October is Disability Awareness month.
Although I may look and sound just like all of you, I am somewhat different. I have been Hard of Hearing (also known as HOH) for most and possibly all of my life.
There are four classifications for hearing loss:
Mild, Moderate, Severe, And Profound (more commonly known as DEAF) Hearing Loss Chart
I have lost about half of the hearing in my left ear (Moderate loss) and about a third of the hearing in my right (Mild loss).
I also had a speech impediment as a child. Speech is closely related to hearing. Babies learn by seeing and hearing. If a baby cannot hear the sounds, they cannot mimic the sounds. When one or both of these senses is reduced or eliminated, learning can be more difficult but is not impossible. Helen Keller is proof of that.
Recent research in the United States indicates that close to 36 million people have a hearing loss – nearly one in ten Americans. 65 percent of people with hearing loss are below retirement age.
In addition, about 1.4 million school-aged children have a hearing loss and there are four major ways in which hearing loss affects children such as:
- It causes delay in the development of receptive and expressive communication skills, such as speech and language.
- Children with mild to moderate hearing losses, on average, achieve one to four grade levels lower than their peers with normal hearing.
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
“Which sounds, and how much of each sound a person with hearing loss misses, depends on the degree of loss. For the person who still has some hearing and is listening to speech, the missing sounds are often the consonants P, K, F, H, T, and S, and the Sh sounds.” Hearing Like Me
It’s important to understand that not all hard of hearing people are the same in their ability to hear. Some may hear some voices better than others. Some sounds may be heard easier than others.
Conversations in quiet places or small rooms are usually better heard than in larger rooms and/or noisy places.
Hearing aids do not provide perfect hearing, they only offer better hearing.
People who are HOH get used to common words, sentences and phrases. We may not hear every word in a sentence exactly. If we hear the sounds that sound like “How are you?” or if we hear part of the sentence or some words, we can fill in the rest of the sentence or question. Hearing Loss Simulator
People’s names are the same way. If someone new introduces themselves and has a common name that I have heard many, many times, I understand their name. However, if it is someone with an unusual name, one that I have never heard, I may have to ask them to repeat it several times. Some may think I am being insulting. I have to explain that I am hard of hearing. If they speak with an accent, it adds more difficulty. Sometimes I may ask someone to write down their name.
Even as adults, training and learning can be a challenge. We use our sight and sound to learn. If we cannot hear the training, we can’t learn the work to be performed.
The key to communicating with a hard of hearing person is to be near them and preferably facing them while you are speaking with them in your normal speaking tone. This is for two reasons. The vocal sounds are going directly in the direction of the HOH person. And secondly, seeing facial expressions and mouth movements can be helpful to HOH persons visually interpret and understand conversations better. Otherwise, you may have to repeat yourself often.
Some facts: Americans with a disability were initially protected under the The Civil Rights Act, a bill that was called for by President JFK in his civil rights speech in 1963 and later signed into law by President LBJ.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month was declared in 1988 by the United States Congress for October to raise awareness and to recognize the contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities in the workforce.
By 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, a law that prohibits, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability. Senator Tom Harkins delivered part of his introduction speech in sign language so his deaf brother could understand.
Americans with disabilities are the nation’s LARGEST MINORITY group and one that any “non-disabled” person can enter at any time. Fewer than 15 percent of disabled Americans were born with their disability.
As for the hard of hearing and deaf persons, unlike other disabilities, hearing loss is unseen and often is misinterpreted. I could share a few stories of my own experiences but that’s a story for another blog post. Ultimately, patience and a little compassion go a long way while communicating with people who are hard of hearing.