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.