In the past month, I’ve listened to at least two stories involving the deaf community and was both enlightened and horrified. They reminded me of my own scant experiences with that community and brought my own acute fear of hearing loss to the forefront.
I remember back when deaf-blind/visually impaired children attended the then New York Institute for the Education of the Blind and we all happily played together, not caring about our differences. At that time hearing aids were worn over clothes. They resembled suspenders with a box in the middle of the chest and made the familiar, high-pitched feedback sound when adjusted. These children were schooled in a different building, but we witnessed their daily struggles and triumphs in the girls’ dormitory.
Years later, a deaf-visually impaired woman attended our alumni weekends. She seemed a pleasant person and I longed to exchange more than perfunctory greetings. I marveled at Maria’s ability to use American Sign Language to speak with her. I was mesmerized.
Recently, I sat riveted while listening to a Moth podcast (www.themoth.org) of a young woman who had been raised by deaf parents. Her story began with the father jumping out of their truck, dodging on-coming traffic to retrieve his little daughter’s sandal. True parental love, right? Though, the story progressed to the chilling account of his later relentless attempts to kill her mother. What?! I’d never heard or read about cases of deaf/persons with hearing loss being violently aggressive to that degree. I’d watched the award-winning actress, Marly Matlin, energetically and emphatically signing, but I think I might have attached the same mystical powers that are often attributed to people who are blind and visually impaired. That ridiculous, erroneous bubble was burst forever.
In an American Public Media podcast (www.americanpublicmedia.org), I learned about Sarah Churman, a married mother of two young daughters, who was deaf for 29 years. She recounted the difficulties (and sometimes fun) in lip-reading. Although she became extremely good at it, she admitted that it was mentally exhausting keeping up with the action and conversation. If she turned her head, she missed everything. This reminded me of how hard I’m working to use my failing vision and how I’m transitioning to being satisfied with the all-important audio information. Sarah was able to have expensive implants put in and turned on and she can now hear the voices of her family, music, and ordinary actions she didn’t even know had sounds. She is overjoyed and overwhelmed.
I realize that this is not an option for everyone in the deaf community. However, while listening to her viral YouTube video, I wept tears of joy along with her.
Do any of you have hearing loss as well as a visual impairment? Have any of you experienced difficulty communicating with someone who is deaf or has hearing loss? How have you gotten around that barrier?