Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Helen Keller wrote: “Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people.”
My wife Judy has had a moderate to severe hearing loss since birth or shortly thereafter. She asked me if I would post something that she wrote about her experiences being deaf during COVID-19. I will give an introduction and then post her comments. Her comments will be in bold print. I ask you to read them, share them, and if you encounter deaf or other people with significant hearing loss please show them the simple common courtesy of paying attention and treating them as people with intelligence. If you don’t know sign language don’t be afraid to write notes and take extra time to help them understand you. It will pay great dividends
Judy has been wearing hearing aids since she was about seven years old. In school she was subjected to surviving the best she could in regular classes where she missed a lot of what was taught in class. But she did her best. She became a vociferous reader, learned grammar rules and how to write, and began her steps to become an exceptional artist. Despite that she was often ridiculed and ostracized by other kids, and some teachers because of her deaf speech, inability to understand, and the hearing aids themselves.
She did her first years of college at our local Junior College where I met her. She began to learn sign language and also took German, and she can function decently conversing with Germans when we travel to Germany.
We both went to California State University at Northridge where she became part of a deaf community through the National Center of Deafness. There she continued to learn sign language not just in class but because she was now part of a good sized community of deaf and hard of hearing people. She was able to get specialized counseling for academics and surviving in the hearing world. I became part of that world and became good enough in sign language that many of her deaf friends assumed that I was deaf because they couldn’t hear me talk. My best teachers were her roommate Kendra and friends Vick and Gael.
Judy has a moderate to severe hearing loss. She has always used her hearing aids to her maximum ability, learned to read lips, and used sign language interpreters or interpreter/note takers in class. She graduated but as we moved into the real world she was subjected to much discrimination and occasional ridicule. If you know deaf or severely hard of hearing people many have speech impediments and voices which are easily identifiable as being deaf. Judy spoke well enough for most people to understand her. Some people thought that her speech was maybe because she was German or from somewhere in else in Europe. Others assumed that she was either stupid or developmentally delayed, because of her speech. It was very difficult for her.
During the course of the 1990s she lost another 30% of her hearing in the low frequencies. Without hearing aids it is almost impossible for her to understand speech. Now with very high tech hearing aids turned to her hearing loss she does much better hearing, but still struggled with speech. After an experience in dealing with a woman at a fabric store who asked about her being deaf because of the way she talked, Judy resolved to improve her speech. She went back and got intensive speech therapy which has made her speech virtually indistinguishable from a hearing person.
She speaks so well now that unless people see her hearing aids they assume she is not deaf. Audiologists and speech pathologists are surprised by her speech comprehension and speech. She far exceeds the expectations professionals have for a person with her hearing loss. In fact there are many people who have similar hearing loss to her who wear cochlear implants.
But COVID-19 has hit her hard. She cannot lip read through masks. Now we both prefer that everyone wear effective masks in order not to spread the virus. Because she speaks so well when she goes to a doctor’s office or somewhere she is not known people assume she is a hearing person and she has to fight to convince them to believe that she is deaf and get them to be as clear with her as they can in their communication with her. That is frustrating for her.
I am now working to get my sign language proficiency back, not just for her but because I now have a neurological condition related to my PTSD. This condition effects my speech discrimination, in other words I have a terrible time understanding speech except in one on one conversations with little or no background noice or cross talk. In many situations I am functionally deaf. Judy has far better speech discrimination than me. There were times before COVID-19 that she would tell me what people said.
So with that in mind please read Judy’s words. I hope they are helpful to you in communicating with deaf people you know or encounter.
I have a severe hearing loss. Although I fully support the wearing of masks, and I shun those who won’t wear them, people with masks often are near impossible for me to understand.
- Believe a person when they say that they can not hear you.
- Don’t yell. This doesn’t make your voice any clearer.
- Do not lose your patience. How do you think I feel?
- Write notes if necessary. There is no shame in writing a note.
- Look toward the person while talking to them. If you talk to the wall, you will be even less understandable.
- Be polite and treat the person with dignity. It’s disheartening when people get exasperated.