Q:  At the start of every holiday season, what’s more common than cookie recipes and decorating ideas?

A:  Articles on how to survive the holiday season!

They fall like snowflakes on social media, these survival-blogs that offer advice on coping with the annual issues of season – loneliness, depression, finances, family dysfunction, grief—and hearing loss.

The last one is my particular specialty: I’m a HoH (hard of hearing). Along with other hearing loss writers, I create yearly Brace yourself, HoHs, here come the holidays!” pieces, including  A Hearing Loss Letter to SantaIt’s Me Again, Santa – The Lady with Hearing Loss, Happy Holidays for HoHs, and last year’s popular Cheat Sheet for Better Holiday Hearing.

Why do people with hearing loss need help with the holiday season? 

Simple: the powerful emotions of the season can turn painful when we struggle to understand things that used to give us joy. Holiday dinners are a nightmare trying to figure out who’s saying what, parties are noisy and people talk with their mouth full, and our family and friends often forget about/ignore our needs in the heat of their own holiday merriment. For some people, it’s stressful just thinking about what lies ahead in the holidays. We grieve for the music that we no longer hear, or in quite the same way. It’s lonely in the midst of a large party with jumbled words swirling around you like a winter storm. And family dysfunction happens real fast when the people you love, who are supposed to know better, chat away easily, including you out.

cheerful-santaBasic advice to survive the hearing holidays: turn down the music and background noise, turn up the lights, make sure people face you when they talk and, most importantly, speak up for yourself when communication gets difficult. How hard can that be?  OK, admittedly when the liquid spirits have been flowing, it is challenging to speechread slurry lips – or perhaps blurry lips if you’re the one who’s been inhaling the chardonnay.

It also helps to anticipate difficult situations. Rather than large dinner parties, I limit the number of guests to eight; I need to be able to see everyone’s lips from the best spot at the table, which I claim for myself. (I always claim the best spot, even if I’m not the host and especially when we’re at a restaurant.)  But for larger clan-gatherings, my conversations are short sound bites; I leave the meaningful stuff for another time. Finding a quiet(er) corner is good for chatting, but not for hiding behind a potted plant. If the party is that painfully loud or incomprehensible, grab “the one that brung ya” and leave.  Or don’t go in the first place; find another way to celebrate. 

And speaking of asking for what you need, this year put useful HoH gifts on your list: a supply of hearing aid batteries (in the right size, please), a home looping system that takes TV sounds direct into your ears, or a simple neck loop to plug into your computer and that works with a switch of your aids’ telecoils.  Ask for books on hearing loss; there are now many helpful, enjoyable ones available, including…ahem…mine.  

Don’t let hearing loss suck the joy out of your season. This is a spiritual time of year celebrated by many faiths and a cultural season of music and color and friends. Even if you have hearing loss, tinnitus, Meniere’s, hyperacusis or any other lovely-sounding hearing problem, soak up the beauty and pass along the joy.

And if you’re feeling a bit blue, do what I did. Print up some tags, pin one it to your Santa hat or hand them out. You’ll make lots of new friends.

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Note from editor Gael Hannan: Mary Dyer, my guest writer this week, lost her hearing – and then realized how people like her were being sidelined in congregations of faith. She set out to do something about it. This blog is adapted with permission from her article in ‘Sojourners’, “Please Hear Those of Us Who Can’t”.

 

 by Mary Dyer

 

Is your congregation of faith prepared to help those with hearing loss?

I am always saddened but never surprised that there is generally no mention of the largest group of people excluded every week most congregations of faith: those with hearing loss.

I have always considered myself “progressive,” ready to take up the cause of those in society that needed advocacy. While I was a pastor of a church, I worked toward making our building wheelchair-accessible, dreaming of the day when we could hire an ASL signer at least once a month. In my naivety, I believed that hearing loss could be countered by a hearing instrument, allowing the user to have comprehension close to that of a person with “normal” hearing.

That misguided belief was tested eight years ago when, at 63, I became deaf after knee surgery. It was seven months before I received a cochlear implant, but soon discovered it was inadequate for situations I would encounter daily: meetings, restaurants, movies and — most ironically, as a Christian minister — churches.

At the time I became deaf, my spouse, Sheryl, and I were awaiting her ordination.  Yet, as we struggled to come to terms with the full impact of my initially devastating deafness and how it might impact our future ministries, we learned a lot about being deaf that we did not know before I tumbled head-first into the community of people with hearing loss.

It is a very big community. Studies show that close to 20% of the population has hearing loss, and many are not able to purchase hearing aids because of their financial situation and medical insurance that doesn’t cover this.

Months after I received my cochlear implant, I was at a meeting in the deaf center where a hearing loop was installed. It literally transformed my life. By turning on my telecoil setting, I could hear the speaker clearly, distinctly, without ambient noise, rather than struggling to use my neophyte’s skills as a lip reader.loop-t

With God’s divine sense of humor, Sheryl had been an electrical engineer before her mid-life call to ordained ministry. This allowed us initially to loop our seminary chapel, as well as Sheryl’s student church in San Francisco. As our journey progressed, we realized that our own journey was leading us to advocate for others with hearing loss who were struggling to stay in their communities of faith, or perhaps had given up and left, usually without telling anyone why.

What we found most commonly is that those of us with hearing loss tend to minimize or deny it and do not believe that we have a “right” to any special accommodation by those with normal hearing. Neither do we know what technologies are available to help us hear better.

For those of us who hear normally, there are several roadblocks to seeing — and hearing — the need for assistive listening technology, specifically hearing loops:

 

  • We literally are not aware of the problems of those with hearing loss, unlike our awareness of physical access issues.
  • We tend not to have empathy for this issue. It just isn’t popular.
  • The people making decisions about accessible listening systems tend to be “hearing,” rather than those who can directly benefit.

 

As a result of our experiences, Sheryl and I started our company, Hearing Access Solutions, which has evolved into education and advocacy for persons with hearing loss, and also installing hearing loops. Our most special call is for people of faith who are asking themselves how they can be more welcoming. It has turned into a full time ministry for both of us.

There are people — right now — in your churches (no exceptions!) who are excluded by their hearing loss. They may not tell you. They may even minimize or deny the extent and impact of their hearing loss. Yet they are out there, every Sunday, until it gets so difficult they just leave.

So, if you are truly serious about being welcoming, become their advocate.

 

  • Invite a company that installs hearing loops to do a site visit of your church, to answer questions about loop technology and give an estimate.
  • Begin to ask congregants with hearing loss how they manage to cope and find out if they have T-coils.
  • Invite an audiologist to come do a presentation to explain t-coils and their advantages.
  • Based on your findings, develop a plan of action.

 

There is nothing I can do to alter my hearing loss. What I can do is continue to challenge communities of faith to welcome — through action, not empty words — people like me by providing the technology that lets us continue as contributing and important members of our respective communities of faith.

“Let those who have ears … hear.”

 

Image: Sanctuary of Padre Pio, San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy

 

mary-dyerMary Dyer, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister who became deaf eight years ago, is an advocate for better services for people with hearing loss.  As a member of the Iowa Deaf Services Commission, she is drafting legislation to be introduced to the state legislature to require hearing instrument specialists to inform clients at the point of purchase of the advantages of the telecoil.  She can be reached at mdyer@hasloops.com.