Hi. My name is Bonnie. And I have hearing loss.
The words that so easily roll off my fingertips and onto my computer screen aren't so easily said. At least not said without making an excuse or apologizing for an ineptness that I too often perceive in myself as a result of my hearing loss.
I have hearing loss. Not just a little bit, either. Without my hearing devices, I am virtually deaf. I can barely hear a thing. And with them, I am hard-of-hearing. As good as I think I am at context and filling-in-the-blanks of words I miss in an average conversation, I make a lot of mistakes:
"No, thank you," I say to the waiter who just asked me a question. I'm assuming he asked if I needed a refill. "Mom," my daughter says, "he asked if everything tastes ok." And we laugh out loud. But inside, I'm cringing.
It's been just over two years since I was thrust into an unfamiliar world of muffled voices and muted sound. Admitting that I am deaf is the easy part. Saying it to others -- not so much.
And when I finally do utter those words, it's often said with an apology for asking someone to repeat themselves for the umpteeth time or for a misunderstanding in a conversation or for asking for something I need to help me hear better.
Why is it such an embarrassment? I think about it a lot.
I think my hesitance comes from the stigma that hearing loss carries in our society. Hearing loss is often associated with old age. With helplessness. With ineptitude. Hearing loss jokes abound. Even greeting cards make light of old-timers who can't hear their friends and spouses. They evoke a lot of laughs. And the laughs are usually at the expense of those who, like me, cannot hear.
Truth is -- it's not funny at all. Hearing loss is an invisible disability that affects more people than admit it. If they would admit it, they would know how serious it is. And maybe the conversation about hearing loss can proceed without disparaging jokes, self-deprecating remarks, and age-old stereotypes that need disposed of.
Hearing loss isn't funny. Neither is asthma or diabetes or stroke. Where are the jokes about those?
(Thanks to Gael Hannan for the inspiration for this post.)