Reaching Out to a HOH: The Power of Connecting with Others

Gael Hannan
January 24, 2012

Even though I’m still relatively young, I like looking back at  significant events in my life. Some are pretty obvious – turning 18, leaving home, getting my first hearing aid, first wonderful job, meeting husband, marrying husband, birth of child at age 41.

Some events only gain significance with hindsight, “Wow, THAT sure changed my life!”

I came upon an unexpected fork in the road in 1995 when I attended my first gathering of hard-of-hearing people.  I took it and came home a changed woman.

When we talk about reaching out to others, it sounds powerful and emotional, a striving to connect. But my only intention in speaking at a local Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) meeting was  to talk about myself.  In a eureka moment, I’d decided to write a book about being hard of hearing. Someone thought I was a journalist with hearing loss and invited me to be a guest speaker.

I’m mortified when I think back on how naïve and presumptuous I was going into that meeting. Yep, I was going to tell these people a thing or two about being hard of hearing!

Who did I think I was?! I was nothing more than a 40 year-old who had recently graduated from one BTE to two CIC hearing aids; I knew nothing about hearing loss beyond my limited, personal experience. Apart from my great-grandmother who barked at everyone until she passed at the age of 99, I had never known one other person with hearing loss.

Walking into that meeting was like entering 2001: A Space Odyssey! People were walking around with big honking hearing aids, hand-held transmitters and FM systems – and they were happy! Somebody was fussing with looping the room, there were speakers, two screens, two projectors, and most of all, there was this miraculous thing called real-time captioning!

As I addressed the group of 80 people with my personal story, I kept looking sideways to see my own words on the screen, keeping up with me as I spoke. (Not an easy feat; I speak quickly and I’ve felled more than one captioner since then.) It was almost an out-of-body experience. Even more disconcerting were the many audience members who were also looking at that screen, rather than me. They gave a new meaning to the term “shifty-eyed” as they kept up constant eye movement between the screen and my face and back again. Watching them watching me made me dizzy!

Almost a third of the audience was wearing headphones (this was over 15 years ago) attached to their FM receivers. It was like being in the United Nations with all participants receiving simultaneous translation in their own languages, which is exactly what was happening. What struck me the most was that, apart from a couple of senior ladies who promptly fell asleep in the front row, everyone was seriously and intently following what was being said, using combinations of residual hearing, headphones, FM, caption-reading and speechreading. This access was new and barrier-breaking and liberating.

It hit me like a rock. I was looking out at 80 people who were just like me. These were my people! I understood their issues and they understood mine. Even though I hadn’t intended to reach out, I felt connected to them and, yes, it was a powerful feeling.   By talking with other people who had hearing loss and learning and sharing and all those other nice kindergarten words, I found a new perspective.  Hearing loss affected every area of my life and it wasn’t just my issue; it was almost a way of life that I shared with other people. I came home pumped and bubbling, but still not aware that I was in the middle of a life-changing process.

A few months later, I went to my first CHHA National conference. I was pregnant and worried about how I was going to cope as a hard-of-hearing mom. How would I hear my baby crying in the night? If I didn’t hear him burp, would he blow up? I needed answers.

Three knowledge-packed days gave me answers, new friends, and a revelation. Without realizing it, I had always felt shamed, in a small way, by my hearing loss ,even though I had been raised in an affirmative environment. My family and friends had had a better perspective about my hearing loss than I did, because deep down I felt a bit defective and hampered by my hearing loss.

And now, by inadvertently reaching out to other people – my people – that shame was permanently replaced by a new, positive perspective.

Again, I came home a changed woman. I looked at my husband almost pityingly because he was hearing, the poor man. But he came in handy. A few months later I discovered how I would answer the night cries of my hungry baby. My poor, hearing husband jabbed me awake  until I stumbled out of bed while he returned to the joy of sleep.

  1. Hey Gael, I remember that meeting well!!!(Your 1001 questions, I was thinking who is this lady following me around?? Then I realized it was me a few years before!) How lucky for all of us that you found us, while healing yourself, you have helped to heal a LOT of people along the way!!

  2. It gives me great joy to share your inspiring messages with everyone in my address book. You tell it like it is and articulate for those of us who are not as good at writing about the experiences we as young women with hearing loss have experienced. I love what you said about being shamed as I think many of us have had to face that baby down.

  3. That is a good story. I admire you for your courage and I love your sense of humor. I had 3 lamps around the house that used to flash when my baby cried many years ago.

  4. I enjoyed your story. I love your sense of humor. I had lamps that flashed when my baby cried many years ago.

  5. Hi Gael,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I always admires your story telling!


  6. I agree with all that’s said here. Nobody I know captures the experience of people with hearing loss as well as you. Thanks!

  7. What a great article. It is enlightening, eye-opening, humorous and enjoyable all wrapped up into one great article. 🙂 I love reading and experiencing life from your perspective.

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