Everyone knows but many forget that I am hard of hearing. That is until I have to make you stop talking while looking away from me, or ask you to repeat yourself. Sometimes I just nod in agreement just to avoid the annoyed look you give when I ask “what”. But did you ever stop to think what it might be like to live in my world for just a week or even a day. Trying to piece together what you are saying to me. Imagine the game of telephone…only the words from the first person to me are like there were ten people in between us sometimes.
I don’t often run into others who are hard of hearing or deaf, but when I do I get very defensive. Not toward them but for them. Tonight I was playing volleyball and a very nice young man who was deaf came to play toward the end of the night. Attitudes tend to run a little hotter than anyway, as the lower end players show up and game play goes down a level or ten at times. He was on the other team and no one really was speaking to him or giving much help, probably because rather than try to figure out “how” to communicate with them, it’s easier to just ignore him and be frustrated.
After a few games had been played and he made a few mistakes, I noticed that 1) people talked LOUDER to him and 2) they just ignored him and tried to keep him out of the play versus trying to talk to him. I got REALLY mad. It took just a few extra seconds to talk slower so he could read your lips and explain what you were calling rather than just making a call and him feeling like he was in some alternate universe isolated but surrounded by people. And each time I would take a second to explain what the call was, he would do better and not repeat the mistake.
After the games were over I went over and tried to explain one of the calls that no one had explained but happened a couple of times. Since I can’t sign (which I really wish I could, it would be such a valuable tool), we got a piece of paper and wrote out what I was explaining. Literally took less than 5 minutes to make another human being feel like he wasn’t alone in a gym full of people. As it turns out he does know how to play but because he had played other places with slightly different rules, he wasn’t aware what he was doing was incorrect.
I walked out to the car almost in tears. No one quite understands what its like to be in a room full of people and feel like your all alone. Loud restaurants, crowded shopping malls, sporting events with people cheering and whistles blowing, sitting around a fire with little light to see everyone’s lips… it’s isolating at times. I’m fortunate to have about 40% of my hearing, grew up speaking so people can understand me, and hearing aids do make things easier but not the same. I can not imagine what it must be like, the courage it takes for someone with no hearing to put themselves out there in these situations.
So the next time you get irritated because someone is different, or its harder to communicate with them then everyone else, try to use some empathy. They don’t need pity, but they could use some extra consideration and two seconds to be kind enough to communicate with them. And news flash, speaking LOUDER does not equal suddenly they are able to hear you. Even I don’t need you to speak louder, just look at me, make sure I can read your lips and try not to mumble.