Are Hearing People Finally “Getting It”?

Who thought that it would come to this?  Who knew that it would take an international health crisis for the light bulb to go on?

Not me, I admit.

I thought that if hearing health advocates around the world just kept at it with our advocacy, the hearing world would finally ‘get’ what it means to have hearing loss. What we, the people who are the same as them in every way but one, need in order to communicate comfortably.

It has taken a mask pandemic to draw attention to how easily our comprehension wipes out, if all we have for clues are someone’s eyes and their mask-muffled voice. This is a speechreader’s nightmare! Eyes that crinkle, widen, flutter and almost close completely do not tell me what you want me to know. 

I need words. All of them!

I would settle for just most of them, IF they are in the right order. But to get the words, I need to see your entire face. All of it!

And if you can only show me part of your face, put your mask over the top half of your head (including your nose) and let me just see your lips. That would give me a fighting chance to interact intelligibly, although you might have a problem understanding when you can’t use your eyes. 

I’m willing to bet that, during this Covid 19 crisis, many people are beginning to suspect that they might have hearing loss. Because even a little bit of hearing loss will make it difficult to understand the high frequency words like…let’s see…”miss” or “this” or “fist”.  Because, guess what? All of those words can sound the same if you don’t see the beginning consonant.

Welcome to our world.

The other day in the grocery store (where most of my mask misadventures seem to occur) I was watching three people talking together in the ketchup aisle, as I waited my turn to check out. They were wearing masks, all of them gorgeous homemade jobs. I was fascinated, as all pandemic veterans are, by people who are acting in the old way – standing close together, not caring about touching a lot of bare surfaces as they read ingredient labels, walking the wrong way down the aisle and – get this – not caring when someone points it out to them! This little group stood a little too closely together, as if they were longtime friends or neighbours. Hence, my question: couldn’t they chat anywhere in the great outdoors and not by taking up room by the frozen foods? 

What struck me was the ease with which they seemed to converse. As if they weren’t wearing masks and everything was normal. These were hearing people; it was clear from their body language that no one was struggling to understand. No one was saying ‘pardon’.

And then one, whoa, one of them did!

She did that thing that all people with hearing loss do – she kind of cocked her head to get her ear closer to the speaker! The other person then said something and the ear-cocked lady shook her head. The other person then lowered her mask, looking around for any pandemic police, and said something with exaggerated lip movement. Aha! She’d been asked to repeat herself! And what’s amazing, is that I ended up in the checkout line in front of the ear-cock lady, and I commented about masks being tough for people with hearing loss like me.

She replied, “I know, eh? They’re frustrating for me, and I hear perfectly!”

I thought,  “No you don’t, sister!”  I said instead, “Masks give us all a little hearing loss.”

Over the past weeks, I’ve received countless emails with news stories about clear masks. I have actually ordered one, and I hope that soon this piece of accessibility will be standard. 

Many people have commented about how challenging the mask situation must be for me. Once I would have said you have no idea. But now, I think they do.

 

Pboto:  Taylor Bardell and Matthew Urichuk of the Smile Masks Project

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.

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