Making the "Deaf Face"
by Tina Blue
July 23, 2004
In many of my articles on this site I have mentioned that deafness runs in the female line of my family. My mother was severely hearing impaired, as were her mother and several of her mother's sisters (and one of Grandma's brothers, actually). I am pretty deaf, and my younger sister Linda is even deafer than I am.
In "Another Sister Going Deaf," I mentioned that after a lifetime of excellent hearing, my youngest sister Carol lost much of the hearing in her left ear three years ago from Ménière's disease, which is the condition that also causes my deafness.
Ménière's is progressive, so Carol's hearing in that ear is worse now than it was when she first started having trouble three years ago. It has now reached the point where she believes that she will probably need a hearing aid eventually--and probably sooner rather than later.
Last week Carol came into town to drive me to a doctor's appointment. On our way to the doctor's office I said, "Your hearing is much worse now, isn't it?"
She looked surprised, but acknowledged that, yes, she was having a lot more trouble hearing now.
Then I said, "Do you want to know how I can tell?"
"How?" she asked.
I told her that while we were still in my apartment and I was speaking to her, I saw her tighten up her face and scrunch up her brow. I recognized that face as one I make all the time, even though I have never seen myself make it. However, I have seen it on Linda, and I used to see it all the time on Mom and Grandma. I call it the "deaf face." It's that look of intense concentration we get when people are speaking and we are straining to understand their words.
I was being careless about accommodating her hearing loss, because I am still not used to the idea that she can't hear well. After all, until very recently her hearing was perfect. Like a thoughtless "hearie," I was not making any effort to project my voice for her as I normally would for anyone with a hearing impairment. And, as we all do, Carol was scrunching up her face as she struggled to understand me.
It was the strangest feeling, though. As I saw her tighten her face to concentrate on my words, I felt my own face tighten in sympathy. I am so used to the tension in those muscles when I make the deaf face that I reflected her strain automatically.
The next time you are conversing with someone, monitor yourself. I bet you make the deaf face, too.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could train hearies to recognize that face and automatically adjust their voices until they saw our faces relax, as evidence that we were finally able to understand them without such desperate straining?