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Hearing Loss: An Invisible Disability
by Don Halpert

Hearing Loss is an invisible disability. There’s no white cane, no wheelchair, and there’s no visible reason why the person should not be able to participate in conversations without impediment. Yet, the effects of having a hearing loss are profound.

A common reaction from people who are not aware that the person they are dealing with is hard of hearing is that the individual is rude or not very bright. For example, I was standing in a grocery store with my 12-year-old daughter several years ago. She stood in front of me, gave me an exasperated look and kicked me in the shin. “Dad”, she said, “You are blocking that lady behind you”. The polite lady had been repeating, “Excuse me, Excuse me”. Of course, I heard nothing.

The first reaction of someone losing his or her hearing is denial. I’m reminded of the story of the man who was convinced his wife was losing her hearing. He stood 30 feet behind her and said, “Mavis, can you hear me?” No answer. He moved to 20 feet behind her and said, “Mavis, can you hear me? No answer. So he moved to 10 feet from her and said, “Mavis, can you hear me? Mavis replied, “Yes! For the third time, I can hear you.”

Hearing aids do not correct hearing in the manner that glasses correct eyesight. I miss high frequency noises. I can’t distinguish between ‘th’ and ‘sh’ or between ‘two’ and ‘three’. A few months ago, the department secretary came into my office and said, “Mary is on the phone”. “Mary who?” I said. “I don’t know any Mary.” “No,” she said “Mary”. I thought about that and repeated in my own confused way, “I’m sorry, I don’t know any Mary”. She got close to me and said, “Merrick is on the phone.”

Helen Keller said if she had to choose she would rather have her hearing than her sight because blindness cuts you off from things but deafness cuts you off from people. We are social creatures. The very nature of our humanness is our ability to communicate. That is the very aspect which a hearing loss makes more difficult.

Indeed, the difficulties of communication can be so great that it’s tempting for hard of hearing people to view themselves as “victims”, especially when fatigued Judy Connato, a hard of hearing minister, put it this way.

“After all, I reason, my life isn’t easy. ‘They’ should be more sensitive. ‘They’ should speak more clearly, make their voices louder, remember that I can’t hear when their backs are turned or lips are covered. When I slip into the role of victim, I endeavor to make my loss at least partially the responsibility of others. I have forgotten that this is my poverty, and therefore my responsibility to work out.”

I am taking responsibility when I let others know I have a hearing loss, how we can make our communication more effective and use technology to help in our communication. I am making my hearing loss visible and when I do so, I am reducing the effects of its invisibility and human debilitating effects on making human connections.

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