How to be deaf (whatever works)

by | Nov 14, 2021 | Journal | 5 comments

I am a late-deafened adult with clear speech. Because I speak ‘normally’ people don’t seriously consider it when I tell them that I am deaf. They may speak more loudly and clearly for a beat but then forget.

Being deaf is not only a problem with volume, it’s also one of comprehension.

Every conversation that I have, every single day with almost every person I meet ends in frustration. The additive effect by the end of the day means I’m worn out.

Today I conducted an experiment.

I brought a small spiral notebook and pencil with me on my errands.  At the top of the page I wrote “I am deaf.”

At the pharmacy I added, “I would like a refill and my insurance has changed.” I slid my notebook with my new insurance card across the counter to the pharmacist. He wrote back, “I will make the change and get this transferred from your other pharmacy” and “would you like a text when it’s ready?”

Whoa — the interaction was stress-free! The pharmacist was extremely nice and didn’t seem bothered that he had to write those few sentences.

I was so relaxed/amazed/happy after the interchange that my eyes welled up with relief.

Contrast with my usual MO: I start a conversation stating that I am deaf by speaking the words “I am deaf.” The other person may try to speak loudly to accommodate me but I can’t understand the words. Then both parties get frustrated when I ask them to repeat themselves ad nauseum. Often I will give up and pretend that I understood.

I can’t comprehend 90% of the casual conversations that I am engaged in.

My second stop was Ace Hardware where I returned a space heater that didn’t work. Once again I used my notebook and the conversation ended with the cashier signing “thank you.” Success!

I forgot what it was like to have an interchange that didn’t leave me feeling dumb and alone.

The last stop was the bank to deposit a check for my partner. I realized my mistake in going through the drive-through because although I could see the teller on the screen, I couldn’t hear her. I was about to give up and go in the lobby when she began typing on the screen.

Oh joy! Another win!

Since I can speak, people assume that I can hear. That is not the case. I was able to communicate kindly today without saying a single word. I have struggled for so long but with my little experiment, I have a different way of communicating with the world.

I don’t know why I hadn’t tried this before. Maybe because my hearing has slowly eroded over time and I neither fit into the hearing world or the Deaf world. Maybe I didn’t want to inconvenience people. Maybe it felt too awkward or embarrassing. But the old way wasn’t working anymore.

I tried something new, something to help me and the people I talk to. I didn’t try to fit in. I tried to improve.

If you find yourself fighting an uphill battle, take a step back and try to do what’s right for you. It may be something scary and completely different. But it might just work out. You won’t know until you try.

See the Association for Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA) for an excellent article on tips that can help improve interpersonal communications with people with hearing loss. Part I contains tips for hearing people, and Part II contains tips for those with hearing loss and late-deafened adults.






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