Month: June 2013

Fun things about being hard of hearing

I was listening to a some commentary and swore to Buddha I heard the person refer to reviewing a “tit sheet.”  I admit to sitting there, stunned for a few moments, until I realized the speaker was talking about a “tip sheet.”  It could have just as easily been a “tit sheep” I suppose.

The bottom line is that those of us with hearing loss in the “speech banana” (see below) part of the audiogram usually have problems getting some easily confused words.  It may seem clear as a bell to a fully hearing person, but for those of us with hearing loss it is as confusing as they’re, there, and their to those who  have no idea how to use the words.

I’ve just discovered that “trunk” shouted from upstairs and around the corner could as easily be “bunk” and requires a trip upstairs and around the corner to figure out what’s being asked of me.  And even when I figured out it was “trunk” I thought it was about a car rather than a cedar chest.

And so life goes…

Eh?  What’s that you just said? Maybe it would be easier to just text…  I’m now green with envy since I know someone with a CI who now has only “mild” hearing loss whilst I’m not a candidate for a CI.   😦

Nod to for the speech banana graphic


The Lingering Stigma of a Wrongful Conviction…

Wrongful Convictions Blog

From source:

Wrongful convictions are disturbingly common. In the USA alone, over 1,050 innocent people who were found guilty in court have subsequently been exonerated. A new study, the first to systematically study stigma towards convicted innocents, finds that the old adage is true – mud sticks. Convictions may be overturned, but stigma persists.

Kimberley Clow and Amy-May Leach surveyed 86 psychology students in Canada about either “people who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime”; “people who have been convicted of a crime that they actually committed”; or “people in general”.

The students rated wrongfully convicted people in a similar way to offenders, including perceiving them as incompetent and cold, and having negative attitudes towards them.  Although the students desired less social distance from the wrongly convicted compared with offenders, they preferred to have more distance from them than people in general. And while they expressed more pity for…

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Ian Noon: The impact of concentration fatigue on deaf children should be factored in

The older I get the more fatigue I experience after a long day of concentration on what is being said.

The Limping Chicken

I went to a great conference today. It was riveting and I was hooked on pretty much every word.

And then I got home and collapsed on the sofa. I’m not just tired, I’m shattered. I’ve had to turn my ears off to rest in silence and my eyes are burning. I’ve also had about 3 cups of tea just to write this paragraph.

Boo-hoo, so the Noon is tired, so what? True. People go through worse.

But I do also think the fact that the impact of deafness doesn’t just manifest itself in communication is ever really that well understood. It’s about the energy involved in lipreading and being attentive all day long.

Processing and constructing meaning out of half-heard words and sentences. Making guesses and figuring out context. And then thinking of something intelligent to say in response to an invariably random question.

It’s like doing jigsaws, Suduku…

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Why we must care about police conduct

from the Robert Tanenbaum Website

Echos of My Soul by Robert K. Tanenbaum should be required reading for every American. Why?  Because this case is exactly why there are activist groups challenging prosecutions and convictions.

Few Americans have any concept of how easy it is for the police to extract a false confession. In the case detailed in this book, it isn’t even that the police were corruptly attempting to pin a murder on a young black adult man, George Whitmore, Jr. with an IQ below 70.  The police were so zealous, so intent, and so wiling to believe he was THE ONE that they made him THE ONE.

from the New York Times

We tend to forget that by going after the innocent and fixating on an easy target that we let the person who actually committed the crimes run free and commit more. George Whitmore Jr.’s mistake was in talking to a police officer, telling him that he saw the police chasing the actual murderer, and then telling the officer where that man went.  There is a reason many people in crime-ridden neighborhoods are afraid to talk with the police, and being targeted while innocent is one of them.

Anyone who is not a cop is at a decided disadvantage in a police interrogation.  I have worked hand in glove with the cops and I appreciate the good they do and the tough situations they face.  That being said, if I were on the receiving end of questioning by the police I’d be apprehensive and looking for a lawyer ASAP.

If arrested, or even taken in for questioning, the best thing to do is to refuse to speak with the police until you have a lawyer present. Then remember that each time you say something to the police that you have to invoke your right to remain silent and to have an attorney present all over again. It isn’t easy to do.  Police detectives are the masters of silence.  People want to fill in the silences and they also think that if they can just talk long enough and explain enough and attempt to please the officer enough that everything will be okay.  Rarely is it okay if you’re cooling your heels downtown.

In particular, individuals with a low IQ, people who are deaf – as well as those who are not native English speakers, people who are mentally ill, people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol – and more – are all vulnerable.  Long interrogations which result in sleep deprivation, and deprivation of food and water, as well as physical and mental abuse can lead to false confessions. Even the questions that are asked and the accusations which are made can lead to false confessions.  It can’t be said too often that the police are allowed to lie to the suspect about evidence they do not have, confessions of alleged co-defendants that never took place, and so on and so forth.

There are too many innocent people in the criminal justice system, in jails, in prisons, on probation, on parole.  There are a lot of folks who have made false confessions or plead out because they felt they had no other option, even though they were innocent of the crime with which they were charged.  And when we take the innocent it means that the person who is actually guilty is still out there.

If juries had any idea how much exculpatory evidence is suppressed they’d be stunned.  That’s right – not all evidence comes in.  Evidence on both sides can and is excluded for a variety of reasons from rape shield laws protecting rape victims to being too inflammatory.  Having sat in on criminal trials and hearing exculpatory evidence being excluded is chilling. How can the jury get it right if there is documentation that the witness lied or that the evidence is not what it seems to be?  However, the tendency of the jury to automatically decide the defendant must be guilty or the case would never have gotten this far tends to make me wonder if exculpatory evidence would be ignored anyway unless it was overwhelming in nature.

In America we talk a good game about defendants being considered innocent until proven guilty, but in a media driven society – more so now than ever – many people are tried and convicted before they ever get to a courtroom. Most Americans who sit on juries figure that if the system has gotten that far the person MUST be guilty… right?  And, admittedly, sometimes the only real question facing a jury is just what level of crime the individual committed when the prosecution and the defense cannot agree to a plea bargain.

Felix Garcia was a vulnerable person snared into the criminal justice system.This is why people who cannot understand the consequences of their statements should not be making them.  This is why we must provide a high standard for accepting statements. And while I understand how staggeringly overworked the prosecution is these days, we can’t afford to have standards lower than that of the legendary District Attorney Frank Hogan or Assistant District Attorney Mel Glass.

I am not saying that individuals with low IQ’s, with literacy or language deprivation, etc. can never be guilty of a crime.  Certainly, everyone has a breaking point and can do something wrong.  However, it is also true that not everyone is guilty of the crime they’ve been convicted of nor do some people understand the ramifications of their actions.

Studies  indicate that our prisons are now warehouses for the cognitively impaired, the mentally ill, the deaf, and other groups who are particularly vulnerable.  Prisons are not suitable places to house those groups.  If an impaired prisoner is actually guilty, there needs to be another form of confinement where the prisoner is provided with rehabilitative care while protecting the community. A psychotic who hears voices needs to be in a controlled medical/psychiatric environment, not a general prison population. A deaf person who is neither literate in English nor fluent in ASL needs habilitation to the point they can participate in their own defense and not railroaded into prison.

Take the challenge. Read the book. Get a look at how wrong it all can go. Then look me in the eye and tell me why you think that we should let Texas continue to execute people who are seriously “mentally retarded” by manipulating what mental retardation (cognitively impaired) means.  Have a conversation with yourself, your higher power/God, your neighbors, your friends.  What if this were you, your son, your brother, your friend? Could never happen to you?  Don’t be so sure.

Articles on George Whitmore, Jr.


The Career Girl Murders – Crime Library 

The Innocence Project 

The Boston Globe

Fierce or fierce advocacy?

An Internet friend commented to me that yesterday’s blog was “fierce” for addressing head on the problem of what amounts to English illiteracy among many, but certainly not all, the prelingually deaf – and also wondered if I’d had incoming fire from the Deaf Community over it.  Not yet.  But there is time – yesterday were the SCOTUS decisions on same-sex marriage and that filled the field.

ASL is not English.  It has it’s own syntax and grammar.  I love it for what it is.  I do not expect it to substitute for English.  Perhaps this is because I am hearing impaired rather than part of the Deaf Community or because I am what the Deaf community calls “oral deaf.”  I heard well enough early in life to sound like any other native English speaker from the Nebraska area (I have what is known as a Nebraska or Newscaster’s accent.) Perhaps it is because I had dyslexia and struggled madly to learn to read and write English, and once I had the “Aha!” moment I immersed myself in the English language. That being said,  I could not identify a gerund if my life depended on it, but I know how to USE the language that is dominant in my homeland.

I am not a native ASL speaker.  Therefore, my sentence construction and grammar leave something a lot  a great deal to be desired.  I figure I have the rest of my life to work that out because, insofar as I am aware, no one who is a native ASL speaker is going to refuse to hire me or give me a bad grade, or sanction me in some meaningful way because my sentence is backwards as regards ASL sentence construction. The same cannot be said in reverse.

Now, granted, I won’t be an Interpreter for the Deaf any time soon because (a) I’m not able to hear well enough to be a “terp” and (b) I’m not Deaf enough to be considered for a position as a Deaf Interpreter. Nor am I facile enough (yet) to be hired by facilities who recruit ASL speakers for all positions from nurse to receptionist.

However, there are two disabilities that substantially interfere with employment:  blindness and deafness.  Now the Deaf Community folks have explained to me that being deaf is not a disability. I’ve heard the exact same thing from the blind community.  However, no one can argue that when upwards of 80% of each community is unemployed, unless they go out and create jobs for themselves, that there isn’t a barrier to employment.

The Deaf believe they can pretty much do anything a hearing person can.  That may or may not be true, just as the blind believe they can basically do anything a sighted person can do with just a few restrictions.  What I will say is that one thing I have run into pretty consistently, from the very first time I interacted with a deaf person (my first boyfriend) is an inability to adequately communicate in writing.  Why?  Because ASL is not English.

Personally, I prefer ASL to SEE, but I believe that SEE is preferable for educational settings so that a deaf or hearing impaired child learns English in sign and English on the paper.  I do believe that all seriously hearing impaired or deaf children should be bilingual.  They need sign early and often and they need oral abilities.  There’s a reason why.  Education and employment, firstly, and God forbid they end up involved in the legal system because without understanding English it is a nightmare.

There are Deaf lawyers – I know quite a few – and so far I don’t know one who is not oral deaf.  Some sign, most don’t sign much, and they’re all pretty darn literate in English and legalese.  They have to be.  It is their trade.

The scary part for me is representing someone who has extremely poor language skills.  I have met people from Vietnam who needed interpreters and yet were more skilled at navigating the legal system than most of the deaf individuals I’ve worked for.  If an individual can’t tell the difference between the defense and the prosecution we’ve got a huge problem.  If the individual can’t read and understand even basic forms associated with the court system, we’ve got another enormous problem.

Since Deaf literacy is so low (estimated to be 3rd to 4th grade in most studies) there are a lack of words and concepts to convey necessary information.  If there is no understanding of a complex concept then I’m left spending hours trying to convey information that is absolutely critical and yet may never be understood by the person I’m trying to explain to.  Deaf Interpreters may not be able to explain it either.  Call me crazy, but I don’t believe most Deaf with minimal English skills spend a lot of time watching Law and Order with Closed Captioning. There’s a reason studies since the 1990’s have pointed out that fully 20% of the deaf in prison were not able to participate in their own defense and should never have been tried.

This is one of the reasons that when I tutor bar exam students I refuse to accept text message lingo from them in texts or emails.  Because I am a pain in the butt?  I’m sure there are a few who’d agree, but mostly it is because we humans default to our lowest level of functioning when we’re under stress – stress in court, stress in a job interview, stress while taking the bar exam, you name it. So the higher the functioning level the better the overall outcome regarding communications.

I do get push-back.  I get it from bar exam students who sometimes have to fail a couple of times in order to get it that they need to listen to what they’re being told.  I get it from the Deaf Community – largely because I’m told I’m not deaf enough to understand.  I get it from those I’m doing my best to help with their legal issues.  I don’t expect someone who cannot function at a certain level to miraculously learn to do it overnight.  That’s water over the dam. What we need to focus on is making sure that under-education for the deaf/Deaf stops – now.  Today.  And for those who attempt to write English as if it is ASL, realize that if you want something – a job, a good grade, whatever, you need to communicate adequately with the person you’re talking too.  Many years ago I learned that it is the person making the communication who is responsible for making sure it is understood (with a few exceptions). It’s probably why I beat a topic to death – I am trying my hardest to make sure the message is both received and understood.

My English is not perfect, yet it is good enough that I can get a job.  No one has to question if I can read instructions well enough to understand them.  It doesn’t take being a wordsmith to have an adequate command of the English language.  However, unless someone is at least a 5th grade level of reading and writing comprehension, we’ve got problems.  It doesn’t mean that person is stupid – because they can be a brilliant dyslexic, but they’re going to have problems in the world at large with education and employment.

So if I am “fierce” regarding the ability of the deaf and hard of hearing (or hearing impaired, take your choice) to be able to communicate, it is because I see that as the only  way we have of getting a decent education and adequate employment.  It can be labeled as “audist” by deaf activists or it can be understood as the reality of the world in which we live.  I can only assume we do all live in the same world, else this would be written in Martian, yes?

Shouting Won’t Help – Late Deafened Adults (LDAs)

Ms. Bouton and I have one very distinct difference.  She could hear at normal levels out of both ears for the first 30 years of her life and as such she is a Late Deafened Adult (LDA).  I have no recollection of being able to hear at normal levels out of both ears – or one ear, for that matter.

I can remember hearing better than I do now, but I have no recollection of binaural hearing. I can’t quite wrap my mind around how that even works. And I’m not sure how to quantify the difference between what I heard as a kid or young adult and what I hear now; only that I once had perfect pitch and no longer had it by my late 20’s.

I don’t have hearing above, below, to the left, in front of or behind as Ms. Bouton describes. It all comes from the right.  Consequently, if I hear a noise I equate with emergency from a scream to a siren, I automatically look first to the right.  Then I check behind and finally to the left.  Up and down is generally not an issue.  Very few fire trucks arrive overhead or underground, thank God!  Bombs away!  Incoming emergency vehicle!

Once I was fitted with bicros hearing aids. That involved a hearing aid in my right ear that was connected by a wire than ran through my hair to a receiver and transmitter in my left ear. I was told I could use the phone with my left ear.  That would be a “NO.” I was also told I would understand the directionality of sound automatically.  Um, that would be a “NO” as well.  Nowadays cros and bicros aids no longer require wires. Yet, I’ve never bothered again – my brain just isn’t wired to tell the tiny time lag from the sound coming from the left.  It’s been too long, apparently. And with the cost of hearing aids, I cannot imagine trying to pay for bicros aids these days!

I do have a microphone that I can clip to a shoulder or my shirtsleeve (with a wire, of course ) that I can use to listen in on things from my left.  Only it never really seems to work as it is supposed to. I can run it down my arm and hold it in my hand at a party – which also never works because there’s so much NOISE  at a party.  Who thought that up? A hearie, I’m sure.  Of course, they don’t work well for me because I have to have both sound and the physical elements of speech.  Unlike many LDA’s, I don’t remember ever being able to talk with someone without staring at them with rapt attention.

It should be noted that many guys think I’m really “into” them when I’m lip reading.  I’ve had guys try to tell me that they’re just not “into” me and then look nonplussed when they find out I’m half deaf rather than expressing exceptional interest in them.  What? You mean you’re not lusting for me?  Oh, no!  Perish forfend!  

Lip reading (now known as speech reading) alone is useless to me.  In fact, other noise interferes with my ability to lip read. Speech can be useful without lip reading in certain circumstances (those CD books with professional speakers) but generally I need both speech and lip reading to understand what is being said.

I also have an FM system by Phonak that works with my Phonak Naida hearing aid.  I’ve got gizmos and gadgets and in the end, I’d rather be really good at American Sign Language (“ASL”) and talk to people with my hands and listen with my eyes.  But, since this isn’t a perfect world, I’d rather sit across from someone in a quiet room and both watch and listen as they speak.

I guess a lot of LDAs really are into denial.  I’ve always known I don’t hear well.  I’ve always had accommodations of one kind or another in school.  I grew up being called “half-deaf” until I had a rehab counselor tell me I couldn’t use the term deaf.  I find I’m really sort of annoyed with the deaf, Deaf, hearing impaired, hard of hearing rigmarole.  I’m a bit tired of being defined by activists in any community.  I’m me – get over it.  Someday I’ll be totally deaf and I’ll still be me, just a different version of me – more dependent on text messaging.

I grew up telling others, “I can’t hear you.”  My thought process went something like this:  You want something from me?  Then talk in a way I can understand you.  That included teachers who were being paid to teach me.  I ended up getting in teacher’s faces by the time I got to college.  I figured my tuition paid their salary; they could make sure I got what I needed.  It never occurred to me to hide my hearing loss.  I guess I was lucky in that regard.

This isn’t to say that I don’t suffer from isolation as a result of my hearing loss. I’ve never quite figured out if I’m a loner because I’m a loner or because I have hearing loss. Am I an introvert because I have hearing loss or because I’m hardwired to be introverted?  Do I avoid noisy situations such as parties because of my hearing problems?  Yes!  Unless there is ASL being spoken I would rather be anywhere else than a noisy party. What is it with extroverted hearies, anyway?

However, the lack of denial doesn’t make me any more able to cope with the world as it is – which is a world designed for people with all body parts in full functioning order.  Just like individuals who are in wheelchairs, use walkers, are blind or have other problems, the deaf and hard of hearing are always behind the curve when it comes to keeping pace with the fully able bodied. I was mainstreamed in school (what a nightmare),  grew up in a hearing world as a half-deaf person, and  primarily know hearing people. My family does not use ASL.  I am not a part of either world – the Deaf or the Hearing.  I’m in that Never-Never-Land of the folks who hear too well to be Deaf and don’t hear well enough to be Hearing.  One difference is that I’m willing to learn ASL and let go of the hearing world if only I had enough exposure to the Deaf Community so that I could fully integrate.

I’ve never experienced a sense of profound loss over my hearing.  I did lose a career (social work) over my progressive hearing loss and that was Kubler-Ross stages of loss grief that went on for a few years. In the end, though, I’ve found you can take the social worker out of the field of practice, but you can’t take the social worker orientation out of the person. I’m still as focused on community action and improvement of the lives of others as I’ve ever been – I just express it differently nowadays.

Unlike the “Deaf Community” I do acknowledge that hearing loss is a hidden disability.  In fact, it can be a profound disability in certain segments of the deaf community where members lack overall language skills.  As a member of many deaf oriented FB lists I see on a daily basis that those with ASL as a primary language are frequently incapable of writing English in a coherent manner.  I live in an English speaking society, so someone who writes in ASL sounds uneducated or even mentally impaired in some cases. It makes it far more difficult for the deaf to achieve employment parity with the hearing.

Shouting Won’t Help

I’ve been perusing the book Shouting Won’t Help by Katherine Bouton and am fascinated by it.  I’m pondering buying a copy when I give this one back to the library. I’m sure it will spawn dozens of commentaries.  Today’s is from page 22, paragraph 3.  “I hear voices, but I don’t always hear words.

Oh, if only…

I suppose this is time to plug the book Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks because the hearing impaired/Hard of Hearing/or previously hearing deaf can literally hear voices that are not there without being mentally ill. But I digress…

In certain situations I hear voices.  In others I do not.  I have had people become angry (sometimes exceedingly so) with me for not responding when they spoke to me. I’ve been called snobbish, arrogant, stubborn, disobedient, and rude as well as  less savory terms. The problem is that unless I know someone is going to speak to me, I may not “hear” them speaking.  Oh, I may “hear” noise (in the environmental sense), but it is likely to mean very little to me unless it is a very loud, abrupt noise.  Or I may know a specific person is speaking, but have no idea that I’m the intended recipient of the communication so it is still just background noise to me.

On the other hand, in some situations where there is a sudden cessation of background noise or just the right angle of the moon and stars, I can hear something I would normally never be able to hear.  Then folks think I am lying about my hearing loss.  It begs the question of who would lie about being half-deaf.   My daughter used to accuse me of faking being deaf when I would accidentally catch her saying something she should not have been saying.  Ah, well, that’s kids for you.  I suppose she never toted up the 50 zillion times she got away with saying things I never heard.

If someone wants to talk with any hard of hearing person they need to get the person’s attention first and then speak directly to them. Other than that, it is just a bunch of lip-flapping going on and most of the late deafened figure the lip flapping is not directed at them. Either that or we’re hyper vigilant and figure everything is directed towards us – which is an exhausting experience.

In fact, when I do respond to something I think is being directed at me I’m often not the intended recipient of the communication and what I heard was not what was said.  For instance, “Where’s John?” becomes “Where’s Mom?”  Then I find out I wasn’t the intended recipient of the question anyway, which confuses matters further.  How do “hearies” sort all this out, anyway?  I have no idea.  Is there a secret handshake or something?

Let’s move on to the issue of words.  If I do hear a voice, and I’m engaging in an attempt to hear and understand, we still have the issue of words.  I suspect the words “John/Mom” don’t sound alike to hearing folks, but they do to me.  Not only is there word confusion, such as when I was a child and thought a cobweb was a cowweb, but even focusing on what is being said, lip-reading with all my might, I often miss entire words or parts of them so that I’m left grasping at verbal straws. Sometimes my brain will fill in the blanks correctly.  Sometimes I’ll stop, think about what I believe I heard, then realize it could not be possible, then say, “Eh?” “Excuse me?” “Could you say that again?” “What?” or variations on that theme. I’ve been told I get a blank look as I’m trying to put the words together, which precedes one of three options: a question to clarify, an agreement coupled with a “deaf nod,” or  a non sequitur response.

I’ve been known to repeat a sentence to the point of the missing word and then asking the person to spell it if the precise communication is necessary.  In professional situations it is often necessary to understand exactly what was said rather than getting an approximation. It is one of the reasons that when using Computer Assisted Realtime Transcription (CART), which uses word modules for Court Reporting,  I will go mildly whacko if a word module needed is not on board and a similar, but incorrect, word is substituted.   I was once at a deposition with Legal Interpreters and CART where I found I needed BOTH in order to follow what was being asked of the deponent because the CART operator was missing a few words in her modules and the substitutions were nonsensical to me.

I am totally deaf on the left side, like Ms. Bouton.  I have a hearing aid for the right side.  With my hearing aid I can probably hear as well as a fully hearing person if they have both ears plugged and are trying to hear someone talking to them while they are taking a shower in the bathroom with the door closed.  Welcome to my world.

Ms. Bouton comments that dealing with the “hearing impaired” is difficult.  I find dealing with the hearing difficult.  Just a different perspective, I suppose.