There’s never been a better time to have hearing loss.
The stigma of hearing loss is disappearing. Technology has given us an unprecedented, and undreamed, level of access that will only continue to improve. Cochlear implants have transformed lives and hearing aids are efficient things of beauty.
Sure, we have a long way to go in all of these areas, but we are moving forward.
And to do that, we have to say thank-you to the hard of hearing and deaf people who came before us, as well as the dreamers and inventers who clawed their way through the dirt of stigma and ignorance to help create a new order for people with hearing loss.
I often wonder what my life would be like if this were, say, 1912. Without the technology, education and positive environment that I now enjoy, would I be sitting in a darkened corner of the house, isolated from society and opportunities? Would my family be treating me as if I were stupid, regarding me with pity, or hiding me away when company comes by? Or perhaps they would marry me off as soon as possible, promoting me as someone who “doesn’t hear much, but she’ll come in handy on the farm?”
Would I be using an ear trumpet? What colour? Would it be huge and ugly and – the worst horror of all – totally useless in allowing me to communicate with the people I love?
Just writing these questions makes me anxious, upset. Thank heavens I’m here, and now. What a difference a hundred years have made. (Or have they? In many places around the world, there are people who still live my possible 1912 life.) But I don’t need a century’s worth of hindsight; my life has had dramatic changes. My parents and I did some clawing of our own, starting with doctors who didn’t have much to offer a small child with sensorineural hearing loss, and on through non-existent technology, no educational supports and absolutely no meaningful mentoring.
Piece by piece, year after year, hearing technology has been built up and attitudinal barriers have been broken down.
It’s been an emotional journey from there to here and I’m grateful for the ones who went before, who laid the groundwork for today.
(The following poem first appeared in the Hearing Views section of hearinghealthmatters.org on 9 November 2011.)
NOW THAT I KNOW
The new baby smiled and cooed and thrived,
and her parents knew she was well.
But when at age two, she didn’t always turn, didn’t always answer,
and started a lifetime of saying ”What?,”
her parents knew something was different.
The doctors said,
“It’s her hearing.
It will worsen.
It will never get better.
No, there’s nothing you can do.
Hearing aids won’t help.
Have her sit at the front of the class and
Make sure she pays attention!
Oh, and come and see me in a year,
and we’ll test her hearing again…
and the year after that…
and the year after that…”
My parents believed the doctors, and did what they were told.
But now that I know–a lifetime later–about hearing loss,
about living, working, loving with hearing loss,
I know what could have been different then,
and what must be different now.
Now that I know that hearing aids can help,
I cry for the years I spent scrunching my face,
trying to follow, straining to understand,
for the years of sounds and words that were off my radar.
Now that I know how delicious the sounds of speech are,
I regret not hearing the nuances of the voices of my past.
Now that I know that my own speech was slurred and blurred,
that I chopped off the endings of words because
I didn’t know they were supposed to be there,
I wish that someone had helped my parents to help me to enunciate.
With a hearing aid, I would have heard myself.
But now that I know that most of the technology I now embrace
was only dreamed of then,
My bitter regrets soften, and I am grateful
for dreams that have been made real.
But now that I have learned that all the technology in the world
cannot completely banish the hurt, confusion, fear, and anger
that come with hearing loss,
I can start to change my memories of pain
into the sharing of experiences.
Because now I know that by meeting even one other person
who would walk with me on my highway,
sit with me by the side of the road as I hold my head in my hands,
And then climb with me to the top of the mountain –
The irons will unlock from my feet and the tape
will be removed from my mouth.
Now I know that I must say to someone else,
“I know what you are feeling.
Here’s a road you can take – someone showed it to me.
Now, let me walk with you.” Gael Hannan © 2011