by Tina Blue
November 3, 2002
I teach an English 101 class at 12:30 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday that meets in the same classroom as my 11:30 English 101 section.
Last Wednesday, during the ten-minute period between those two classes, a couple of my front-row students came in and sat down, remarking on the musician that was playing bongo drums right across the narrow hallway. Both doors were open, but I had not heard a thing, so I reacted with surprise and hurried to look across the hallway to see the drummer.
Sure, enough, he was right there, though by the time I got to the door he had ceased his drumming.
When I told the students that I had not heard any drumming at all, they were amazed. It's not that I don't inform all my students from the beginning of the semester that I am severely hearing-impaired, it's just that until some dramatic event--like my not being able to hear a nearby drummer!--demonstrates my deafness in an undeniable way, they somehow don't quite believe it. Oh, I am sure most of them "believe it" with their heads (though not all, as my article "Oh, Tina, You Are Not Deaf!" explains), but they don't really grasp what my deafness entails.
This sudden revelation of the degree of my deafness (ten weeks into the semester!) provoked a rather lengthy question-and-answer period. All of a sudden my students were full of questions about deafness, and especially about
I have to admit to a certain amount of teacherly suspicion. No doubt some of their interest in my deafness sprang from a desire to stay for as long as possible off the considerably less engaging topic of coherence in paragraph development. But I am also sure that at least some of their interest was sincere, and I am always glad for the opportunity to educate the hearing about the problems that face the hearing-impaired.
But during our discussion I was reminded of another fairly recent event that demonstrated the reality of my deafness to someone who had known me long enough to be aware of it, but who had somehow never really understood how deaf I am.
That someone would be my 22-year-old son.
Last January, Michael had just returned from his second study-abroad semester in Spain. We were sitting on my couch, catching up after all the months we had been apart. But then suddenly, my son began to look at me very strangely--as if I had something crawling on my face.
"What? What?" I exclaimed.
"Aren't you going to get that?" He asked.
"The telephone--what else?!"
Well, although the phone was no more than about three feet away from where I was sitting, my left ear was turned toward it, so I could not hear it at all, not even slightly. What had disturbed Michael was not so much that I wasn't answering the phone, but that there was nothing in my demeanor that suggested that I was even registering that the phone was ringing. Of course not--I wasn't registering it, because I couldn't hear it at all.
It always takes something this dramatic to make people understand how deaf I really am. I know I get by better than most people with the same degree of hearing loss, but it troubles me that people won't just take my word for it when I say I am deaf. In "Oh, Tina, You Are Not Deaf!" I point out that people don't refuse to believe blind people or people in wheelchairs when they identify their handicap--and yet we who are hearing-impaired are always suspected of hearing better than we claim to.
And when my own son, who has been by my side for 22 years (almost 23 now), is so oblivious to my deafness, I begin to wonder whether there is any hope at all of convincing those with normal hearing that we really can't hear them, no matter how hard we try.
That is where the name of my website came from, you know. I have always had to deal with people who are certain that I could understand what they are saying if only I would pay attention.
Well, I am paying attention. I'm listening as hard as I can!
But for some reason, no matter how often I explain this to them, they don't seem to be able to hear me.