Deaf Sisters Reunite!
by Tina Blue
May 26, 2003
If you have been reading the articles on this website, you know that I am severely hearing-impaired. I use hearing aids, but even with them in and turned up all the way, I still have trouble following conversations with most people, and I am still unable to understand most words while watching TV or at movies or lectures.
I rely on subtitles while watching TV, and I am a pretty efficient lipreader, but the fact is that conversation is very difficult for me unless the person I am talking to is trying to help me by projecting his voice (not shouting!), speaking clearly, not covering his mouth, not turning his head or his back, or walking around (or even out of the room!), and not starting to speak before I am aware that someone is talking to me.
I used to do very well on the telephone, as I explain in
"Why Cell Phones Are So Hard on the Hearing-Impaired," but lately I have been having a lot more trouble managing on the phone--not always, but fairly often.
As hearing-impaired as I am, my younger sister Linda is much, much worse. It was over 15 years ago that her hearing reached the point where we could not carry on a telephone conversation. We had managed, with effort, for years, since I had moved to Kansas in 1970, and she still lived half a continent away in Pennsylvania. But one evening in the late 1980s I had called her just to visit on the phone for a while. It had been some months since we had talked, and it immediately became apparent that her hearing had deteriorated significantly since our last conversation.
She was not able to understand one single thing I said to her. Her hearing had gotten so much worse that we were completely unable to communicate.
Although we have both been hearing-impaired since early childhood, Linda has always been way ahead of me in the race toward complete deafness. Our mother and grandmother, and all of Grandma's sisters (plus one of her brothers), were severely hearing-impaired, and their hearing loss was progressive. So was ours, so we weren't surprised that it kept getting worse. But the sudden inability to do what we had previously been able to do was something of a shock.
So here I was on the phone with Linda sometime around 1988. I would say something, and she would say, "What?" No communication was going on.
Finally I accepted the inevitable and said, "Linda, this isn't working. I'm just going to hang up now."
Linda said, "What?"
I said, "I am going to hang up now, ok?"
Linda said, "What?"
I said, "I have to go now, but I'll try to write later, ok?"
Linda said, "What?"
Eventually I surrendered and just hung up, hoping that she would realize that I wasn't just "hanging up" on her.
That was the last time we spoke or had any direct communication until 1994.
I think I did write later that week, but I also know that over the years I started many letters that then got buried beneath books and papers and the detritus of my hectic modern life. Several letters actually got finished before I lost them. Always when one was written I discovered I didn't have a stamp. Since I also didn't have a car, I'd have to wait until I could get to the store or the post office to buy stamps, and by then, of course, I had misplaced the letter.
In 1994, we had a family reunion in Pennsylvania, to celebrate our grandmother's 90th birthday. Our youngest sister, Carol, and I stayed at Linda's apartment during the few days we were there, so I actually got to talk to Linda for the first time in years.
Then I went back to Kansas, and we no longer had direct communication. What little we knew of each other was relayed through our brothers and sisters by way of letters, which were infrequent, and the occasional phone call--to me, not to Linda, since she still couldn't hear on the phone.
Then in spring of 2001, Linda got on the Internet.
By that time I had been on the Net for a while.
Allow me to digress for a bit. I have to tell you how I first became an Internet junkie and such a prolific Internet writer.
In August of 1999, I had returned to my office at Kansas University to discover that the department had installed computers and Internet connections in every office. Since my daughter had just left for college in Missouri, that meant I now had a way to keep in touch with her by e-mail.
But I was a computer/Internet moron. (To me, even now, a computer is just a typewriter that you have to wait for.)
Becky came home from college one weekend to walk me step-by-step through the process of linking to the Internet and then establishing an e-mail account and using it to send and receive e-mails. I actually wrote down each step in a little notebook, because to a computer newbie of my age, none of that seems intuitive.
~Double click on the IE browser icon
~Click on the hotmail link
~Type user name in first space
~Type password in second space
Honestly, I wrote down every single step, and I followed my instructions step-by-step for the first several times I used e-mail, until I could do them without checking to make sure I was doing them right. Eventually, I even began to explore the Internet itself, using search engines to call up interesting websites.
Then, in the summer of 2000, I stumbled across and began to write for an online writers' site called "Themestream." I wrote nine regular columns for Themestream, including the original version of this very website, and I also wrote many articles and essays that didn't fit under the headings of my nine columns.
When Themestream closed in April of 2001, I started getting nearly 200 e-mails a day from subscribers of my columns, wanting to know where they could still read my articles. But as a computer moron, I didn't know how to set up a website. Then, an online friend and regular reader of my poetry column, poet Jae Malone, called me from Pittsburgh and spent two hours walking me step-by-step through the process of setting up my first website, "For Poets--and Readers of Poetry."
Once I understood the process, I set up separate websites for each of my nine Themestream columns, plus one more, which I called "Out of the Blue," to house all of my miscellaneous articles. Thus was this website, "I'm Listening as Hard as I Can," born. I have continued to write and post articles for all of my sites, so that now I have 400 articles spread across my ten sites.
End of digression.
When I learned from one of my brothers that Linda was finally on the Net, too, and got from him her e-mail address, I immediately e-mailed her. It was a very long e-mail, since by this time it had been over seven years since we had directly communicated. In fact, if it had been written as a letter, it would have been many pages long.
I checked my e-mail frequently over the next few days, but there was no response. So I sent another long e-mail, asking if she had received my first e-mail.
Still no response.
Finally, about a week later, an 8-page letter arrived by snail-mail. It was Linda's reply to my first e-mail, plus a response to my second, in which I asked if she'd gotten the first one.
As it turned out, she could read e-mails, but was so new to the Net at that point that she hadn't yet learned how to send e-mail!
I couldn't help thinking about my own step-by-step written instructions ("Double click this, click that, hit 'tab', press 'enter'. . . ."). Boy, did I understand her situation. I had been there myself just a little over a year earlier.
Even today, people who know that I am on the Net all the time, that I have several websites, and that I write and post hundreds of articles, assume that I must, therefore, be some sort of computer/Internet expert. I'm not. I can do a handful of things with the computer and on the Net. And that is all I can do. Where everything else is concerned, I am still a computer/Internet moron.
Once Linda's son showed her how to send e-mails, though, she and I pretty much went crazy. Those first few days we sent several very long e-mails to each other, catching up on all those years we had missed. After a while, we calmed down and only e-mailed several times a week, instead of several times a day. Eventually, it became less frequent--more like once a week, and sometimes only two or three times a month.
One reason we e-mailed less often is that I had sent Linda to my favorite deaf/hard of hearing (HoH) message board, on iVillage <http://messageboards.ivillage.com/iv-bhdeafhearin>. She became a very active member of that deaf/HoH online community, and her frequent posts there (plus my own frequent posts there) served the function of keeping us connected. Now we e-mail when we have private or family stuff to talk about, but a lot of our communication is by way of the message board. In fact, when I don't see her on the board for a while, I send an e-mail to make sure she is ok. She is such an active member there that an extended silence from her on the board worries me.
Many of us who are deaf or hard of hearing have taken to the Internet like fish to water. What a blessing it is to communicate freely--especially with others like ourselves. No longer do we deaf/HoH people have to feel isolated from normal community, simply because we can't comfortably follow conversations, especially in groups, or talk on the telephone.
On the Internet, there is no such thing as deaf!