I am traveling in Scandinavia this week, doing hearing loss presentations in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Vaasa. Meeting other people with hearing loss is always fun and rewarding, because it always makes me better at something I do – living with hearing loss. New friends teach me learn new tips, make me realize I have some lingering bad habits, and discover that wherever we live, our barriers are the same, but we don’t always have access to the same hearing accommodations.
While I’m traveling this week, I thought I would re-post one of my early blogs about another trip I took to Canada’s far north and a certain little boy in yellow sweatshirt.
The Boy in the Yellow Sweatshirt (May 2012)
When we identify as hard of hearing or deaf, it’s an act of simple advocacy; when we tout the joys of hearing technology and adopting better communication strategies, we are advocating on behalf of all those with hearing loss. Every time you say I wear hearing aids – and don’t follow up with a spit on the ground – you may be giving someone else the strength to take steps for a better quality of life.
In November 2007, I was in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, for hearing loss presentations, including the delivery of Sound Sense, the Hearing Foundation of Canada’s elementary school hearing awareness program. Students in two of the schools were primarily from the Dené, Inuit and Métis communities, and I was excited at having a new ‘audience’.
One of the school presentations was held in a large, temporary portable, because a section of the school had burned down the previous winter. There was almost no furniture, so what seemed like a million (but was probably just a hundred) Grade 5 and 6 students sat cross-legged on the floor.
Sitting in the very front, just inches from where I stood, was a small boy with a shock of black hair, chestnut eyes and a bright yellow sweatshirt. He was animated and participated in the program by telling me the sounds that he loved and the noisy activities he enjoyed.
The heart of the Sound Sense presentation is a fabulous, partially-animated DVD that takes kids inside the hearing system; characters Spike and Mike explain how noise can be harmful to our hearing and what we can do to protect ourselves from permanent damage, such as turning down the volume and wearing earplugs. Kids love it and I get a 10-minute break.
While the DVD was playing, I sat at the back next to one of the teachers. Forgetting that I had a severe hearing loss, she started whispering to me, and after a few moments of gestures, reading lips, and a blunt reminder that I don’t do whispering, we finally connected.
“There’s a little boy here who’s supposed be wearing his hearing aids, but he never does,” she said softly. “He thinks the other kids will laugh at him.”
“Which one is he?” I asked.
“The boy in the yellow sweatshirt.”
At the end of Sound Sense presentation, I made my usual pitch. “I didn’t have the choice – but if I did have the choice between wearing earplugs and wearing hearing aids, which do you think I would have picked?”
“Earplugs!” they shouted.
“Exactly! I didn’t have the choice, but you do, so I’m giving each of you a pair of earplugs and I want you wear them to protect your hearing.”
I went on. “But, you know, I was born with my hearing loss and I do wear hearing aids. I got them when I was just a little older than you, and you know what, guys? They’ve changed my life. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to hear your voices; I wouldn’t be able to hear birds singing, or the other animal sounds you love. But now I can! With my hearing aids, I can watch movies, I can understand what people are saying, and the best part is how they bring music into my ears. I love my hearing aids, I love them!”
I allowed myself only the briefest glance at my bright yellow fellow, not wanting to look at him directly, or single him out. But I could feel his dark eyes watching me. The Sound Sense presentation ended and we all went on with our day.
It’s been over 10 years since that day, and the little boy with his chestnut eyes and yellow sweatshirt, will be in his late teens. I still think about him and hope that he’s wearing his hearing aids, and hearing all that life has to offer.