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I, like many people, suffer from hearing loss. While some of my inability to hear well comes from just being old, which, let's face it, I am, my deafness in one ear happened when I was a mere 31 years old and is the result of some kind of bizarre virus which caused extensive nerve damage. I have been deaf in one ear for a very long time.
In the beginning, it was pretty awful. Aside from just being deaf in my right ear, I also experienced a constant level of white noise which sounds a lot like that horrible sound that you get between radio stations on a stereo. For awhile it caused me quite a bit of misery. The constant irritating noise created a certain level of anxiety as you can imagine. I notice it a lot less now, of course, proving that the human mind is remarkably adaptable. I still hear it all the time but I am far less aware of it than I used to be. It was either adapt and deal or go crazy. I opted for dealing with it over insanity.
I have problems hearing things, or more specifically, understanding what I am hearing. I miss a lot of dialogue in movies and in videos. Closed captioning is often my best friend. I cannot be anywhere where there is a lot of background noise and expect to understand what anyone is saying. In a noisy sports bar or restaurant I am completely unable to understand any conversation. I usually just smile and nod and hope I'm not agreeing with anything particularly awful. If someone is sitting to my right and talking into that ear I am hopeless. I can only talk on the phone if I hold it to my left ear, which can be inconvenient at times.
The funny thing is that increasing volume rarely increases the likelihood that I will be able to understand what anyone is saying. When people are talking it isn't about volume, it's about diction and enunciation. I discovered this when I was watching an episode of Star Trek with my kids. When the British actor playing the captain spoke I understood every single word that he said no matter what the volume of the TV was. His vowels were so round and his consonants so precise that it was clear as a bell to me. I realized that I could best understand people at any level of volume when their diction was really good. The average person does not have great diction. We slur our words, use our vowels harshly, and have soft, mushy consonants. For someone with my impairment, it is irritating and frustrating. Sadly, I am not usually hanging out with highly trained, British Shakespearian actors, so I miss a lot.
I have discovered something interesting over the years about how people react to others with disabilities. If we see that someone is on crutches or in a wheel chair, or walking using a cane or seeing-eye dog, we are immediately aware of their disability and experience a feeling of compassion and a desire to assist them if they require it. No decent human being would ever feel it was appropriate to make fun of a disabled person or make some joke about their condition. Oddly, I have had many people do just that to me over the years when I feel it is necessary to inform them of my inability to understand what they are saying. The most common response has been for people to cup a hand over their ear and say, “Ehh?”, in a really loud and obnoxious voice. I have had people respond by shouting at me and speaking very slowly as if I were an idiot alien and then laugh afterwards as if they have done something terribly funny. In recent years I have had people walk closer to me and ask, “Can you hear me now?” and then laugh. I believe they get that one from some cell phone commercial.
I have sometimes wondered if people feel comfortable making a joke out of my hearing impairment because it is not severe enough to render me entirely deaf or because it has no physical manifestation. I would hate to think that they would think it was something to poke fun at if I were using sign language. I wonder if people would feel it was OK to make fun of someone who was not totally blind but wearing a patch over one eye or not totally crippled but just dragging one foot behind them. It is an interesting question.
I don't get offended or mad when people poke fun at my disability since doing so would be a waste of time. I only tell people about it when I think that it might adversely effect our interaction or communication. I don't want people thinking that I am ignoring them deliberately or not paying attention. I only know how I would respond to someone like myself and I don't much concern myself with how anyone else does. That is up to them. Sometimes not being able to understand what people are saying isn't all bad. Sometimes it isn't worth hearing anyway.
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