Do you ever wonder where you and your hearing loss belong?
When trying to adjust to life with hearing loss, many people say they feel caught between two worlds – the Deaf world and the Hearing world. They feel they don’t fit in with either the world of people who don’t hear anything or in the world of people who hear everything.
They’re stuck in a nameless zone, an undefined space (that feels like the picture above) between hearing and deaf that they were inadequately prepared to deal with. They don’t understand sign language and even with the best hearing technology, they still can’t hear well enough to consider themselves a hearing person.
It is a fact that the world operates on the needs of the majority, which in this case is people with normal hearing, but it doesn’t work as well for people with hearing loss.
People who are new to hearing loss wonder if they should learn sign language, partly out of fear that they will eventually lose all of their hearing, and partly because they feel dislocated. Yet knowledge of signed language doesn’t automatically enrol someone into Deaf Culture which is a way of life, with distinguished values and language and where deafness is not considered a disability.
On the other hand, if you ask a hearing person if they appreciate being part of the hearing world, they would say what are you talking about! Hearing people don’t consciously embrace their hearing as defining who they are. (If they did, maybe they would take better care of the hearing they’ve got!) Hearing people do what they always do – they hear naturally, without thinking about it. Whereas a Deaf person would proudly self-identify as deaf, a hearing person would not likely introduce themselves as Hi, I’m Susan, a hearing person.
I look at it differently. How well we hear (or don’t hear) is not a hard border between separate worlds. Our language has not changed – in most cases, we continue to use the spoken word in any of the upwards of 7,000 languages that exist today. What changes is how we communicate. Hearing loss doesn’t eject us from our world; it alters the world we already live in. Our comfortable way of communication has gone, leaving challenges behind for us to grapple with. The worst of these is that it disconnects us, in a million small ways, from other people – people we love, people we work with, random people we meet through daily living.
In spite of this, our hearing loss doesn’t mean we’ve fallen through a crack in the world. It just means that on the list of attributes that make a Perfect Person, you’ve had to uncheck the box that says Impeccable Hearing. Do you know anyone who can tick off every box on this list? A Perfect Person who is undamaged, unflawed, who excels in every aspect of being a human being? Dealing with hearing loss simply places us in a new area of our humanness, where something has changed, something we don’t like, something that causes difficulty.
While science has conquered many of the organic dark forces attacking our health, hearing loss and tinnitus are still waiting for the breakthroughs. In the meantime, we have ever-improving, brilliant technology that has brought our people back to the table. Hearing aids, cochlear implants, speech-to-text, Bluetooth, telecoils and looping and unlimited apps-for-that! The negative stigma is disappearing as we learn more about hearing loss and its powerful on ever-increasing numbers of people. This is a huge game-changer.
An important self-help trick is to shift our thinking from hard-core worlds to inclusive communities of people with similar issues and interests. That’s the point where we understand that we are members of the hearing loss community, sometimes referred to as “hard of hearing people”. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a very, very large group of people who use the spoken language, assistive technology, and who take advantage of all forms of visual information, including speech-to-text such as captioning. Some even use sign language as an expressive aid to comprehension.
Everything looks and sounds different when we develop hearing loss. But it’s the same world and the same people – most of whom are waiting for us to reconnect and are willing to help us do it.