As much as we would like to forget it, 2020 will be talked and written about for a long time. It was simply annus horribilis—the horrible year.
People with hearing loss (PWHL) didn’t have it any worse than anyone else who was separated from loved ones or who suffered economic hardship or who ran out of things to watch on Netflix. But there was one special punch in the gut that the pandemic delivered, just for us.
All our hard work to develop into strong self-advocates who know how to have our needs met was wiped out on the day the world started wearing masks.
Our normal self-assurance and independence fused into a blubbering mess. We were forced to do the unthinkable: turn to our spouse/friend/companion in the grocery store and ask, “What is that person saying to me”?
But I’m being a bit over-dramatic—the year wasn’t a complete wipeout. As Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Little House on the Prairie author, wrote: “There is good in everything, if only we look for it.”
So, I looked for it. And I found it—in Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, Otter. Ava, and any other virtual meeting platform and automated speech recognition (ASR) app on my phone, tablet and computer. And I couldn’t have used any of these without the remote devices (headphones, MiniMics, Roger pens, neckloops, and smartphones) that allowed me to stream content from the source to my hearing aid and cochlear implant sound processor.
While we—me and other PWHL—love a party as much as the next guy, our enjoyment is limited by how much noise and incomprehensible speech we can possibly tolerate. And—speaking personally now, what I can bear is becoming less because of the double head-punch of my reactive tinnitus and hyperacusis. But the pandemic brought this socializing to a screeching stop. OMG, how were we going to survive?!
Then, here we were—in the virtual realm, free from masks—connecting with friends, and family, attending conferences, enjoying concerts and playing card games! And thanks to captioning, streaming devices and the ability to mute ourselves and others, PWHL can hear and/or understand what’s being said. We can follow conversations. We can enjoy music. A bonus is that the streamed sound into my devices is purer than what I could process from airborne sound waves.
Virtual meetings and conferences have been getting better and better—a gift from the creative gods of technology, necessitated and enabled by the pandemic.
But PWHL need one more thing—captioning—either by CART with a live captioner or by ASR. Several virtual platforms provide ASR (as does PowerPoint in its presentations), and at time of writing, we are waiting for Zoom to provide captioning for people with hearing loss in response to a petition started by Shari Eberts and which has been signed by tens of thousands of people around the world.
Nothing can replace a hug or a handshake, but I believe that virtual meetings in their new, excellent form have become a permanent part of the way we will do business and connect with loved ones going forward.
2020 has indeed been annus horribilis, but we can usually find a sliver of a silver lining—if we look for it.
I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season, along with deepest hopes for an annus fantastico in 2021.