Hearing loss affects many aspects of daily life. I have had hearing loss since birth. The doctors believe that my hearing loss was caused by oxygen deprivation. I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. According to the CDC, there are over 12,000 babies born in the US with hearing loss every year. The cause of hearing loss in most children is unknown.
As a child with hearing loss, I was tested yearly to check if my impairment was getting worse. I had to sit at the front of the class so that I didn’t miss anything the teachers said. I did get hearing aids when I was in the sixth grade, but the inevitable teasing and embarrassment were one of the reasons that led me to stop wearing them. I had the large behind the ear model, with the full ear molds. The school also had a special amplifier system to help students with hearing loss. The teacher wore a microphone around her neck which transmitted directly to headphones that I wore.
As I grew older, I learned ways to cope with my difficulties. I began reading lips, and paying attention to facial cues. I also learned to focus on what I needed to hear. Situations with a great deal of background noise were especially difficult. I preferred not to draw attention to my disability, and would often miss key points in conversations or lectures. I also have trouble pronouncing some words because I am unable to hear the different sounds.
When you are hearing impaired, it is important to inform others that you need them to speak more loudly. Usually this will help, but sometimes it doesn’t. One notable occasion when this was not effective was when my father died, and we were at the funeral home discussing arrangements. I informed the woman more than once that I was hearing impaired and couldn’t hear her. Unfortunately, she was unable or unwilling to speak more loudly. Luckily, other family members were there and helped by repeating what she said so that I could hear after I became frustrated and upset. Friends and family should volunteer to go along to appointments for people with hearing loss.
Hearing loss can also affect relationships with other people. I don’t know how many arguments I’ve had with people due to my impairment. Some arguments have been caused by a misunderstanding while others were merely from the frustration of asking to have things repeated.
I do know a few signs in sign language, but because most of my interaction is with the hearing world, there are few people who would understand or know how to respond. I now have hearing aids, and while they do help, my hearing is not perfect. The hearing aids I have now are much improved from what was available when I was young!
Another thing you should know when talking to people with hearing loss; it is not funny to joke that you couldn’t hear something they said. It is cruel. You wouldn’t pretend you couldn’t walk if you saw someone in a wheelchair, would you? Do not shout at those with hearing loss. I find it most helpful if people speak clearly and slowly. Also, do not try to speak with the hearing disabled from another room. We often rely on lip reading and facial cues to fully hear.
To see what it can be like living with hearing loss, try this: turn your TV down to a very low volume. Are you frustrated that you can’t hear everything the characters are saying? You can turn up the volume so you can hear. Now consider that those with hearing impairment cannot just turn the volume up on life. Hearing aids may help, but they do not replace natural hearing.
Understanding the limitations and practices of those with hearing loss is key to successful interaction with those affected. If you take the time to learn what may be helpful to the hearing impaired, then communication and their lives will be much improved.
CDC Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/ehdi/