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May 7, 2012 / angryhohwoman

Hearing Loss Simulator

Since normal hearing people have so much difficulty understanding how hard of hearing people hear – I’m posting a hearing loss simulator.  My hearing is WORSE than the moderate hearing loss category – but it’s close.  Try to understand THAT WITHOUT LIPREADING!

Click here for the HEARING LOSS SIMULATOR.  

May 3, 2012 / angryhohwoman

Perception is Everything

There’s an invisible community in every society, and I’m a member of it.  We look like you, we talk like you, and we have families just like you do.  In fact, we’re so hidden it’s hard for us to identify our own kind.  We don’t share a distinct language, so we don’t form a separate culture.   But there is one thing we have in common – we stare.

Why?  Because using our eyes is essential to interacting with the society around us.  If we don’t stare, communication is impossible. By now, you probably realize that I’m referring to hard of hearing people who read lips.

Deaf awareness continues to grow; interest in American Sign Language is higher than it has ever been, thanks to a popular television show with deaf actors.  But in a sense, Hard of Hearing awareness is separate from Deaf awareness, and MUCH needs to be done to educate normal hearing people.  My recent interactions with a young married couple (Tony and Anna) in my denomination were a major learning experience on just how desperate this awareness is needed.

Before I relate my experience, let me give a little background story.  I’m in my late 40s, need to lose a few pounds, wear hearing aids, have silver hair, and I’m single. Hot, huh?  Because I speak like a normal hearing person AND play a musical instrument, people do not comprehend that I have a hearing loss. Vocational Rehabilitation categorizes me as having a severe disability due to my hearing loss, but normal hearing people just think I have a little trouble hearing due to the normalcy of my speech. My audiologist informs me had I grown up with the level of hearing loss that I now have, I would be using sign language only and would have “deaf” speech.  For me, listening to speech requires intense concentration with a focused stare at the speaker’s lips.  This staring has been misinterpreted many times, usually by people close to my age.

I first met Tony at a church-affiliated school while doing a short-term project.  At a staff meeting, the principal introduces me to the faculty and tells everyone that I am hard of hearing and need to lipread. I bump into Tony a few times around campus, and he tells me how he came to know God.  He is friendly every time I run into him, and I think to myself, “I hope he has a girlfriend or wife in the church – our denomination is hemorrhaging people from his age group.”

About six months later, I move about 30 miles closer to the church school.  I visit my favorite church and discover the new pastor preaches so softly that I can only hear 20-30 words out of the sermon.  I know from past experience that the sound person always has the volume on the sound system as loud as possible.  I then begin attending a larger church; my children and I attended this church from 1994 – 2005, and it was nice to see a few familiar faces from all those years before.  I sit in the same area of the church I used to sit in previously – close to the front where I can lipread and hear the sound monitors. I briefly see Tony at the church accompanied by a young woman who looks remarkably like my daughter, and thought – “Good for him!”

Despite my hearing loss, I play the piano, and when I see the church bulletin advertising auditions for musicians, I thought I’d try out for it.  The young woman I saw previously with Tony is the one doing the auditioning, and she introduces herself as Anna. I play some music and we talk for a little while.  I tell her about my hearing loss, hearing aids, and need for a speaker monitor close by when accompanying the praise team. She seems fine with my hearing loss, and in the course of our conversation mentions that she and Tony are married.

The following week, after the church service, I sit on the front pew, waiting for Anna to finish the Benediction.  Tony sits down on the front pew and we talk for a minute or so.  With a smile on his face he tells me he’s married, and I say, “I know” and keep talking.  Tony’s expression changes to anger, but he doesn’t say a word.  He stands up suddenly and leaves.  I think to myself, “Wow – that was abrupt!”

After the Benediction is over, I ask Anna to show me some of the techniques she uses to make her chords sound so nice.  She shares a few different “tips” and I have trouble understanding a couple of them.  I ask her to let me record her with software and she agrees.  I’m scheduled to play for the praise team the second weekend of the following month – in three short weeks.

The following week, I text Anna, and receive no response.  By this time, I’m desperate to learn the techniques so I have time to practice them by the time I’m scheduled to play. Since the congregation and praise team are both used to Anna’s accomplished piano techniques, I feel the need to improve mine so there won’t be such a glaring contrast. Knowing that my phone doesn’t always send/receive texts, I send her another text and still hear nothing from her.

The next week, I see Tony at church and his body language is very stern.   I attempt to say hello, but he ignores me. I’m not a confrontational person, and can’t figure out why he was upset, but decide to let it drop.

During the song service, I realize I can use my camera to record sound, and possibly learn at least one of the techniques from a recording without having to bother Anna.   Taking care to preserve her anonymity, I turn the camera face down and aim the lens at the pew in front of me, recording parts of two congregational songs.  The video consists of only the seat of the pew.  I’ve been recorded playing the keyboard/piano many, many times at other churches and didn’t think anything of it.

At the end of the church service, when the Sanctuary is mostly empty, I walk up to Anna while she’s still playing.  Again, to preserve her anonymity, I film only her hands on the keys, as done on the instructional DVDs and youtube videos I’ve watched. We speak briefly, and I mention that I recorded parts of two congregational songs earlier and she gives me a look of absolute horror.  I tell her that I didn’t film her – that the camera was aimed at the pew only and she is speechless, looks even more horrified, and leaves quickly.

Was I too proactive?  My interpreters in college constantly preached the importance of making sure necessary accommodations were in place, and I learned that lesson well.  While pursuing both my bachelor’s, then master’s degrees, I had note takers, interpreters, and for a short time – audio recordings of lectures.  In work staff meetings, I supplement lipreading with an FM system to bluetooth speech directly into my hearing aids. When I visit different churches, I always inform a board member or the pastor that a loop system for hearing aid users would increase enjoyment of the service for those with hearing loss, and that mere headphones aren’t loud enough for everyone with a hearing problem. In other words, I advocate for myself and for others.

As I stood there in the church completely, totally bewildered, the answer hit me like a ton of bricks.  I feel simultaneously nauseated and horrified.  No wonder both of them have acted very odd around me!  Due to my intense lipreading, they both thought I was FLIRTING with them.  When Tony informed me of his marital status, my nonchalant response angered him.  Why?  Because he thought I was disrespecting them!  I was floored to realize this.  Even now, as I type this, I feel sick to my stomach.

Having normal hearing people misinterpret lipreading for flirting has happened to me many times in the past, but NEVER with people so much younger than I.  Usually I’m able to notice, and clarify that I am lipreading, NOT FLIRTING, before things go too far.  But I didn’t catch on to it this time.  It didn’t occur to me that this very young couple might misinterpret my lipreading as inappropriate behavior. What a horrendous experience.

At this point in my life, it is tempting to remove my hearing aids, turn off my voice, immerse myself in the Deaf world, and use only sign language to communicate.  But that would be taking the easy way out. Yes, I am tired of expending the massive amounts of energy required to understand others, and have it be totally misinterpreted for something entirely different, and thus labeled odd and strange. But – instead of giving up on the hearing world, I will promote Hard of Hearing Awareness to the best of my ability, in the hope that one day this will be the norm:

Man:  “Are you hard of hearing?”

Woman:  “Yes, I am – you probably noticed that I’m lipreading you, right?”

Man:  “Sure did!”

Woman:    “Glad you asked.  I would hate for you to think that I’m flirting with you when I’m not.”

How can we better educate normal hearing people?  Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.  Thanks!