Hearing loss was something we never really talked about in my family, other than mentioning that I should wear my hearing aids. My father put on his hearing aids like he did his glasses and it never became a topic of discussion.
After not accepting, facing, or even talking about my own hearing loss for close to 30 years, I recently started to become fascinated by it. Now, I can’t stop talking about it. What caused this fascination? Living through so many scenarios in life where I missed out, yet still hearing enough that I felt misunderstood and I was desperate to understand what was going on. I realized that witnessing my dad’s hearing challenges growing up has taught me a lot over the years. Feeling connected to his situation through my lived experiences, I’ve not only investigated my own hearing loss, but have also been starting to learn more about my family history of hearing loss particularly on my dad’s side of the family.
Family history of hearing loss
My father is happy to discuss his hearing loss since I’ve been wanting to know more. So, this past year, I have been asking him more about our family history.
He was diagnosed with hearing loss in seventh grade and had some troubles hearing in class, but didn’t get hearing aids until his 40’s or 50’s. It didn’t seem necessary due to his hearing loss not being “big enough.” He has been gradually losing more hearing since then and now has moderately severe-profound hearing loss, being primarily in the severe range.
My father said his dad, grandfather, cousins, and uncles all had hearing loss. Though I have never met these individuals on his side of the family (partly because my dad was already middle age when I was born), I believe each one of them wore hearing aids and also gradually lost more hearing as time went on.
Although my father was able to “get by” and even thrive in some communication settings, I grew up witnessing many times he was left out of conversations. For example:
Often in groups, a person speaks up when they have something to say. However, when you can’t hear, it is hard to follow along with what is being said. My dad would sit back and mostly just observe in these settings. Quite often, people never even noticed. Sometimes, people tried to include him in conversations by speaking directly to him and he would try to interact, but it was clear he had a hard time catching everything at times.
We would go into places like Subway to get sandwiches, and he would have a hard time fully understanding staff. I have seen a few staff get impatient over it as they seemed rushed.
Sometimes people would ask him questions or make small talk and he would not respond. People assumed he was being rude, but he literally could not hear them.
“People assumed he was being rude, but he literally could not hear them.”
He often didn’t hear his phone ringing. As it was ringing, people would stare at him, wondering if he was going to answer. Also, there are times I have had a hard time interacting with my dad on the phone.
My father cannot make out a conversation without his hearing aids. One time he was rushed to the hospital without his hearing aids and unable to communicate with the staff because of this. Another time, his hearing aids broke; and he isolated himself at home until he was able to get a replacement.
Most people in my dad’s surroundings did not understand his hearing loss, but I was able to understand it due to living through my own similar challenges.
I have come to realize that people will make judgments out of ignorance. My dad would say: “Huh?” with his hand behind his ear, but he was never a strong advocate for himself. If he missed out in groups, he tended to let things go and just follow along the best he could. He is a very patient person and made the best of his situation, regardless.
Hearing aids have been greatly beneficial for my father
Hearing aids have enabled my dad to hear in a variety of settings. Without them, he is unable to communicate.
Hearing aids have made it possible for my dad to live life as a hearing person, and he seems to get by just fine for the most part. He cares about his family and wants to be able to interact with them.
I have recently tried to get him and my mother involved in learning ASL to go along with the hearing aids, and they attempted to learn, but learning a language at a later age can be challenging. My mom’s side of the family is musical, and sitting around listening to my grandfather play the accordion was something my father always enjoyed. He was happy to hear the sound of the birds again. Also, he always gets excited talking about the sounds he could hear that had started to fade over the years.
“He was happy to hear the sound of the birds again.”
He started his own charitable organization to help individuals in need of support, which now has one of the largest food pantries in the area it is located. Although he gave presentations and performed as the face of the organization, as soon as he came home, he would unwind on the couch, reading a book or the newspaper. He can socialize in spoken situations, but I believe he gets drained more easily than others.
After living through my own experiences on top of seeing my dad’s experiences, I have become fascinated with learning about as many different ways to communicate and assist with understanding as possible.
Learning as much as you can to improve your situation helps you embrace who you are as a person. Hearing loss was never something that was embraced in my family and this is something that I am trying to change.
There are many ways to communicate
I am learning about every way possible to make my experience the best I can while accommodating my hearing loss:
Hearing Aids:Hearing aids amplify sounds so I am not working so hard to understand what is being said. This eases my anxiety when socializing. Hearing aids have improved my overall interactions when out in my community. I have learned it is good to keep old pairs as backup, in case of an emergency.
FM Systems: At the theatre, I check out the FM Systems. I also have used FM Systems in the classroom as well. This makes the sound go directly from the sound system into my hearing aids or headphones. I once borrowed a Phonak ZoomLink in a training for work. This is a microphone + FM transmitter that pairs with a receiver attached to the ComPilot.
ComPilot: My Phonak ComPilot Air connects Bluetooth devices directly to my hearing aids so I am able to get sound through them from my cell phone, computer and television.
Captioning Phones: Captioning phones make it possible to see the words that are being said. My father uses this kind of phone.
Videophones: Videophones are used for people who communicate in American Sign Language. It utilizes interpreters for making calls to various businesses.
ASL and transcriptions
ASL: I love being a part of a culture connected with others in a similar position. This is a great way for culturally Deaf individuals to have full access to language as it gives the clearest understanding. Having another language in which to communicate is another way for me to gain access, and it also keeps my brain sharp.
Write It Down: I have bought a small electronic device called a “boogie board.” On days where conversation becomes too much, I write things down. Sometimes I will go into a store or coffee shop and write my order on this. It’s small enough so I can carry it in my purse and don’t need to waste paper this way.
Captioning: At the movie theater, I always ask for the captioning devices at the guest services department. Combined with my hearing aids, this makes my experience the clearest it can be. At home, I always use captioning when watching TV and movies. In the city nearby, they just passed a law that requires captions to be provided on the televisions in businesses where the tv is on. I have found captioning to be super beneficial.
Interpreters/Transcribers: I have found both of these to be helpful for me in places like classrooms, meetings, and loud spaces with background sound. Many people utilize ASL interpreting services when they go to the doctor.
Automatic Transcription: There are captioning apps for smartphones and remote microphones like the Phonak Roger. I have not used either of these yet, but I am told they can be helpful.
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” -Tony Robbins.
I started writing for Hearinglikeme because I needed to share my story, but didn’t have a good outlet, as I felt nobody cared about hearing loss. I did not wear my hearing aids most of my life, but after a buildup of missing hearing things throughout my life, I realized how much easier communication would be if I accepted them. Today, I wear Phonak Sky B-90s. I also communicate in sign language and enjoy being a part of the Deaf world. I was diagnosed hard of hearing in first grade, but spent my entire life trying to act as if it didn’t exist, getting by the best I could. It took me a long time to accept this part of me, which today I am learning to love. I share my stories with advice of what has worked for me. One thing I have learned is what works for me may not work for somebody else. Our DHH communities are diverse and our wishes is something that should be respected and celebrated as it makes each of us safe to be ourselves in our own unique beautiful way.
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