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Stephanie Booth
Stephanie has been blogging since 2000, and is still at it. Sailing, skiing, judo-ing. Geek with social skills. Freelance consultant, speaker, trainer, thinker. Social media without the hype.

The Perils of Hearing Less in the Classroom

In another lifetime I was a middle-school teacher. It only lasted for two years, but at that time I thought it might be my career.

I didn’t wear hearing aids then. Of the many difficulties I faced teaching classes of teenagers, I think some of them did have their root in my hearing loss.

First of all, I couldn’t understand soft-spoken students, and often had to make them repeat themselves. Uncomfortable for me, and also for them, especially if they were shy. The accompanying snickers from the rest of the class were certainly not a positive thing for the class atmosphere or my relationship with them.

I also had trouble when students made low-voiced comments or “talked back” in such a way that everybody could hear but me. It does make it difficult to ensure classroom rules are followed when so much can go on under your threshold of perception.

At the time, I didn’t realise how “bad” my hearing was (I knew I had some hearing loss). I didn’t realise that my colleagues heard that much more, and therefore had more information at hand to help them manage the class. Not hearing well clearly was not my only shortcoming in teaching teenagers, but I probably blamed myself more than I should have for the difficulties rooted in “not hearing things”.

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The Friends Who Listen For Me

While I was writing “Never Mind, It’s Not Important“, I realised I have certain friends who do way more than just avoid brushing me off with a “never mind” when I am in a situation where I struggle to understand what is being said: they will repeat and summarise for me.

This happens especially in group situations where I haven’t managed to position myself optimally, or when the audio quality or acoustics aren’t good.

Having somebody “be my ears” and repeat to me what I need to know is really precious. We’re at the opposite of the “it’s not important” situation I wrote about recently: I am willingly giving up the power to decide what is important or not to somebody else. But the key word here is “willingly”. It is my choice.

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Never Mind, It’s Not Important

You’ve read articles about this, right? How we the hearing less don’t appreciate being told “never mind” or “it’s not important” when we’re asking for something we didn’t understand to be repeated.

Since I started wearing hearing aids, I’ve had a few years to reflect on the impact growing up hearing less, first undiagnosed, then underestimated. When I see what a hard time adults sometimes have adjusting their communication habits to my ears, and that I still sometimes fake it despite my fancy cutting-edge hearing aids, I can only imagine what an impact this had on my relationships and ability to socialise as a child.

Some years ago I met up with a few girls I was in kindergarten with. It was really fun to meet them as adults, and we got on great, although we weren’t all exactly friends when we were in school together. I saw them as the “popular” girls and they didn’t seem to be very interested in me. As I was mentioning that, one of them remarked that it wasn’t they didn’t like me, but that I didn’t really speak to them or answer when they spoke to me.

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What Is Waiting For Us Around The Corner

A few days ago I stumbled upon a Forbes article about 4 game-changing technologies for the deaf and hard of hearing. I read it with interest, as I keep rubbing shoulders with the tech/startup world, and the moment it intersects with hearing technology, I immediately wonder what the technological future for hearing-impaired people like me might look like (remember my excitement about mimi?) Without being an expert on either innovation or the hearing aid industry, here’s what I see when I look around. There are startups, like mimi, who approach issues from original angles, and clearly try to disrupt the market. But big companies innovate too.

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The Hearing Loss Spectrum, Between the Hearing World and Deaf Culture

Since becoming the editor of this blog, one thing I’ve struggled with is the diversity of “hearing loss” experiences we would like to reflect. This is parallel with all the questions related to the minefield of hearing-related terminology, which we’ve touched upon in a couple of past articles. I actually drafted another article on the topic after Christina wrote hers about reclaiming the term “hearing impaired” for herself. But it’s been sitting there because I didn’t feel I was managing to get it right. And because I’m very much afraid of saying the wrong thing on a loaded topic (as I am with this very post).

In what I’ll call the “hearing loss spectrum”, for lack of a better expression, there is a reasonably obvious distinction, the importance of which was recently brought to my attention on a couple of occasions. Not that I wasn’t aware of it before, but I’ve come to a deeper understanding of it — and of its relevance to the editorial line of Open Ears (part of my job here).

The distinction is the following: is your primary means of communication through vocal speech, or signed language? Of course there are people who use both, but for most or us I think, it is one or the other. Is your culture hearing culture, or Deaf culture?

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Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week

Tomorrow marks the 135th anniversary of Helen Keller‘s birth. I remember being fascinated by Helen’s story as a young child, full of wonder at how she managed to learn to communicate although she was deaf and blind. (Thought she was born deaf and blind? Check out the myths.) More recently, whilst exploring the d/Deaf/HoH world online, both out of interest as a hearing aid user and as “blogger-in-chief” of Open Ears, I came upon postings about Usher Syndrome, a rare progressive disease that affects both sight and hearing. They gave me a touch of the fear one could have about losing sight in addition to hearing, particularly if one uses sign language. In 1984, President Reagan proclaimed the last week of June “Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week” — an occasion to raise awareness about deafblindness and highlight the contributions of those who have this disability. It has since spread to some other anglophone countries. As my contribution to this awareness week, I’d like to share two videos about young deafblind women with you.

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What Are These Hearing Loops?

A couple of weeks ago, Angie wrote a post chronicling her repeated failure to find functional loops so she could try out her newly-activated telecoil. I was curious, as I’ve never used a loop myself. I’ve seen the signs, of course: the white ear on blue background with a T next to it. But until my recent last visit at Phonak headquarters, I wasn’t even certain my hearing aids had a telecoil (they do).

It seems I’m not alone in being mystified/uninformed about loops, as the many questions on the Phonak Facebook page testify.

So. What are these hearing loops?

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Participate in a Co-Creation Workshop to Design Future Hearing Aids

Have you ever wondered how hearing aids were designed? One step in the process is getting designers and hearing aid users together in a co-creation workshop. You can be a part of this.

At Phonak, the person who manages design of new products is Martyn. He works with the top design and innovation experts from around the world to create the hearing aids of the future: look and feel, colours, interaction — pretty much all that makes our hearing aids quasi an extension of ourselves, in addition to processing sound in a way that improves our daily lives.

I spent some time on the phone yesterday with Nataliya, an independent innovation consultant who is going to be running some of these co-creation workshops in New York as part of the design process for the next generation of hearing aids.

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Faking It

In one of his recent articles here, Stu mentions bluffing. If you are, like us, of the “hearing lost” (Stu again, I love this expression), then this probably strikes a chord. How much do you fake it? How much do you pretend you’ve understood when you haven’t? For me: a lot. Much less now that I have hearing aids. But before… I understand now.

I was making colossal efforts to compensate for my hearing loss. And at some point, the effort is not just worth it anymore, and it’s easier to pretend. Like Christina pretended to hear Santa Claus because it was less painful to bluff than to stick out, once again, as different. In a way, I tell myself that my years of faking it have made me super sensitive to context, and pretty good at filling in the gaps. My brain is always running around to find missing pieces, definitely a useful skill when problem-solving. But let’s not kid ourselves, I missed out on a lot, and also did myself a disservice socially at times, by “not getting it”.

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