Noise

My boss sent me a message the other day and said that while he and my coworker were talking, they noticed that communication had “oddly” gotten better with me and my coworkers since we have been remote. I felt a ping in my heart and a dig to my self esteem.

Oddly is the word that got me!

Merriam-webster

Not uncommon, my boss is a victim of the standard ableist social construct and oppression of the hard of hearing.

If a person’s inner ear is not functioning properly, that means they don’t have the same ability to process sounds accurately as those with normal hearing. It is not just missing a sound or word or the volume of the sound but it is the quality of the sound. It is not knowing where a sound came from or maybe not recognizing a sound.

For most of my life I have been the odd one. I was the only one of the five children in our household that was hard of hearing, HOH. I was probably the only one with hearing loss in most of my elementary classes, which made me feel isolated and odd at times. Accommodations, compassion, or protection were not provided for me within my own family, my classrooms, or my workplace. However, dismissive attitudes and rude or insensitive remarks easily flew out.

Communicating (and speaking), hearing, listening, and comprehending go hand in hand. When a person is hard of hearing, it impacts all of these functions, just like Parkinson’s disease impacts various aspects of a person’s mobility. We don’t blame the person with Parkinson’s disease for his/her inability to perform at the same level as others without this condition. So why does society continue to ask and require unequal standards on Hard of Hearing and Deaf citizens and blame us when there is a communication breakdown.

It really is no surprise that I function better at home or that I am able to communicate better. Open space work environments create various noise levels; keyboards tapping, people talking, doors opening\closing, papers shuffling, copier, phones, and so many other low vibrations that all work together to create the work environment, but can greatly impede our ability to function in the office. For those of us who are hard of hearing, it creates an even greater obstacle.

On the other hand, my home is very quiet. I primarily message or email coworkers and customers. I also have headphones that I use for one on one conversations with a customer or a coworker when needed and for our meetings that are usually accompanied with Zoom.

What I don’t have at home are coworkers interrupting my phone conversations (like I can hear the customer and my coworker at the same time), or talking over others, or having several employees shouting over cubes, having loud conversations, nor do I have to manage conversations with multiple speakers and quickly changing topics, all of which are sounds competing with each other while my limited inner ear hearing ability tries to decide which sounds it will register and send to my brain for processing and which ones are inaudible and it cannot decipher. I don’t have to try and play catchup because someone decided to start having a conversation with me before letting me know they were talking to me.

Just for the record, I cannot work and listen at the same time. I don’t have that privilege. I either listen or I work.

Working remote, I don’t have to play office politics and fear offending someone (yes, they get an attitude with me for explaining my unique hearing ability) because they don’t understand hard of hearing people. Or feel misunderstood because I cannot keep up with the rapid conversations or quick wit that invokes laughter (I am still trying to hear the punchline or missed it all together) that some take as me being unsociable, or “not trying to fit in”.

It is difficult for a hard of hearing person in open space offices. Being remote in my quiet home is so much less stressful. My sound log is greatly reduced, which are less sounds to hear, and less sounds to process.

For me, because I have damaged inner hair cells, it means when sounds bounce off my hair cells, three things happen; it will produce no sound (deaf), a modified sound quality, or a lower\reduced sound volume (hard of hearing). I have NO normal hearing in either ear. And while I do wear hearing aids, hearing aids cannot reproduce or magnify a sound that is silent. Nor can it make a damaged hair cell sound normal.

New technology is advancing quickly in audiology over recent years, making sounds more crisp and identifiable.

I remember the first time I got hearing aids. I had been hard of hearing all my life so I had no comparison to what normal hearing was. My own voice was louder and clearer and I also could hear other voices better. While I have talked to my mother many times in person and on the phone, I felt like I was hearing her true voice for the first time. I remember telling her how beautiful her voice sounded to me.

However, modern medicine has not found a way to surgically repair the inner hair cells inside a human’s ear. When they are gone or damaged, it is for life. This is why medical professionals warn us about headphones and their concern for our children’s hearing health.

Have you ever looked inside a piano? It is a complicated mechanism that all work together to create the sounds for a great pianist. When those inner parts of the piano are not working properly or are not ALL in tune, what happens? Some keys may produce beautiful sounds. Some may not resonate any sound. And others may produce a lower quality or a sour note.

Now imagine having to explain which key equals which note solely based on sound and not looking at the keys. How do you think after a few hours of doing this you might feel? Somewhat frustrated? How do you determine a note if you cannot see nor hear the note being played? Now imagine having to do this for hours, at school or work every day. This is what conversations are like for the Hard of Hearing and Deaf.

Each time a hard of hearing or deaf person enters into mainstream society, we process our surrounding sounds differently than normal hearing people. We even process them differently than each other. No two HOH people are the same.

https://www.hear-it.org/prejudices

It is time for society to change their perception of what it means to be hard of hearing. It is not only an image of a senior citizen, or a sign of getting older, or someone who has “selective” hearing, or “hears what they want to hear”, nor are they “slow”, or “spaced out”, or “not paying attention”, or “not listening”, or has a problem “communicating effectively”. Nor did you “confuse” them because they did not hear your comment. All terms I have personally heard said to me among many others.

Lastly, we don’t need “normal hearing” people to explain the difference between deaf and hard of hearing or downplaying our experience. We know the difference much better than anyone with normal hearing. It would be like a white person telling a light skinned black person how much harder racism impacts darker shades of skin color. Or a person with two arms telling someone with one arm, how hard it must be for those with no arms. It is dismissive to what we encounter on a daily basis.

12 Ways Noise Affects Employee Wellbeing Health Productivity:

“Workers in open plan offices take 70% more sick days than home workers.”

https://resonics.co.uk/12-ways-noise-affects-employee-wellbeing-health-productivity/?fbclid=IwAR0NZfOO5__1gQC0FYMi1-4cPkVbslz4g3jl06j3JKhfmfoz9RUI30-1cbc

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.

IMG_0748.1

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.