Stand Back – I’ve Got Hearing Loss!

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

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.

13 Comments

  1. Gael, you do a fantastic job articulating the situations we face. I was once in a business meeting where we had to change location and because I was speech reading, had a bad fall. Now I delay conversations or focus more on my surroundings even if I miss things which I hate –but I hate physical pain too!

  2. Thank you for your comments (excellent as usual) I understood that you had a CI, or am I mistaken? If you had an implant done, are the points you brought up still issues? I am on a waiting list for surgery, so am curious.

    1. Hello Betty….yes, I have a CI and it’s still a learning journey. So many good things, but still experience the issues I described in my blog. Good luck with your CI! Feel free to contact me for more information at hannangd@gmail.com

    2. Hi Betty – how wonderful that you’ve been approved for a cochlear implant. It’s a journey and one that I don’t regret. I hear so many things that I couldn’t hear before, but still experience issues that I described. Feel free to reach out to me on Facebook and we can connect for more private conversations if you want more information.

  3. and then there are the emergency vehicles that I don’t hear and sometime fail to notice that everyone else has stopped at a green light! so Scarry! I think this may be what will kill me.
    People who have been deaf all of their lives are so visual this doesnt happen to them.

    1. This happened to me twice! Not hearing emergency vehicles coming while driving and nearly getting hit. Now I’ve learned to keep the radio/music off (which I don’t hear well so it’s loud), hearing aids on, and be attentive and look all ways before going through intersections.

  4. I have been thinking about this a lot lately so your article is timely for me. I have had “sudden hearing loss” twice in the same ear over the last three years and now I am profoundly deaf in that ear. I too am constantly swivelling my head to compensate but I know that there is MUCH that I am missing. Frankly, I like the idea of a sash (not a vest, thank you!) to wear. Does anyone want to take that on – there might be a small but good market for anyone who can sew?? I’d buy one for sure!

  5. Every time I a police officer’s defends shooting someone by saying “He didn’t stop when I told him to” I wonder if it ever crossed the officer’s mind that the victim might not have heard him.

  6. True, we can’t wear orange vests all the time but I made one I wear when biking or walking on a mixed-use trail. It says “deaf” in big, lower case letters and then “(partially” in smaller letters below that. Where I live bicyclists are quite courteous about calling out “on your left” or “behind you” when they’re passing. But I don’t hear them. So I think it’s on me to be courteous back by warning them that I won’t hear them (and that they need to do something else. Mostly they slow down a bit, but at least they’re more prepared for the possibility that I might step into their path. So far, so good!
    I use lower-case deaf so no one gets confused and tries to sign me a warning. And “partially” because I don’t want people to give up on talking to me, yet.

  7. I didn’t have to worry about anyone or anything “sneaking up” on me while my dog was alive. She also alerted me to smoke alarms and tornado sirens. She wasn’t a service dog in the legal sense, and she wasn’t trained to be a hearing ear dog, but throughout our life together, she adapted herself to my abilities and needs. Best doggie ever!

  8. Thank you Gael for this article, Even with my hearing aids I do not hear well outside with wind and traffic noises. I have almost stepped into the path of cyclists many times because I didn’t hear them coming from behind and a friend or family member has pulled me aside. If you are a hearing person you have no understanding what a hearing disabled person goes through or how frustrating and isolating this disability can be.

    1. You’re welcome, Lynne! The need to be constantly aware and alert does, I feel, add to the stress of hearing loss. We must use methods to offset this extra stress.

  9. Though I’m “only” SSD (single sided deaf), I now wear a BAHA (bone anchored hearing aid). One of the reasons I decided it was a good idea occurred when I almost stepped off a curb into the path of a car I didn’t hear. It was on my deaf side and my husband yanked back just in time. I swivel my head a whole lot more now and still get surprises with fairly good assisted hearing. Maybe I should carry a sign, “unobservant hearing aid wearer ahead.”

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