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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why Hearing Loss is Lonely

I'm posting a video today that is worth a thousand blog posts. If you know someone with hearing loss, I urge you to watch it. It will open your eyes to the isolation that hearing loss can bring.

I found this gem while reading the Xpressive Handz blog today. Many of you with hearing loss have probably already seen this on the internet, but for those who haven't it is well worth watching. Please note that it's 24 minutes long.

Here's a brief description: My Song is a coming of age story which follows Ellen, a young deaf girl stuck in the middle of the deaf and hearing worlds. Feeling as if she doesn't fit in, Ellen learns sign language, attempting to enter the deaf world by taking part in a sign song competition in London. However Ellen is about to find her journey far more difficult than she first thought.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Reader Asks Other Readers to Respond

I received an email from a new hearing aid wearer who wanted to ask a few questions of me and the readers of my blog. My answers appear in italics. Please post your responses in the comments section. Thanks!

1. I find myself frequently adjusting the volume on my aids, having come to see that as an advantage. In fact, I can turn them up loud enough so that I can hear things going on in the next room! I'm wondering if you and other subscribers use your aids in this manner, or if you just keep your volume controls at the same setting all day? The problem I have is that now I can't tell how loud something "really" is, and I'm afraid that I might adjust the volume on things like radios, etc. too high or low for others. I try to watch peoples' reaction, but I can never be sure. I'd appreciate knowing how you and other subscribers deal with this matter. Also, is the practice I've fallen into of turning my aids off in very noisy places and when I really want to concentrate common?

Speak Up Librarian: My hearing aids don't have volume controls. My options are to switch between different programs, add an assistive listening device, or take them out. When I'm concerned the volume is too loud for others, I ask and try to come to a compromise. I do the same thing as you when it comes to noisy places, I take my hearing aids out.

2. I've learned of a way to have my current BTEs attachable to eyeglass frames, so my visual and hearing helpers can be combined and put on and off at the same time. Have you or anyone else had experience with this option?

Speak Up Librarian: I haven't tried that. It's an interesting idea, but there are many times where I wear my glasses but not my hearing aids and I wonder how tricky it would be to separate them.

3. I'm frequently aware that people are making a special effort to speak loudly and directly to me, I guess because they see my hearing aids. Do you frequently have this experience?

Speak Up Librarian: No. Generally I get that response only after I've told someone I'm not hearing them and it's something they really want me to know.

4. Several times a week I'm asked about my aids. I guess as a female yours are more hidden by your hair? Do you make any effort to hide you aids/hearing problem, or do you want people to know? From what I've read on your blog, you were never embarrassed about getting hearing aids. How do you feel your husband, children and coworkers have adjusted and accepted your need for hearing aids?

Speak Up Librarian: No, I don't hide my hearing problem. In fact my friends and family frequently wish I would just shut up about it already. (That's me "reading their minds" - not that they've said that.) I haven't been embarrassed about getting hearing aids. But I have been embarrassed when I think people perceive me as stupid or slow when I don't understand them right away. Even after 5 years, I still find it difficult explaining my situation to library patrons. I read in a book last night that librarians tend to be very private about themselves in their interactions with library patrons so that could be a factor. When people are coming to me for help, I guess I want to appear "all knowing" - an occupational hazard perhaps. Since it's been 5 years now, I think my friends and family have accepted the situation. As we tell teenagers, it does get better.

Thanks for your email. I'm looking forward to reading the responses of other readers of my blog.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Signing to My Dog

I hate to admit it but my family doesn't share my enthusiasm for ASL. They rarely use even the most basic signs with me. So naturally I turned to my best buddy, Rusty, for my signing practice. As you can imagine, he learned the signs for "food" and "outside" really fast!

Today when he lifted his paw to me, I decided to sign "Nice to meet you" back to him. To my surprise he immediately started licking my hands enthusiastically. My husband noticed and decided he wanted to try it. I showed him how to make the sign and then he called Rusty over to his side. When he signed "Nice to meet you", Rusty licked his hands too. Who would have thought it would take my dog to get my husband willing to sign?

I used to think I was a little silly to sign to my dog. But I came across this video which encourages dog owners to sign to their dogs. Unfortunately, the video isn't captioned so here's a brief summary of its dialog: The trainer begins by discussing the advantages of signing to a dog. Then she relaxes her dog by rubbing his back, when he's ready she demonstrates sit, down, up, stay, and shake paw. She rewards the dog with "good dog" and "I love you" and of course treats. The trainer concludes that dogs respond to gestures and body language more than verbal commands.

I've also come across online instructions for teaching your dog sign language commands.

To conclude this post, I'm going to leave you with the story of Sparky. This 1 year old deaf dog was trained by prison inmates to respond to sign language commands. Afterwards, the prisoners thought he should live with people who would appreciate his abilities, so he was moved to a new home at the Missouri School for the Deaf. There he has made many new friends and the students are teaching him even more signs. You can see a picture of Sparky and read the full story here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

American Sign Language Writing

I just stumbled across this video on the internet. I had never heard of ASL writing before. According to the si5s website, the purpose of ASL writing is to "build ASL literature in text form".

I've been working on learning ASL for some time now and I don't see this writing system as being useful to me or other hard of hearing/late deafened adults that are already fluent in English. I want to learn ASL for communication not for reading. I want to learn how to express myself in ASL by watching fluent signers not by reading written symbols.

What do you think? Would this be useful to you? Would it be useful to a deaf child to learn written ASL alongside written English? Let me know your thoughts.

Do I Have to Wear My Hearing Aids When I Drive?

My last post on Switched at Birth raised the topic of deaf drivers. It got me to thinking more about the Hearing Aids restriction F on my own drivers license. I wrote about how I came to get that restriction on this post last year about renewing my drivers license. At that time I assumed it meant that I need to wear my hearing aids when driving just as the restriction B on my drivers license requires me to wear glasses or corrective lenses.

So that's what I've been doing until last week when I drove by myself to the beach. There was no way I was going to risk ruining my hearing aids by exposing them to the sand and water. But I couldn't very well leave them in the car because heat would wreck them too. The best option was to leave them at home.

It felt very freeing to drive without them. The road noise on the highway didn't bother me the way it does when I wear my hearing aids. I didn't have any passengers so there wasn't any strain to participate in conversation. But still I wondered if I were doing the right thing.

Yesterday I did a little research online and found out that in Illinois restriction F on a driver's license simply requires me to have two outside mirrors according to this state government website. There is no mention of having to wear hearing aids while driving. That was a huge relief to me. Now I feel comfortable about using my own judgment about whether or not to wear my hearing aids.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thoughts on Switched at Birth, Episode Two

Switched at Birth, a new television show on ABC Family continues to raise deaf awareness. Here are my thoughts on the latest episode.

I was really pleased to see the question of "Can people who are deaf drive safely?" addressed in the second episode. I think that's one of the most common misconceptions hearing people have about the deaf. In this episode Daphne's biological parents were very concerned about her riding to school on the back of a motorcycle driven by her deaf friend. I liked that Daphne's mom was compassionate about their concern but stood her ground in explaining that people who are deaf can be safe drivers.

Another scene I liked took place in a music store when Liam who is hearing tried to converse with Daphne and she misunderstood what he said. She then took him over to a pair of headphones, played music for him, and then asked him to lipread what she said. When he was completely unable to do it, he began to understand how difficult lipreading is. Here again, a common misconception hearing people have about the super lipreading powers of the deaf was examined.

My other favorite moment from the show was the scene where Daphne ate breakfast alone with her biological parents, brother, and Bay. Without her Mom there to remind them by her translating, the family quickly forgot that Daphne can't hear them. They talked all at once, back and forth, and the camera spun around to show Daphne's view as she tried to make sense of the conversation. When her lack of understanding was revealed by her delighted comment after taking a bite of toast that the jam was rhubarb which her biological mother had just been explaining at length, the family was shocked. Then her brother made a quip about her being similar to his grandpa. In my experience when someone with hearing loss is not elderly, people forget. I have to constantly remind people how to communicate with me and I bet that's your experience too.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the show covers next. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reflections on Switched at Birth

Last night I watched the premier episode of Switched at Birth on Hulu as I don't have access to ABCFamily television station. I found out later that it's also available for viewing through the ABCFamily website. There's an excellent recap and review of this episode on Elizabeth's Eh?What?Huh? blog so I'm going to skip retelling the story and get straight to my reflections.

I was surprised by my intensely personal response to the show. I found myself identifying strongly with Daphne the main character even though I wasn't deaf as a teenager myself. I pondered this afterwards and realized that this program's theme is about coping with a change in your identity, in the way you view yourself, and that's been my internal experience of the past few years since I abruptly learned I have a hearing loss. Until then I had assumed my hearing was normal. Once that rug was pulled out from under me, I had to regain my footing and see myself in a new way.

I adored the loving relationship between Daphne and her mother who signs. I was delighted when she and her mom flicked quick oks to each other as that's something I do now on a regular basis with my son and occasionally with uncomprehending hearing people as it's become such a habit of mine. I'm looking forward to seeing on future episodes which of Daphne's new family first makes the effort to sign to her. My bet is on her new brother. He seems the most open to Deaf culture. Of course he messed up when he wouldn't talk directly to Daphne's best friend who is deaf and doesn't speak, but he did ask the right questions during the conversation. I'm hopeful there will be an episode at some point where her new mother learns some sign. That would be very satisfying to watch and a major turnaround from her completely clueless attitude currently.

The parts of the program dealing with the cause of Daphne's deafness were very poignant for me. As part of my own hearing loss journey I've examined why my hearing loss happened. Was it something I did wrong? Was it something I could have avoided doing? Perhaps most agonizing for me - How could I not realize that I didn't hear the way others do?

When the biological parents of Daphne instinctively seek to fix what they see as a "problem", I could relate to that as well. Unfortunately, I've had someone tell me to go to the doctor and get it taken care of when I began using an assistive listening device in addition to my hearing aid. She didn't understand that my hearing aid doesn't restore my hearing. I've also had a well-meaning family member compare getting a cochlear implant to having cataract surgery. When I replied that it would be okay if my hearing decreased further (I am nowhere near the point of qualifying for a cochlear implant), that I have confidence in my ability to cope and enjoy life without hearing, my relative was completely baffled.

The scene where Daphne's biological father calls out to her when her back is turned and realizes she can't hear him was very moving. In the next moments, he listens to everyday sounds he has taken for granted and comprehends that they are missing from her world. That's the paradox of my own hearing loss experience. Once I understood there were sounds I am unable to perceive, I became tuned into and grateful for the sounds I can hear aided and unaided. When someone asks me now, "Can you hear that?" and I can't, I simply shake my head no. But when I can hear a bird singing or some other lovely sound, I revel in it. I can no longer take it for granted.

One of the best parts of the show was seeing how poised Daphne was when dealing with her emotional parents. Teenagers everywhere take notes! It will be interesting to see if Daphne's self confidence falters any when she moves from a deaf school to a mainstream high school environment.

These are my thoughts. I'd be interested in reading your reaction to the show or what I've written, if you care to share.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Switched At Birth, ABC Family's new TV show features deaf role

When I was at the captioned movie in April, I was delighted to see this trailer for Switched at Birth, a new television series. It looks interesting.

The following information comes from an official ABC Family press release about the show's premier on Monday, June 6 at 9 pm Eastern/8 p.m. Central.

Switched at Birth, a one-hour scripted drama, tells the story of two teenage girls who discover they were accidentally switched as newborns in the hospital. Bay Kennish grew up in a wealthy family with two parents and a brother, while Daphne Vasquez, who lost her hearing at an early age due to a case of meningitis, grew up with a single mother in a working-class neighborhood. Things come to a dramatic head when both families meet and struggle to learn how to live together for the sake of the girls.

John and Kathryn Kennish have led the “perfect” life – he a retired professional athlete and she a stay-at-home mom, having together raised their two children, Bay and Toby, in an idyllic neighborhood. But their world is turned upside down when they learn there was a mistake at the hospital and Bay is not their birth child. Bay discovers in her high school chemistry class that her blood type does not appear to match either of her parents’, and official tests confirm the life-altering news. The family meets Regina Vasquez and her daughter, Daphne. A single mom, Regina has worked hard to take care of Daphne, a member of her school’s basketball team, and a typical teenager in every way except that she is deaf. Daphne lives with her mother and grandmother, and attends her deaf and hard of hearing school with her best friend, Emmett.

The girls struggle to keep their footing in the world they know and the new one into which they have both been thrown. Both questioning their identities -- Bay, a rebellious and talented street artist, is fascinated to learn that her birth mother, Regina, is also an artistic type; Daphne’s love of sports is shared with her birth father, John, once a professional baseball player. When financial difficulties arise for Regina, she accepts the Kennishes’ offer that she, Daphne and Daphne’s grandmother all live in the Kennishes’ guest house, giving everyone a chance to get to know each another.

Academy Award®-winner Marlee Matlin will guest star in several episodes this season as Melody, a school counselor who is Regina’s best friend and mother to Emmett.

Switched at Birth stars newcomer Katie Leclerc as Daphne Vasquez; Vanessa Marano (Gilmore Girls) as Bay Kennish; Constance Marie (George Lopez) as Regina Vasquez; D.W. Moffett (Friday Night Lights) as John Kennish; Lea Thompson (Back to the Future, Caroline in the City) as Kathryn Kennish; and Lucas Grabeel (High School Musical) as Toby Kennish.