9 Reasons I’m Thankful I’m Deaf

4 Aug

Wow, it’s been a long time! I am so thankful for all of you who kept reading, kept sharing, and kept me busy with your emails and comments! Keep it coming!

Speaking of things I’m grateful for,  I have been thinking a lot lately about the positive side of being deaf.  Sure, things can be frustrating sometimes, but it’s not all bad.  Here are 9 reasons I’m thankful I am Deaf:

1 – I have the choice of turning off my ears. 

There are a lot of annoying sounds in the world.  Sometimes it’s really nice to be able to just… flip a switch and have them all disappear. I find this especially helpful in crowded restaurants, concerts, and near construction.  It’s also great for when my kid is having a melt down in some inopportune place. *Flip.* Silence.  It’s much harder for a hearing person to achieve the same optional bliss.

2 – Noisy toys? Neighbor’s dog barking? Annoying person on the bus talking way too loudly on their cell? No problem for me!

There are very few children’s toys that actually make a sound that I can hear, even with my hearing aids on.  I don’t hear dogs barking at all.  There’s a whole world of annoying sounds that just don’t bother me.  That’s not to say that some sounds with my hearing aids don’t grate on my nerves – but those are pretty few and easier to avoid. See item number 1.

3 – I am less easily distracted. 

Hearing people have to filter a lot of sounds.  I’m always surprised when I’m in the middle of a conversation and the hearing person I’m talking to starts looking around – some background noise has caught their attention.  I know sometimes it’s hard in an office environment to focus on your work when there’s a lot of conversations and other noises going on around you.  I don’t find that I have this problem.

4 – Avoiding awkward conversations. 

This one doesn’t always apply, but I have found that if someone I don’t want to talk to comes up to me (say, someone near the bus stop, or in a grocery store), 90% of the time they’ll leave me alone if I respond in ASL.  This is one of the things that can be really frustrating about having hearing loss (being told “oh nevermind” is VERY frustrating), but there are a few times when I’m relieved for the easy exit out of unwanted encounters with strangers.

5 – Change in perspective.

I see things very differently than I did before I became profoundly deaf.   I interact differently in the world.  I notice things I wouldn’t have before.  I feel things more.  I feel like I am much  more connected to myself and the world around me.  I pay attention to people’s body language, to the way they interact with one another.

6 – ASL 

I am so glad I started learning ASL.  It’s a very expressive language, fun, playful – it’s a very rich experience.  I enjoy it very much, and I’m really thankful I have the ability to connect with others in a language that doesn’t rely on my ears.

7 – Deaf culture rocks. 

Granted, I don’t get out to socialize nearly as much as I would like to, but I am really grateful that I have gotten the chance to reach out and connect with the Deaf community.   I have met a lot of really awesome people that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

8 – It forces me to stand up for myself. 

Being deaf means you have to stand up for yourself.  Everything from needing an interpreter at the doctor’s office to dealing with people who are rude or hurtful – you have to be able to stand up for yourself, be assertive, and ask for what you need.  A lot of times, people want to accommodate, but they are not sure how.  It’s my job to know what my rights are, what services are available, and to let whoever it is I’m dealing with know what I need.  This is not easy, and I’m still learning, but I’m really thankful for the chance to practice being assertive.

9 – Creative problem solving. 

The default in this world is hearing.  This means sometimes having to find different ways of doing something that might seem pretty basic to some people.   I think this is a skill I’ve applied to other areas of my life – I’m not likely to give up if at first something doesn’t seem doable!

What are you thankful for?

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Wear ’em with pride!

20 Sep
Purple Oticon Safari Hearing Aid

Showin’ my ears!

Did you know that over half of the people who need hearing aids don’t wear them?  There are several factors that contribute to that – the expense, having hearing aids that aren’t adjusted correctly, uncomfortable ear molds issues, denial about hearing loss, etc.   But one of the common reasons why people don’t wear their hearing aids is that they feel embarrassed and self conscious about them.

There is still a lot of stigma attached to hearing loss and wearing hearing aids. Think about it – how many ads for hearing aids have you seen that point out how the hearing aid is so small no one has to know you’re wearing it?  Why does it matter if anyone can see it?  The message is that hearing loss is something to hide, something to be ashamed of.  You don’t want to wear your hearing loss for all the world to see – people will treat you differently.

That’s certainly how I felt when I got my first set of hearing aids. I felt self-conscious about them. I was still trying so hard to deny that I had hearing loss at all that wearing these big instruments felt like a big neon sign – something is different about me. Something is wrong.

It didn’t help that the hearing aids were not adjusted as well to my hearing loss as they should have been.  Usually, when you get a new set of hearing aids, you go through several fittings to get the settings adjusted to your hearing needs.  It’s a process.  It takes time, and patience, and time to learn to process the way the world sounds through the new instruments.  I didn’t know this.  I had my first fitting, and off I went… and certain sounds were painful. Others were distorted. And they felt like giant stigmas attached to my head.  So… I didn’t wear them, most of the time.  And when I did wear them, I tried to keep them inconspicuous. (Then they were eaten by a cat, but that’s a different story)

As I’ve slowly come to accept my deafness, and myself, I stopped feeling embarrassed about my hearing aids.  Really, they’re just high-tech versions of my glasses.  I am a whole, perfectly imperfect person, and now I celebrate my ears.

I was told that these are the last set of hearing aids I will be able to wear, so I decided to have fun with them.  When my audiologist told me I was getting Oticon Safari SP’s (Super Power), I pictured them in tiny red capes, doing good deeds.  I opted for bright purple, to feel like I’d added some of my personality to them.  I claimed them as part of myself.  And now, I wear them with pride.  They’re my SuperPower gadgets, and I’m the most awkward deaf ninja you’ll ever meet.

Do you wear your ears with pride?

Purple Oticon Safari 600 SP Hearing Aid

 

I have been inspired by LipReading Mom’s Show Me Your Ears campaign to share my hearing aids. What are you waiting for? Go show off your ears, too!

All It Takes is a Little Kindness

7 Aug

Such a simple thing can make all the difference.

This week, I had the chance to use my fantastic chiropractic deal (yay groupon!).  When I called Chiropractic Art and Science to make my appointment, I requested an interpreter as I usually do.  I could tell by the receptionist’s reaction that it’s not a request they get often (or perhaps ever). She kept telling me they didn’t have one on staff, and wasn’t sure how to find one.

Because I needed to get in and use my deal in a hurry, I told her not to worry about it, as long as they were willing to write things down and work with me we’d be fine.  An interpreter would be ideal, but we’d work around it.

The next day, I arrived early to fill in my paperwork, just as I’d been told to do.  When I got there, I was greeted warmly by the receptionist… who breathed a visible sigh of relief when I understood her greeting.  She turned and gave the chiropractor the thumbs up, I’m sure to pass on the message that I’m NOT terrifying and he could relax a little.  And then she handed me out the intro spiel that she had written out for me before I arrived… A full two pages of big, happy scrawl telling me what to expect, what their process is, and what I needed to fill out.  And then she set up text reminders for my appointments.  I could have hugged her.

When they needed to get my attention, they walked right up to me instead of calling across the room. They made sure to look at me when they were talking to me.  And any time I looked confused, they carefully wrote out what they were saying.  For part of the exam, they had to stand behind me… so the chiropractor set up signals to let me know when I needed to move.  A little tap on the left shoulder, bend this way, little tap on the right, bend that way.  Easy.  They let me keep my hearing aids until the very last possible second during XRays.  They made sure they always explained everything clearly before doing anything.  And always, the willingness to use pictures, writing, and demonstration to make sure I understood what was going on.

It seems like a simple thing, doesn’t it? They were surprised by how pleased I was that they were willing to write for me… but all too often, I’m met with resistance if I don’t understand and ask someone to write instead of speaking.  There are confused looks, repeated unintelligible words, sighs of irritation.  In my experience, it’s the worst in medical situations.  I was told by one doctor, “Well, you seem to be lip-reading really well, we don’t need an interpreter.”   (Apparently, he decided I only needed to understand 10% of that conversation.) One of my nurses during that same visit flat-out refused to write anything down, and getting her to talk directly to me was almost impossible.  It made the whole experience frustrating, isolating, and scary.

For those of you in the health industry (or service, or anything other industry really) – it really doesn’t take much to bridge the communication barrier.  All it takes is a little bit of kindness, some patience, and willingness to meet in the middle.  To you, it may seem like a small thing, but you have no idea what a difference it makes on the other side of things.

Do you have experience trying to juggle communication barriers in a medical setting? How did you deal with it?

Somewhere Between Deaf and Hearing

5 Aug

I have had this recurring dream for over ten years now, ever since I got my first set of hearing aids…. I am standing, surrounding by all of my friends, as their mouths move and no sounds come out.  The longer I stand silent and confused, the more they blur and fade away.  I turn and see strangers standing nearby, hands moving, dancing.  I move toward them, but when they see me coming they turn their backs.  The dream ends with me standing in the middle, alone.

You don’t need a book of dream interpretations to figure out the hidden meaning in this one. It’s pretty clear where  this dream is coming from.  When you lose your hearing by degrees, it can feel like you’re trapped between two worlds, and belong to none.

For most of my life, I felt like a broken hearing person.  Even before I knew I had hearing loss, my conversations were mostly guessing games and hard work.  People often saw me as daydreamy, spacey, aloof, because if I wasn’t really focusing on understanding what was being said to me, I generally missed the point entirely.  Or wandered off in the middle of a conversation, not realizing people were even talking to me.  People get tired of being asked to repeat themselves all the time, and it really doesn’t take long before you start to internalize that you’re just not trying hard enough, that your communication needs are an inconvenience, that there’s something wrong with you. I stopped wearing my hearing aids, I stopped telling people that I couldn’t understand them, and as my hearing loss progressed, I increasingly isolated myself–without really realizing what I was doing.

It can be hard for hearing friends and family members to adapt to progressive hearing loss. It can be hard to understand that what you heard yesterday is not the same as what you can hear today, that hearing voices isn’t the same thing as understanding words, and that hearing loss is not about just turning up the volume. When you’re in the middle of trying to understand and accept that yourself–well, sometimes those feelings of being a broken hearing person really got in the way of me asking for what I needed.

Once I finally accepted that I am deaf, things became easier for me in a lot of ways. I stopped feeling bad about it (well, most of the time), and started to work on asking for what I need. I am no longer afraid to ask for interpreters at doctors appointments, to remind my friends to look at me when they’re talking, or to hand a complete stranger a piece of paper and tell them to write down what they’re saying.  It may seem like an easy, obvious thing, but for me it’s a huge change.

I’ve been very lucky to have so many hearing friends that are supportive, and to have Deaf friends who are willing to work with my bumbling ASL skills.  My horrible dream has thankfully not come true.  I’ve realized that it’s not about where you are in the spectrum or how you identify, as long as YOU accept yourself, and surround yourself with people who are willing and able to support you in that.

 How have you come to accept  your identity? 

Aside

“But You Speak So Well…”

26 Jul

Right after I published my last post, my friend shared this with me. Dr. Don G and Ocean did an excellent job of articulating some of the reasons why it can be problematic to compliment someone’s speaking skills, and I wanted to share their point of view with you.

I know this doesn’t ring true for everyone, but for me – complimenting my speaking skills makes me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious of my speech. It makes me feel like my articulation is being judged, and what I’m actually saying isn’t as important. And as I mentioned in my previous post, my clear speech tends to make hearing people forget that I can’t actually hear them.

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Deaf Person

24 Jul

We all occasionally say things we really wish we hadn’t, especially when meeting new people.  For some reason, meeting a deaf person seems to really bring out those moments in people.  In the hopes of  helping you avoid these embarrassing moments, I’m sharing 10 things you should never say when meeting a deaf person.  All of which, in case you’re wondering, have been said to me. And my friends. More than once.

1 – Oh, I’m sorry. (And then walking away.)

Deaf people are really not that scary. When someone tells you they can’t hear you, try making sure you’re looking directly at the person when you talk to them.  Speak clearly, but don’t exaggerate your lip movements.  Or, hey, get a piece of paper or use your phone to write down what you’re saying.

2 – How do you drive? 

I use my eyes. How do YOU drive??  I’m amazed at how many people think that deaf people cannot–or should not–get their driver’s license.  Studies have shown that deaf drivers are no more likely to get in to an accident than hearing drivers, and actually tend to have lower accident rates.

3 – Can you read?

I have now been asked this twice, once at the doctor’s office and once at the DMV.  My Deaf friends have told me they get asked this all the time.  On one hand, I understand the question- after all, English might not be my primary or first language.  On the other… guess what? Deaf people go to school, have jobs, and do everything that their hearing pals do.  Oh, except hear. Assuming that deaf people can’t read is just insulting.

4 – Oh, I know exactly what you mean.  I think I have hearing loss, too – I have a hard time understanding people sometimes. You know, like at concerts and moster truck rallies.

Seriously, why is it that everyone I meet suddenly has hearing loss? Not being able to hear people talking when you’re in a loud environment is not exactly the same thing as being deaf or hard of hearing. I understand that people’s first instinct is to try to find common ground, and connect.  I recognize that this statement is supposed to show understanding and support.  That said, it usually comes across as dismissive, and completely misses the point.  When someone is telling you that they need you to look at them when you’re speaking because they can’t hear you, they’re not looking for you to say you know all about it.  They’re just trying to let you know what they need in order to understand you.  Do that.

5 – Oh, but you can lipread, right? Neat. Can you tell what the guy across the room is saying?

To this I say, lip reading is NOT a super power.  No, I cannot tell what that guy is saying from across the room. It’s hard enough figuring out what’s going on in the conversation I’m currently having, thanks.  Also, stop being a snoop.

6 – Oh, I’m so sorry.  Losing my hearing would be the worst thing in the world.

It has its down sides, for sure, but really it’s not that bad.  This response makes me feel like I’m something to be pitied, and completely dismisses the awesomeness of Deaf culture.  Even if you’re thinking this, please don’t say it. Just don’t.

7 – But, you have hearing aids. 

Yep, I do. They’re pretty awesome, and I’m glad I have them, but they’re not miracle devices.  They don’t suddenly “cure” my hearing loss. I still need to read lips or use ASL to know what people are saying.  They tell me THAT people are talking, but it’s like catching shadows of words. I have to fill in the blanks.  If someone has hearing aids, don’t assume that they can hear things–or that they can’t, for that matter.

8 – Oh, are you going to get that implant thing to fix your hearing?

I’ve had people launch in to how the cochlear implant is a miracle within 3 minutes of meeting me.  They’re usually basing this on a) seeing Ellen talk about it on TV and b) the fact that they like hearing birds chirp, or whatever. The decision to get a cochlear implant is a big one, and involves a lot of factors that you probably aren’t aware of if you haven’t been around the Deaf community for very long.  Besides the fact that this question assumes that something is wrong with me that needs to be fixed, it’s a really personal, complicated question.  If you’re going to ask someone about CI, please be sensitive to that.  And maybe wait until you’ve known the person a while before you bring it up.

9 – But you don’t sound deaf.

Of all the things said to me on a daily basis, this is the one that drives me the most crazy. This is the reason I usually go voice off in public, like at the grocery store.  People have a hard time understanding that just because I have good speech quality does not mean I can hear.  It makes me feel like I need to explain myself – no, really, grocery store clerk, I’m not purposely ignoring you, I just can’t hear you. Closely related to this one is…

10 – Wow, your speech is really good!

I get this well-meaning comment from almost everyone I meet – even interpreters sometimes say this to me.  There are several reasons why you should never say this to someone.  For one thing, it makes the person feel awkward and self-conscious. For another, the underlying message is that speaking skills are to be highly valued, and praised.  It implies that people who don’t have clear speech are less intelligent, capable, or aren’t trying hard enough.

This comment makes me feel like I’m being patted on the back.  I didn’t do anything special to earn my speaking skills. My speech says nothing about my intelligence or abilities.  I just happened to grow up with enough residual hearing to make speech work for me.  In some ways, my clear speech is a drawback – it makes it that much harder for other people to understand my deafness.

Have you ever said something you wished you could take back?  What are some awkward/awful things people have said to YOU?

Cats and Vampires and Zombies, Oh My!

18 Jul

One of the things I haven’t really learned to deal with yet is communicating in large groups.  Going to a group event with my hearing friends presents its own set of communication challenges and it’s pretty much guaranteed that someone will be asking, “WHAT did you just say?” before the end of the night. And it’s not always me.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a birthday party at a friend’s house. There was a group of us standing in their entryway when their cat came to the door to be let in.  I looked at the cat as my friend opened the door, and in that two-second span lost complete track of the conversation.

My friend M looks at the cat, and says, “… doctor… blood…mess..”

And so, with the little bits I was catching, I deduced that the cat must be sick. Everything I was seeing started to match that context.

“… pee… blood… doctor.”

Oh! The cat has a bladder infection.  M is saying that if the cat pees blood, they’d better take her to the vet.  This is my chance to contribute to the conversation.

“Well, you might want to take her to the vet even if there’s no blood.”

Beat of silence. Strange looks. And then the conversation continues, like I haven’t spoken.  I try a new tactic.

“Hey, did you just say vampire?”  I ask M, certain she’s going to laugh, and then clue me in on what they’re actually talking about.

Yep, vampires. The whole time, they’d been talking about vampires. And zombies.  And about how there’s a blood shortage because people have gone crazy in Florida and started eating each other.

Good news is, the cat’s okay.

More than Hearing Loss

16 Jul

When I first tell people I’m deaf, the most common reaction I get is pity.  “I’m so sorry,” they tell me, as if I had just informed them of a death in my family.

What I have a hard time explaining is that becoming deaf is about more than just hearing loss.  In some ways, it’s not about loss at all.  It’s a shift in identity, a change in communication, an evolution of my relationship to sound.  Like the changes in my hearing, it hasn’t happened overnight.  It’s been a gradual readjusting and reshaping the way I see the world.

I wish I had started writing years ago, when I  realized I had hearing loss and got my first set of hearing aids.  I didn’t realize that I was taking just one step of many.  I didn’t know how different things would be for me, now, or that I’d look back and try to remember what sounds were like, then.

And so this blog begins, to document for myself the changes, to work through the feelings that come with it, and to share the things I learn along the way.

Thank you for joining me!