Just the Other Day I Was Talking to My Deaf Mother on the Phone . . .

by Tina Blue
December 6, 2003

          People with normal hearing seem unable to grasp the nuances of hearing impairment.  To a "hearie," you're either deaf or you can hear.  Nothing in between.

          They are confused by the idea that having impaired hearing in one ear can make it hard to understand conversations, even if you have normal hearing in the other ear.

          They can't understand that hearing loss in certain frequency ranges might make it impossible to follow speech without hearing aids and lip reading (and difficult even with such assistance), and yet not render you totally deaf.

          They also can't understand that hearing capability might be variable, depending on circumstances.  For example, certain types of hearing loss--like the severe hearing loss I have suffered as a consequence of Meniere's disease--might be worse if I have been ingesting too much salt or drinking coffee, or if I am at that time of the month.

          Since we can hear some things some times, they simply assume we hear what we "want" to hear and that we aren't really hearing impaired at all.

          Also, for simplicity's sake, most of us who are severely hearing impaired tend to call ourselves "deaf" rather than "hard of hearing." Not only is it faster and easier to say "deaf," but calling ourselves "hard of hearing" causes people to significantly underestimate the degree of difficulty we have in conversation.

          All this is preliminary to a little story.

          My daughter Becky is in her first year of medical school.  In one of her classes they were studying ear disorders last week, and Becky mentioned that her mother is deaf.  Then, some time later during the same class, Becky made a passing comment about having spoken to me on the phone recently.  One of her classmates exclaimed in astonishment, "Wait a minute! How does that work?  Isn't she deaf?"

          Well, it does work, though not always, and better with some people than with others, and better on some phones than on others.  (See "Why Cell Phones Are So Hard on the Hearing-Impaired.")

          But getting a hearie to wrap her mind around the concept is difficult, unless she has had significant interaction with people who are hearing impaired--and often even then.

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