One of the best things I’ve read about deafness recently is on the SayWhatClub website. Michele Linder and Chelle Wyatt (Michele and Chelle) write posts about lip reading but, as they rightly point out, you can’t lip read unless people are looking at you, speaking at a reasonable speed, standing in a good light (and so on) and THAT doesn’t happen, more often than not, unless we take charge of the situation and ask for what we need. So their latest post is less about the mechanics of lip reading and more about how comfortable we are (or are not) with our hearing loss and making other people aware of it.
That’s a big topic. Sometimes I feel assertive about my deafness (in a good way) and in control of asking for what I need people to do. At other times I don’t. Sometimes I just get thoroughly fed up with deciphering/figuring out/guessing/asking for repeats and decide to opt out of the particular communication situation I’m in. Judging when to take which approach is a bit of an art form. I don’t personally believe that it’s possible, or necessarily a good idea, to demand to understand every bit of speech being uttered around me. It would drive me mad and it would drive other people mad. But the balance is hard to judge and sometimes I get it wrong.
A point in the SayWhatClub post that really resonated with me is the extent to which we stop putting ourselves in situations that are difficult (in hearing terms) and the effect that has on our self-esteem and confidence. Michele talks about people with hearing loss sometimes becoming timid. They start to shy away from doing things on their own, in case they can’t cope with situations where they need to communicate. She contrasts that with her own determination to keep on travelling alone, eating out alone and generally being independent. I don’t have a problem with the “travelling alone” kind of independence, but I’m very aware of sometimes taking the easy option in other situations, and of damaging my own sense of self as a result.
For example, I’ve posted before about my delight with the Next Generation Text Service (NGTS) in enabling me to use the telephone again. However, I confess that I don’t use it nearly as often as I would have picked up the phone in the old days. I almost always (in fact probably “always”) assume that Nigel will make the call if it is about something affecting both of us. There’s no reason for him to, really. For example, a few weeks ago our vacuum cleaner broke down. I’m sure the vacuum cleaner repair company could have very easily handled someone phoning using NGTS (people are a bit phased initially, sometimes, but then they grasp what’s happening) but it’s “easier” for Nigel to make the call so that’s what happens. It’s great that he is so willing, but why do I shy away from doing it?
The other thing I will often do is choose the e mail option if both that and the telephone are on offer. I am a passionate believer that all major companies should offer their customers the right to contact them by e mail or some other text based option as well as by telephone. I have too often felt thoroughly disenfranchised and, yes, discriminated against, when only the dreaded call centre is on offer. On the other hand, I am sometimes guilty of taking the easy way out and banging off an email rather than picking up the phone (now that I can). For example, I recently wanted to know if I could send a text to my car breakdown company from my mobile if I broke down whilst out and about. Sometimes the signal isn’t strong enough for NGTS but is strong enough to text. I looked online. I easily found a text number on the AA and RAC websites but my contract is with Green Flag. I spent a good fifteen minutes poking around the Green Flag website, trying several different search options. Nothing. So I found a contact email address and sent off a message. Days went by. No response. Zilch. Eventually I rang them up (on NGTS) and got the number in about a minute. Of course, I could and should have rung them in the first place. Any hearing person would do that. Why didn’t I? Is it embarrassment? Have I suddenly become one of the timid ones? I never used to be timid.
Conversely, a couple of weeks ago I needed to chase up what was happening to my cochlear implant reassessment appointment. Eight weeks had gone by since the appointment with the consultant and I’d heard nothing. Deciding that “enough was enough” I got up one day, rang the hospital, discovered that they had made the referral, was advised to ring the Cochlear Implant Centre, did so, discovered that they had not received the referral, was referred to the manager and had the problem sorted out in about fifteen minutes, with an appointment letter in the post (a series of appointments for tests, concluding in August) a couple of days later. I felt confident, empowered and quite my old self.
And in that “and quite my old self” is the point I am (tortuously) trying to make. Unless we are careful, hearing loss eats away at our self-esteem in ways too numerous and insidious to mention. It’s one thing not to be able to hear things, to misunderstand, to ask for repeats endlessly and to miss the point. That’s bad enough. But if we also retreat from being the people we used to be and become (in our own eyes) a somehow-diminished version, that’s infinitely worse.
So let’s all gird our loins and ratchet up the bravery setting. It’s for our own good.