National Federation of the Blind
Did You Say? What's That? Say It Again?
By Agnes Allen
Now I ask you to look up at
the moon and the stars. How shining and bright they are! I ask you to
listen to a Beethoven symphony. How majestic and grand it sounds. Taste
a sweet, juicy orange. How succulent! Come smell a lovely, blossoming
rose. How fragrant! Pet a soft furry kitten. How silken!
Can you imagine for a moment
what it is like to be bereft of any of the five remarkable senses? In
the ensuing essay I would like to share with you some of the ways in which
I personally have experienced the loss of two of the sentient gifts bestowed
upon mankind: total vision loss and partial (but moderately severe) hearing
Most people take sight and
hearing for granted, to be without one or both is unthinkable. I have
been totally blind since early childhood and have lived with a major hearing
deficiency for much of my adult life. Since I lost my sight early on,
adjustment to my plight was a relatively simple matter. Training and education
made it possible to live normally and actively in my world. But developing
a hearing impairment along with blindness in my maturity was indeed devastating.
I was neither psychologically or emotionally ready to cope with this double
whammy. Nor could I have foretold being adaptable to it in the future.
I could not make eye contact with someone, nor would I be comfortable
in communicating freely with others. Yes, wearing hearing aids, to a degree,
enhances hearing. But that is just watt they are: hearing 'aids'. I find
them to be of very little help in certain situations.
If a person speaking to me
turns his head even slightly, not facing me directly, the words expressed
become unintelligible. Nor do I understand what the person sitting across
the table is saying if any other noise is occurring simultaneously. This
may take place, for example, in a restaurant where talking and clattering
music are at fault.
Prior to the change in my lifestyle
engendered by the hearing loss, I was a successful student, a productive
employee, and a dedicated mother of three girls. But with the onset of
hearing loss, I was compelled to meet new challenges. One of the most
important of these was to search for employment in which sight or hearing
was not absolutely crucial. The skill of Braille literacy had become second
nature, and a professional Braille proofreader suggested that I try to
find employment as a proofreader for a non-profit agency for the blind
in Philadelphia. I followed up on my friend's suggestion and arranged
an interview with the head of the department. After serving in the field
of Braille proofreading I found employment as a tutor of two blind students
being educated in the Vineland, NJ public school system.
From time to time I am invited
to speak to various groups about blindness and Braille. Often audiences
wish to follow up with questions or comments, and I am struck by the nagging
fear of being unable to hear or understand. To somewhat alleviate this
situation I like to ask someone in the front row to repeat what was said
when I was not able to hear clearly.
At a social gathering or meeting,
when a joke or funny remark is being passed along, I can't join in the
ensuing laughter; I sit in silence and let the whole episode pass me by.
It would be less stressful,
I am certain, to remain at home and avoid the foregoing situations, but
then how could I, as a recluse, remain happy? I would become less of a
person for doing so. It is so easy to isolate oneself and begin to question
"why me, Lord?" and be tempted to feel inferior to thus around
me who can see and hear. At such times I must take stock of my own talents
and capabilities, focusing on what I can do, not what I can't.
A sense of humor lightens the
pain of most hardships. It softens the vicissitudes imposed by the condition.
This is no less true of deaf blindness. For example, Bill, a hearing impaired
man said to his friend, "Joe, I just received a new hearing aid and
it is simply wonderful! " To which assertion Joe replies, "Oh,
yeah, what kind is it?" To which Bill responds, "Two-thirty."
Then there is John, who said to his wife, "Suzie, go do the bills."
To which Suzie retorts, "Did you say go take a pill?"
In the foregoing witticism,
unintelligible speech is the culprit. Hearing technology seems to be keeping
moderate pace with general technology. I have benefited exceedingly from
digital hearing aids, comparatively speaking. Without them the hearing
world shuts down. My digitals contain a built-in switch which, when activated,
allows my hearing to adjust to different environments. When the switch
is on program 1, it sets the tone for normal conversation. When programmed
on 2, it reduces background noise. This mechanism reigns on the targeted
When I am riding in a car or
bus, for instance, my digitals can be set to diminish the roaring sound
of outside traffic, making it easier to converse with the driver.
If an interesting topic is
introduced at a meeting or social gathering, it is difficult to follow
the discussion to which I would so like to contribute. In such a situation,
I feel isolated and excluded. If I ask a question or make a comment, I
do not know whether what I say has any relevance. My tendency is to remain
quiet in order to stave off embarrassment.
The acoustics of a room can
affect the quality of hearing. An entire lecture or discourse can be lost
or muffled. A sighted and hearing person may be able to salvage some of
the information by watching the speaker's gestures and other visual clues.
The pastor of my church has kindly installed a transmitting and receiving
system especially designed to improve the auditory quality of the mass
or other services. When the system is working efficiently I can hear the
homily and other parts of the service.
When one learns that someone
has a hearing difficulty, the tendency of the person talking is to raise
the voice when all that is needed may be just a clear, modulated voice.
Loudness can distort the sound. High frequencies in some women's high
pitched voices can play havoc with communication.
Although the human ear has
never been replicated, the miracles of technology are phenomenal. Hearing
technology has really made great strides over the past decades. Gone are
the days of old-fashioned hearing contraptions which little improved the
hearing of the effected individual. As sophisticated and revolutionary
as modern hearing technology has become, it has yet to transform the original
and natural hearing function of the human ear. Nor do I ever visualize
it doing that. Of course, no one can predict the future, who can tell
what miracles may be produced for people with hearing loss?
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|Updated January 31, 2011|