at it. To be honest, I always felt a bit miffed by the Deaf community. They’ve never been very accepting of me as part of their culture because I can hear and do speak. I simply have awful hearing abilities, but to them it’s just not the same. I remember visiting the Austine School for my hearing tests and assessments and the kids there were never friendly to me. They acted like I was some sort of intruder, or wannabe. I’m not saying all Deaf people are like that, not at all! But there is a bit of an angry, insular, clannish cultural rift there, and it’s tough to deal with when you’re someone who is not a fully hearing person. I’m not a “Hearie”. In fact, most of my close friends often call me “Deafy” which I have a great sense of humor about it (Now I do, not so much when I was younger!).  So it’s a bit of a Mowgli situation there.

Anywho, I hope this helped y’all get a sense of what it’s like to be HOH, or as I say, Hearing Impaired (HI). It’s something of a real internal schism for me. At times I feel very proud to have a disability that makes me unconventional, and sometimes even enables me unique talents like my mad typing skillz, or my ability to listen so well. And because I’m such a close observer of speech and enunciation, I’ve a bit of a talent for doing accents (came in handy when I did theater!). I can also actually sing a little, unusual for someone with a hearing problem. Pitch is not usually our strong suit, but I escaped that downfall mildly unscathed. Granted, I’m no Adele (who is though? Other than Adele?), but it’s a pleasant enough voice. I won’t be on The Voice anytime soon, but considering I’ve lost over half my hearing, it’s impressive that I don’t sound worse.

On the other hand, it would be really nice to not have to cup my ear all the time, or to be afforded the luxury of sitting in the very back of the class, or not have to constantly make eye contact with everyone all the time every time they speak, or to have to wear a hearing aid all the time (it can chafe the ear after a while). All that extra conversational vigilance can be tiring.

And I know how frustrating it can be for other people to have to repeat what they said 90 times to me because I can’t get what they’re saying the first 89 times. Or for my poor husband to not have to hear every word of a Golden Girls marathon at 12am at the television’s max volume while he’s trying to sleep in the next room! 😛

It can be intimidating to some people who don’t realize when I’m looking at them very intently the whole time they’re talking that I’m not trying to be so INTENSE, I’m merely trying to comprehend the conversation. Especially back when I was single and out on blind dates. That was a great way to NOT get asked out again!

When I did a lesson plan for class in the Spring Semester of my time in Grad School as part of a required project, I had a lot of people in the feedback portion of my presentation ask why I didn’t write on the Whiteboard. That’s simple: I couldn’t turn my back to the class or I wouldn’t hear anyone’s comments, questions, and discussions. I have to be facing people in order to hear them. If my back is to you, even if I hear your voice, even if you’re shouting from the next room at the top of your lungs, chances are I won’t comprehend what you’re saying very well unless it’s like, my name.

And that’s just a little slice of my hearing-impaired life.

What?! Could you repeat that?! Sorry, I didn’t catch it…

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