I've read many humorous accounts of what NOT to say to deaf people on social media lately. They are rather funny in ways that those of us with hearing loss can chuckle at because it's a part of our daily experience. Some of the things people have said to me since I lost my hearing leave me scratching my head. A lot of people just don't understand. It doesn't bother me much. Most of them have no experience with hearing loss in their own circle of family and friends. I used to be one of those people.
These reads usually leave me musing about the times I've had similar situations, but I read a rather bitter (and angry) post this morning on one of the blogs I frequent. It set me back a bit, and I restrained from commenting, though my head was swimming with things I wanted to say to the author. There are so many myths and misconceptions that surround hearing loss that it's a bit difficult to navigate through them to find the truths. Even among the hard-of-hearing "long-timers", facts are often blurred by personal experiences, and opinions differ from one person to the next. There is also a proud and strongly assertive culture in the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community ready to assert those thoughts and opinions. They take their identity very seriously. And sometimes they take offense when others ask those "annoying" questions.
I straddle the fence between the worlds of hearing and hard-of-hearing. Being late-deafened at the age of 51, I clearly identify more with the hearing world than not. Even now -- two years after losing my hearing and one year after receiving my cochlear implant -- I feel little likeness with online cochlear implant friends. Most have been hard-of-hearing for the larger part of their lives, so unlike me, navigating the hearing world is second nature to them. I still feel awkward and lost much of the time. But even with my hearing aid and cochlear implant, I'm not really a "hearing" person either. So I feel a growing distance from that world, as well.
Maybe it's because I haven't lived a lifetime of hearing the same comments or answering the same questions repeatedly that keeps me more lighthearted at others' curiosity. I'm not really offended by your questions or comments when asked innocently, but know that when your curiosity gets the better of you, and you do ask me those questions I deem silly because they are blurred by myth or misconception, I am secretly giggling and adding sarcastic addenda in my head:
1. You can still drive? Yes. I know you are concerned about horns and sirens, but my car is well equipped with mirrors, and emergency vehicles have lights. I can SEE the emergency vehicles before most people can hear them over their radios and iPods. And I don't give a rat's ass about the honkers. Blind people can't drive. Deaf people can drive. It's amazing, I know. Right?!
2. You don't sound deaf. No. And I don't sound German or French or Canadian either. The speech patterns I formed and practiced for a half-century did not disappear because I cannot hear you anymore.
3. My grandpa has hearing aids! Well, isn't that special?! Are you implying that I am old?!
4. Can you hear me now? Haha! That is just too funny for me to even reply...(sigh)
5. CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? Yeah, because screaming at me always makes it better...(another sigh)
6. Are you lip-reading me? Yes. And I'm reading your mind, too... (eye roll)
7. So you know sign language now? Yes. Because when my ears stopped working, my hands automatically kicked in. Here's one I think you'll know... (hee hee hee)
Kidding aside, there is one thing I do take great offense to -- when people assume I am rude because I don't answer their question or respond back with a return "fine, and you?"
Remember that for those of us with hearing loss, seemingly simple things, like exchanging greetings, answering questions, or even conversing in noisy environments, are extremely difficult, and often impossible. We're doing the best we can.
Be patient and gentle with others this holiday season. The Muzak, cash registers, talking customers, babies crying, children whining, squeaky shopping cart wheels, snack bar blenders, demo TVs and stereos, loud phone talkers, PA announcements, appliance fans, automatic doors, security beeps, cell phone rings, cell phone talkers, text alert signals, Salvation Army bell ringers --- they are all terribly distracting and overwhelming to our senses. Please don't judge, and don't overreact too quickly. Realize that maybe there are a lot more people out there with hearing loss than you could even know.
Now there's a misconception I hope you'll avoid.