Recently, Amazon announced the Echo which is basically Siri (for you Apple fans) for your living room. Always on, it listens in that cute-stalker-watching-your-every-move kind of way and responds to your verbal commands and requests.
As one of the millions of deaf/HoH people in the U.S., (sort of), I was slightly south of ambivalent over the announcement. Truly a revolutionary product targeted for hearing people. (ADA and all that messiness not withstanding...) With minor modifications, I suppose you could BT the device into whatever screen you happened to be looking at, and have the output from Echo displayed as text to that device. But I kind of missed that product feature in the marketing fine-print.
And that got me thinking about how the hearing culture tends to view deafness as a disease, as something to be cured. Like the Mormons that come to my house and sign to me that God's grace means I can be "fixed" and become "hearing" in heaven. Wheee!
Whereas I think the simple truth is that most hearing people are just inconvenienced by us. Like the older white retiree in Rosarito who speaks loudly and slowly to the Mexican waiter at their table because they think that exaggerated speech will improve his English-listening skills. (Even after 10 years of living in this country, she can barely say "Gracias".)
Hearing people want to fix us in terms of moving our communication skills into their comfort zone as opposed to them actually trying to learn how best to communicate with us. And, for the record, I'm not talking about anyone having to learn sign language here. Simple things like facing us when you talk, not covering your mouth or face with your hands, speaking clearly and normally, and only one person speaking at a time. These are all very, very simple and standard things that hearing people could do to facilitate communication with us.
Even now, after two years, I still have to gently remind my boss to not cover his mouth with his hands when he talks, or to look at me when he speaks. Perhaps it's a +1 to my communication skills that he forgets I am not hearing.
And, inevitably, the question arises from someone once you've told them you're hard-of-hearing or deaf, and you labor (again) through the explanation of what it's like to lose your hearing. (I was diagnosed with atypical binaural Meniere's about five or six years ago - since then, my right ear has lost almost all hearing qualifying for a CI implant. The Meniere's on my left side has reduced my hearing loss to "moderate-severe" but, hey, bonus, every day it's a little worse.)
Go ahead. Try to explain what tinnitus sounds like.
There's all these videos on youTube that simulate hearing loss - but I can't judge them for accuracy since what I hear, normally, is what the videos call severe-profound loss. And noone of the video's, or hearing-loss simulators I've stumbled across, show you what hearing loss is like with tinnitus.
So, when a hearing person asks me what it's like, I really have had no answer other than to give that small, slightly-embarrassed smile, shrug, and just say that it sucks, exonerating them from further effort to empathize, and me from having to explain the inexplicable.
And then, it hit me on how to explain hearing loss: it's the little things. The small, tiny, things that are so seemingly insignificant that you don't even realize they're not longer there.
For example, any HoH or implanted person will tell you that putting on your devices in the morning is usually somewhat of a shock. Suddenly, once the devices power-up and complete the boot process, the hearing world is loud and filled with small noises that constantly accompany you. You do tune them out after a while, but the initial shock is somewhat similar to jumping into a ice-cold pool of water after a night of warm, fire-place equipped, drinking.
I may not be able to explain all the hideousness that is hearing loss. I may not possess the vocabulary, the skills to word-weave an accurate description because having someone imagine the loss of one of their senses is about as hard as getting someone without one of those senses to imagine what they're missing.
It's the little things you miss.
Like when someone walks into a room and asks you if you know it's raining. And I don't mean light sprinkle - I mean, a Texas-sized toad-strangler of a rain-storm.
You can't hear the baby crying in the next room and when the woman return from shopping, they're all glaring at you, red-faced and angry. Don't you hear her crying?!?
You think you're a ninja because your breathing is silent, and your footsteps are like snow flakes falling on a still pond. While the rest of the house hears "pant-pant clump-clump".
Beepers and buzzers elude you. You never know the exact moment the microwave, dishwasher, washer, dryer or oven dings/buzzes/whistles/tweets/chirps. You just watch it, or put your hand on it to see if it's still "on".
Waiters coming up behind you asking you if you'd like a beverage refill - and thereafter think you're rude because you ignored them.
The sounds your lover makes as they respond to your touch.
Not hearing the steak hissing, sizzling, cooking on the barbecue.
Company meetings are a cacophony of noise, overwhelming you, making you scramble for the volume-down controls of your devices. Everyone talks at once; you hear nothing and everything. Afterwards, you ask your team mates if there was anything important announced. You get back blank looks. Weren't you just in there?
Hearing the ocean waves. The sound of wind in the trees. Birds.
All these things, I remember. Some of them, I hear when I have my devices in so it's ok. Others, I have memory and recall.
And, to be clear. I'm looking only for understanding and comprehension from you, Hearing Person. I'm not looking for sympathy, or for stories about how you had to shout into the grammaphone-thingy sticking out of your Aunt Edna's ear back in Nana's parlor. I'm just asking you to be aware that there are things you can do better to improve communications between us.
If you're capable if imagining the situations I described, then you're capable of understanding what hearing loss is like. If you can understand what hearing loss is like, then you're also capable of understanding that I can't communicate with you as you communicate with others, that hearing aids don't make me hearing.
Look at me when you talk. Speak clearly and at a normal pace and volume. Don't cover your hands with your mouth. One person talk at a time, please.
It's the little things.