Gratitude for Yesterday’s People with Hearing Loss

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 byOr 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

Gratitude.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

3 Comments

  1. Hi Gael,

    I am very grateful for your information about hearing loss and especially your poem. I know that we need to maintain our knowledge about hearing loss and especially for the hearing people who know a friend or family member who is losing their hearing. Many have no idea where to turn for information or reluctant to admit they are losing their hearing.

    Hermine Willey
    Columbus, Ohio

  2. Hi Gael. Yes it is hard for parents to know what to do. I know my parents struggled getting the dr’s to believe it was my hearing that was the problem, not just my speech. Kudos for speech reading skills but even still….they fought to keep me in the regular school system rather than sending me to a school for the deaf. Now we have the CHHA BC parents branch who give wonderful supports to BC parents and likely to others who inquire.

    Your articles and poems always touch me. Good job! and thank you for what you do.

  3. Hi Gael,

    You don’t even have to go as far back as 1912 to find the “dark ages” for those with hearing loss. During the 40’s and 50’s my parents and I would certainly have appreciated CHHA and the information that is now available. And when I did university studies there was no help for those with disabilities. Too bad you weren’t available then :-) Keep up the great work!

    Yours for better hearing,
    Lynn Wheadon

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