Disability Awarness

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:

  1. It causes delay in the development of receptive and expressive communication skills, such as speech and language.
  2. Children with mild to moderate hearing losses, on average, achieve one to four grade levels lower than their peers with normal hearing.
  3. 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.

Growing up HOH

Picture of an infant wearing a hearing aid

Picture of an infant wearing a hearing aid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I never talked much about my hearing loss as a child.

My mother was informed of my poor hearing ability when I was at the age of five.  My kindergarten teacher noticed my hearing “problem” within the first marking period of school and alerted my mother.  My teacher believed my poor academic performance was a result of my inability to hear well.  I also had a speech impediment which may have alerted some parents, but as far as I know, this was the first time my mother became aware of my possible hearing loss.

In my mother’s defense, she was a single mom of three at the time.  I’m sure she was very busy.

I did not get properly diagnosed until I was in the second grade, which again was a result of the school suggesting I should be tested by an audiologist.  My mother had remarried by this time.  She and my step father took me to Temple University in Philadelphia to see an audiologist where I was diagnosed with a mild conductive hearing loss in my right ear and a moderate conductive hearing loss in my left.  The doctors were unable to establish if I was born with my hearing loss or if I had lost it at a young age.  They mentioned to my parents that I had naturally learned to read lips.  I had no idea I was doing it.  They said that considering my speech articulation and lip reading (with sound), I most likely became hard of hearing very young.  They asked my parents if I had been around any loud noises or if I had a lot of ear infections, both of which could have contributed to my hearing loss.

I had many ear infections as a child.  I remember crying with pain in the middle of night with little or no sympathy from my family.  I was often accused of overreacting.  A couple times, I got the blow dryer out and put it up to my ear.  I had heard this sometimes helps to soothe the pain.  I would have cut off my ear if I thought this would have relieved the pain.  To this day, of all the pain I have experienced, including a cut that needed five stitches, a broken toe, and giving birth two times, the aching from an ear infection is one of the worst pains I have experienced.

I’ve occasionally wondered if my hearing loss was caused by the many ear infections I had.  I’ve questioned how a parent would not notice their child having a mild or moderate hearing loss.  More importantly, I’ve pondered why a parent would ignore a diagnosis.

The decision was made; I did not need hearing aids.  As a result, life was challenging at times.  “Huh” and “What did you say?” became a part of my everyday conversation.

My siblings loved to make fun of me.  The hearing jokes were endless.  I had people tell me, “Get the wax at of your ears.”  Some accused me of being an airhead and tell me that my “blonde roots” were showing (I am a nature brunette), which I found out later as an adult that many other people like me have been accused of being an airhead too.  I had friends ask me if I was stupid and other times, call me stupid, playfully, because I didn’t get a joke.  I would have a delayed reaction on the punch line.  They assumed it was because I was slow.  It was because I was listening then processing which for me is a two part process.   In my later years, I often heard jokes that attributed my hearing impairment as a sign of aging or getting older.  I just laughed it off in my younger years.  But the one thing the bothered me most was how my family, friends and co-workers commented, ridiculed or hushed me up for talking to loud.  This is the one thing that really pissed me off.

Other than that, I would say I assimilated well to my surroundings with my hearing impairment.  However, at times, I did feel different and disconnected from my environment.  I truly believe that if my parents would have taken my hearing ability or lack thereof more seriously and if I had gotten the assistance that I needed earlier in my childhood development, I would have performed much better in school which would have improved my self-confidence.

I got my first set of hearing aids in my late 40’s.  Amazingly, I adjusted really well.  Previously, noises were muffled sounding.  When I put my hearing aids on, it was like my head opened up.  Think of how it feels being under water; closed and restrictive, right?  Then think of how it feels when you come out of the water.   That’s how wearing hearing aids feels for me.  It’s like I am going from under the water to out of the water; to much louder and clearer sounds.

One of the biggest adjustments was my voice volume.  I could hear my voice loud and clear.  Without realizing it, I began talking in a very low volume, which to me sounded loud when I was wearing my hearing aids.  For the first time in my life, I had people tell me that they couldn’t hear me and asked me to speak up.  I couldn’t believe it.  This felt great!  I began to understand my voice volume by the vibration in my throat.  That way, I could try to monitor my volume when I didn’t have my hearing aids on.

Another way to describe to someone who does not have a hearing impairment is to have one person put their hand over their mouth loosely and talk in a normal tone while the other listens.  Try to carry on a normal conversation for an hour or even longer.  See how well you are able to hear, interpret, and comprehend what the other person is saying.  See if you feel any frustration as a result.  Now imagine being in a large classroom and listening to your teacher sound like this as she verbally gives her lesson or listening to your boss and co-workers discussing important issues in a large meeting room.

Lastly, let me leave you with this.  If you speak to someone and they don’t respond, don’t assume they are being rude and ignoring you or that they are daydreaming.  It may be that they are deaf or hard of hearing.  And if someone asks you to repeat the information, please politely do so (without showing any inconvenience).  The key to communicating with a hard of hearing person is to be near them and preferably facing them while you are speaking to them in your normal speaking tone.  Understand that not all hard of hearing people are the same in their ability to hear.

Many hard of hearing and deaf persons don’t wear their impairment or disability on their sleeve.  Unlike other disabilities, hearing loss is unseen and often is misunderstood.  A little compassion and consideration goes a long way.

The Gift of Reading

"To be successful at reading comprehensio...

“To be successful at reading comprehension, students need to …” (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

You may be surprised to learn this, but I did not read my first book all the way through until I was nineteen years of age. Can you believe it? Part of this reason was because I was a very slow reader mostly due to my comprehension deficit. As a result, I got bored with the story and I got lost in the descriptions.

I realized much later that my slow comprehension was a result of my hearing ability or inability. I always scored very low in both reading and comprehension academically. I often had to re-read a paragraph and had trouble retaining or processing information. At first, I didn’t understand the correlation between reading and comprehension. I mean, when I read, I wasn’t listening to anyone; I was using my eyes to receive the information.

The problem is when a child is born with a hearing impairment or loses part of their hearing at a young age, their brain functions differently than a person whose has normal hearing. Unlike persons with normal hearing who receive and process information simultaneously, a child who is hard of hearing needs to focus first on receiving all the information needed. Then they process the information. It’s a two part technique; gather information, then analyze information. That’s not to say that everyone with a hearing impairment has the same level of comprehension or learning abilities or disabilities. Truth is, there are different levels of comprehension and some who are hard of hearing may be better at simultaneously processing information than others. But for me, it was more difficult and affected most of my academic studies.

At nineteen years old, my grandmother handed me a book. She said, “I think you will like this.” I told her that I wasn’t a very good reader and that I had never finished a book yet. But… I did agree to take the book home.

As I began to read a few pages, I became hooked into the story and the characters. Part of what interested me was the fact that this book was based on a true story. The author told of a story about two adolescent friends who got transported to concentration camps, then got separated by the horror of the holocaust, and then found each other many years later in America. It was truly a story of love and triumph, destiny and fate, strength and perseverance. I remember how happy I was when I read the last page. Not only because of this great story of two ordinary people overcoming enormous obstacles against all odds but because I finished my first book. I was thrilled that I accomplished something. To some, this may seem menial, but for me this was a huge achievement.

Sadly, to this day, I cannot remember the title of that first book. However, what I do remember is this. It was a small paperback with a picture of two hands and a long stem red rose on a black book cover background. My grandmother, who was born Germany, knew I liked roses and was hoping that would draw me into this story.

This book helped me discover what interested me, the genre I liked. Apparently, I liked true stories, autobiographies, memoirs, self-help and historical type books. Once I knew what I liked to read, I began to fill my brain with information. The more I read, the better I got. Reading and comprehending became much easier.

I’m thankful to the author who wrote this inspiring story. What a wonderful skill it is to share a story and have others share in that tale with you. To experience someone else’s life, joys, or pains. In true life, we may not have that opportunity. Reading helps us connect with people around the world. It allows us to walk in another’s shoes for a moment in time and understand more about our fellow human beings (past and present). It may evoke compassion in us to see someone’s heartache or it may bring out the fire in us and help us believe that we, too can accomplish anything in our own life. Or maybe it helps us to appreciate the life we have. Either way, I am grateful to all the writers out there as we continue to participate, giving and receiving, in this circle of storytelling.

Mostly I’m thankful to my grandmother. I would have missed out on so many stories if she had not shared that one little paperback with me. She gave me a perfect gift that day. Not just a gift of the book but the gift of reading, a lifetime of reading.BeFunky_GMOMMMA.jpg