Written by Michele Linder
It is tempting to frame disability in the context of limitations. Certainly, Hard of Hearing (HoH) people face a communication barrier. That means they either find workarounds in situations where communication is a challenge, or give up and accept less out of life.
Getting hung up on what we can’t do is a natural tendency when we are going through the stages of emotional trauma that hearing loss forces upon us. However, we can choose to come out the other side a better person.
Fear is the vehicle for unnecessary limitations, and can rob anyone of a life well-lived. Having a barrier makes it easy to justify I can’t.
When others tell you that you CAN’T do something because of your hearing loss, it is your decision to accept or reject that limit. You determine what limits are acceptable, and those that are not.
One thing I really love about Rachel Kolb’s TEDxStanford Talk, Navigating deafness in a hearing world is that she makes the point above so clearly.
Early in the talk, Rachel speaks about the limits that others tried to set for her when she was a child. Luckily, she had parents who taught her to believe in herself, and that challenges are not outright limitations, which led to her becoming a young woman who knew she had choices.
Rachel talks about can’t around minute 13:26: “…when I came to Stanford, I was shell-shocked by this college social environment… it was very easy to think, “I can’t.” I can’t have a normal social life like another young person. But over time I’ve learned one very important thing: I have a choice. I might not be able to choose what is easy for me or what is difficult. But I can choose how to use the abilities that I do have… And by embracing the choices that work for me, I’ve experienced many rewarding things as a result.” I took Rachel’s way of looking at life with hearing loss and made it my own, and it was life-changing for me.
My list of how I got out of my own way:
- STOP FAKE HEARING!
When the information or conversation is important to you, you can no longer pretend that you heard what was said when you didn’t. If you continue to fake it when it matters, you are limiting yourself by letting learning opportunities pass you by.
There will always be times when you resort to fake hearing, but it is NOT a productive skill in most cases and it doesn’t teach you anything.
- Do NOT accept the limitations that others try to impose upon you.
As Rachel Kolb says in the video linked above (10:33), “I think back to that first experience, and I realize that I wasn’t the one who was limited, this other person was.”
- Teach yourself what you don’t know.
If you have no clue how to tell others about your hearing loss or how to ask for what you need, experiment. Try out different things and find what works for you. And, remember, what works for you might not be the same thing that works for me.
- Say what is true.
People with hearing loss share about the things that cause them anxiety—getting a haircut, ordering in a restaurant, etc.—and that’s a good thing. I often tell them, “Now tell the person you encounter in the situation exactly what you told me.”
You can alleviate all of your anxiety by simply stating what is true about your hearing loss and communication needs upfront in every situation. Some might think, “Saying all of that is just too much,” but if it gets the results you want, what is the big deal?
- Be proactive and check your attitude.
Stop waiting to react!
When I became a better self advocate and started telling people what they need to know about my hearing loss and communication needs effectively, I realized that a lot of the problems I was having were my own fault.
Example: From a social media conversation about face masks in a medical setting: Commenter 1: I am totally done with the mask mandate garbage… I wear a button on my mask that says, “Please face me, I read lips” and the receptionist talks to me with a mask on. She hands me a pen and pad of paper, and when I ask her, “How is that supposed to help me hear you?,” she presses some buttons and brings up a sign language interpreter on a screen. I tell her I don’t sign… I cannot communicate anywhere! Commenter 2: That sounds just like me. I am having the very same issues. It has gotten to the point that I only go out when it is necessary.
That is not to say that communication difficulties are not frustrating. They are. But having an attitude isn’t productive, and masks are going to be with us for a long time.
Society, especially those who deal with patients, clients, and customers, could be more aware of diversity and could use some sensitivity training. However, you can’t expect people to read your mind or to know how to communicate with them, so tell them what they need to know about you and your communication needs, and direct them.
Here is my truth: “Hi, I am a lipreader, but masks wreck my communication. I don’t use sign language, captioning is how I access communication. Do you have a live captioning option? If not, you will have to write to me for me to understand,” I also might bring up an ASR (automatic speech recognition) captioning app on my phone, but I would rather give the medical facility the opportunity to provide a live captioning option first, as ASR apps can be inaccurate.
Limiting interaction with people is not a rational solution, so why not learn how to tell others exactly what they need to know about your hearing loss and communication needs.
- Realize that you have more control and options than you might think.
Having a communication barrier is a big enough obstacle. Don’t be the stumbling block in your own path. Learn to accept and embrace who you are with hearing loss and put into practice good self advocacy and communication skills. It helps to be creative and flexible where those two things are concerned, and the only way you will find what works for you is to experiment; then, practice, practice, practice. When you start to get good results, you won’t believe how empowered you feel!
(No companion podcast.)