If you have hearing loss, do you have someone in your circle of friends who also has hearing challenges?
What I’m asking is, do you have a HoH for a friend? (For those new to my writing, relax. “HoH” is an acronym for Hard Of Hearing, another term for a Person With Hearing Loss and….isn’t it just easier to shorten all that into something snappy, like HoH?)
I have many HoHs in my life and I love ‘em. Not only do they share my passion for hearing loss advocacy, they’re also regular, fun people. Most of them, anyway. They’re also easy to be with because, unlike ‘hearing’ people (the nice name that HoHs give to people who aren’t), they share my daily hearing challenges. When HoHs are together, there is less stress because we all need the same thing – accessibility to the spoken word.
But first, me tell you about my long time, close-to-my-heart, hearing girlfriends. This core group of BFFs has been having a single decades-long conversation. If there’s one thing we love to do, it’s talk. We talk, talk, talk about anything/everything and we can be together on a weekend getaway, and even at the end, in our last moments together as we’re getting in our cars, we still keep talking.
Think about that.
Think about this massive degree of speech, this tanker-load of words, this unrelenting, interactive energy of intelligent women friends – how hard do you think this is for the one who has profound hearing loss? I’ll tell you; it can be very challenging. The speech patterns of my friends are so imprinted on my brain, that if the sound was switched off in our talks, I’d still hear their voices in my head. But even with sound, even with a hearing aid and a cochlear implant, I often don’t get their words.
Like all people engaged in the normal flow of conversation, friends can momentarily forget that their own HoH-friend needs to see their lips. That talking with their mouth obscured, or while walking to the fridge for more wine, immediately interrupts my comprehension. The good news, the fabulous news, is that often it only takes a motion, look or word from me to remind them to move their hand, face me, repeat that again, or bring me some more wine, too. That’s the miracle of years of friendship.
Still, after all these years, I have to work at following a conversation that comes easy for hearing people. I’m breaking a sweat to fill in the gaps of what I’m hearing. I can stop a conversation cold or put it into reverse by asking my buddies for a repeat, or by making a comment on a subject that apparently had just changed. But this is my life and my friends understand it. They just don’t share it.
For that, I have another group of friends. People who understand the reality of living with hearing loss and who share a quest for communication access. These are the HoHs. While we are not perfect communicators and our conversations tend to center on the topic of hearing loss, the dynamics of communicating with each other are easier.
Recently, I spent a few days away with some HoH friends. We were exploring a potential project, and our interactions, while exhilarating, were exhausting. We talked all day and by 9pm we retreated to our rooms craving quiet time and a good night’s sleep. But we were spared our usual stress of trying to keep up in a conversation with ‘hearing’ people, a stress that can be seriously exhausting, regardless of degree of hearing loss.
No session started until we were ready, both technically and physically. Chairs were arranged to allow better speechreading and lights situated so they didn’t create a halo behind someone’s head. Our hearing aids and cochlear implant sound processors were battery-ready. The TV was hooked up to a cellphone via HDMI cable, so that we could all read the speech-to-text app that allowed one of our group, who has almost no residual hearing, to follow the conversation. One person spoke at a time, and if excitement or a brain-fart made us talk over each other, someone slapped our collective wrist.
It wasn’t perfect. The speech-to-text app we were using didn’t produce perfect text translation, although it was very good. Each of us still needed clarification from time to time, which was given without any impatience. We took breaks when our minds needed a break from working hard on two levels – creating a project and trying to understand each other. Like I said, talk-talk-talk is tiring.
As a HoH, I experience acceptance, understanding and respect from both my hearing and HoH friends. But having people with hearing loss as friends has helped me make more sense of my own hearing loss. It has helped to normalize it and I have been freed to throw hearing loss stigma out the window.
For these reasons, I hope that you, too, will invite another HoH into your life.