Friday, September 27, 2013

If I Had a Dollar

Still not funny to me.
If I had a dollar for every person who said, "You don't sound deaf" to me, I'd be in a financially sound position whereby I could enjoy an early retirement without having to change my champagne tastes.

In pondering this all-to-common occurrence, I am astonished at the number of people who would expect that just because I have profound deafness, that my half century as a "normal" hearing person would be negated as suddenly as my hearing loss, or that my speech would even be affected.

It's an interesting, if perplexing, commentary on our perception of what a "deaf" person should sound like. Or act like. I think the television and movie industry have done a great injustice in perpetuating the less-than-favorable stereotypes of deaf people. And it's even more interesting to me since I've learned that many people with hearing loss are actually late-deafened, like me, and don't fit this stereotype of what we think a deaf person should be at all. Not all of us can sign, or read lips. And most of us have no problems with articulation. We don't "sound deaf."

I have secretly begun to respond to comments like these in my mind... Well, I was going to stop off in the phone booth and don my blue tights, red cape, and super D (for deaf) shirt before I came over, but I was running a little late because of the traffic. You know, I only sound deaf when I'm wearing my superhero costume. The rest of the time, I'm incognito as a normal-hearing person.

Of course, before my hearing loss, I, too, carried the same stereotypes of people with hearing loss deep inside the recesses of my own cultural ignorance.

I didn't have a clue.

When I lost my hearing, I worried about so many things unknown to me. I worried that I would forget what things sound like, or that I would somehow forget how to talk, or that my perception of what "normal" speech sounds like would dissipate and I would regress into sounding "deaf." I worried that my hearing aids would be a visible sign of my aged and decrepit incompetence, and I was fearful that when people knew of my hearing loss, I would become a victim of ageism. I cried when I saw pictures of people wearing cochlear implants because I didn't want to look deaf, and I was fearful and overly sensitive of comments and jokes about getting old and going deaf. I worried that, in the eyes of those around me, my hearing loss would be equated with a loss of intelligence, and I would be relegated to a drooling fool.  I even put the question to my audie. "Will I still be able to talk?" (Hear the angst in my voice?)

She choked back a giggle, much like I do when my first graders say something cute and endearing. Then she reassured me that "at my age" I wouldn't have any speech regression. "You know how to form sounds and words and your knowledge of semantics and syntax are fully developed and ingrained in your speech," she patiently explained. "It won't change."

Whew. In all the things lost with my hearing, at least my speech will remain the same. The problem is that I remember all too well how things sound. And I miss the sounds I can no longer hear.

But I found that my perceptions of the deaf and hard-of-hearing have changed. Those I have met are multi-aged and they are multi-faceted. I am learning to look and hear beyond the stereotype I had formed before I knew better. And I hope that in some simple way, I am helping others to do the same.

It's a daunting task.

So this afternoon, after hearing my dermatologist ask about how things were going with my hearing loss, his nurse said to me, "I would've never guessed that you had any hearing loss. You don't act any different than anyone else" I quietly smiled and secretly calculated another dollar into my early retirement fund. Ka-ching... Maybe I should open another bank account.

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