It happened again the other day. What I didn’t hear almost caused an accident.
I was walking briskly along a trail path when I stopped suddenly to look at something. A man right behind me – on a bike – almost plowed into me.
“Oh, I’m sorry”, we both said. I’m Canadian – we apologize for everything, even when it’s not our fault.
To my apology, he responded, “That’s OK, I was going slow.”
Well I would hope so, but why was he that close in the first place? As he rode on by, I wondered if he had rung his ringy-dingy bike bell. Did he call out, “Excuse me, coming through?” If he had, I didn’t hear either the bell or his voice. But when I didn’t respond, did he get off his bike and walk it, or move to the road’s bike lane where he should have been riding in the first place? No. He risked certain injury to at least one of us – me – by riding very closely behind. If he had hit me, the damage would have minimal-to-none, except for a more drawn-out Canadian apology-dance, with me saying I have hearing loss, then him saying oh I’m sorry, and then me saying don’t be. But I was rattled by the near collision, partly because it’s not an uncommon occurrence in the hearing loss life.
A couple of days later, my family and I were walking along a driveway outside a hotel. The Hearing Husband was far ahead of me, and a car, without enough space to pass, was moving slowly behind him. I wondered why Doug didn’t move aside and just as I was about to call out, he turned his head and startled visibly on seeing the car. He hadn’t heard the Hybrid-Electric vehicle that, moving at slow speed, emitted almost no sound. I hadn’t noticed its quietness because I often don’t hear a car’s motor. Although the driver had Doug in his sights, what if Doug had suddenly moved directly into the car’s path?
The quiet cars pose a real and recognized danger for any pedestrian, let alone those with hearing loss. A 2011 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that Hybrid-Electric vehicles had a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash with pedestrians or bicyclists than did vehicles with an Internal Combustion Engine (which presumably is what makes the noise that we hear). A 2009 article by Healthy Hearing called “Hearing Loss Safety, If You Can’t Hear It, How Can You Avoid It?”, focusing primarily on our (in)ability to hear smoke and fire alarms, says: “But here’s the thing, not all dangers come with alarms. Not all dangers are loud. In fact, some may be soft – the murmuring cry of an infant, a distant tornado siren or a neighbor’s call for help.” To that list, I would also add the high frequency ringy-dingy bike bell, quiet cars and almost any sound that occurs outside of our line of sight.
How can people with hearing loss protect themselves against these soft-sound dangers?
Wearing our assistive hearing technology at all times is obviously a priority, giving us a fighting chance to hear what we need to hear. But I’m darned if I’ll wear, every time I go outside, a high visibility vest that tells people to use cautious behavior around me. When walking, bike-riding or driving, we simply need to be super-aware of our surroundings, even if it means keeping our head and eyes in constant motion, especially in busy, high traffic areas.
But other people, the hearing people, have safety responsibilities as well. Hearing loss in strangers is seldom obvious and when people get caught up in their thoughts, regardless of hearing ability, they’re not as aware of potential danger situations. If someone is not responding to you, there are options. If a bike bell doesn’t work, call out loudly. If that doesn’t work, go around them, or use some sort of visual alert, such as arm-waving. If you get too close, we might startle, which can be dangerous. While I do try to stay alert to my surroundings, I’ve had many minor collisions, mostly with people, and many near-misses that would have been more painful.
What other are some other safety ideas for people with hearing loss when they’re “out and about”?
Photo credit: High visibility vest by Tingley’s