SayWhatClub

The ADA and its importance to those with hearing loss

Thirty years ago, on July 26, 1990, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush. This groundbreaking legislation prohibits discrimination based on disability.

The ADA is important to me because I have a profound hearing loss. I started to lose my hearing when I was 19. Today, at 70, I am grateful for my cochlear implants which gives me close to normal hearing.

When Congress began drafting a law to define people with disabilities as a protected class, hearing loss was not mentioned, probably because it’s invisible. The only concession was for the Deaf, easily recognizable because of their use of American Sign Language (ASL). Hearing loss was finally included in the ADA thanks to the advocacy work of Rocky Stone and his newly formed organization, Self Help for the Hard of Hearing (SHHH), and Senator Tom Harkin who was a passionate advocate for it.

This inclusion is important because it affects 48 million Americans, a number projected to grow “thanks” to loud music played through headphones; returning vets exposed to heavy artillery; the aging population; and the noisy environment of cities. Hearing aids help, but they’re expensive and rarely covered by insurance, except for those covered by the Veterans Administration.

During my 35-year sales career, although I already used hearing aids, I had trouble hearing. Meetings were challenging and I struggled to hear on the phone in our noisy office. Had I only had the confidence to ask for accommodations I could have asked for CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation or live captions) for meetings, access to a vacant room for phone calls, captioned phones, and assistive listening devices.

Unfortunately, I did not. I was embarrassed, even humiliated by my hearing loss and tried to hide my hearing aids. I bluffed my way through conversations and meetings, creating misunderstandings, frustrations, and an impact on my career.

Ten years ago, I found the HLAA, and met others with hearing loss. I learned that my peers bluff if they cannot hear rather than admit they have a hearing loss. This was a life-changing insight for me as I thought I was the only one who pretended. And as I know all too well, bluffing can cause many embarrassing answers.

The HLAA, and accepting my hearing loss, have led me to start an HLAA chapter and serve as its president, become president of the international, online organization, SayWhatClub (www.saywhatclub.org). I launched a coaching
practice for those with hearing loss, helping them come to terms with their disability; also their communication partners as they are affected too. In addition, I give workshops and talks, all to educate people on hearing loss.

The ADA has had a major impact on my life, and on yours too if you choose to use it. It is not a watchdog agency. It is the law. Thanks to that law, we have accessible sidewalks, ramps, and elevators benefiting the wheelchair-bound and
others with difficulties negotiating stairs and curbs. More and more theaters and other venues provide CART and hearing loops. The ADA makes it illegal to discriminate against individuals with disabilities. You cannot be fired just because
you use a wheelchair or are hearing challenged. If your performing-arts center, conference room in city hall, or other public venue does not provide accommodations, like CART or hearing loops, you can ask for it.

Thankfully today there are a host of accommodations for hearing loss: captions on TVs, movies and smart devices as well as theaters providing CART, hearing loops in public venues integrating sound directly to the hearing aid. Telephones are hearing aid compatible. Captioned phones are free. Plus, smart phones provide a host of voice to text Apps.

There are still  shortcomings, but those shortcomings might encourage us to advocate for ourselves. As I mentioned the ADA is a law, not a watchdog agency, so we must be the watchdogs. We must ask for accommodations when needed, and the law backs us up much of the time. If we go to a public venue, it is our job to ask for accommodations, always allowing lead-time to comply. It’s not easy. You have to persevere, even in the face of rejection. But the ADA provides the legal groundwork to file complaints and take legal action.

Hearing loss doesn’t just affect your ears. It affects your self-esteem, social life, career and relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. Dealing with it requires courage and the willingness to stand up for yourself. We are fortunate to have the ADA to support us.

Pat Dobbs and the 2019 SayWhatClub Convention, Photo by Andre Binns.

Pat Dobbs, President of SayWhatClub, is the founder of Hearing Loss Evolution (www.hearinglossevolution.com), providing training and coaching services for people with hearing loss and their communication partners. Through this, she created the “Nine Guding Principles” to hlep all who suffer from hear loss. She is passionate about educating and empowering people about hearing loss and helps through work as an Educator, Speaker, and Coach. Ms. Dobbs started losing her hearing when she was 20 years old and her hearing progressively declined thereafter leading to her current status as a wearer of bilateral cochlear implants that allow her to hear close to normal. You can reach her at Pat@CoachDobbs.com.

Article is reprinted from Island Ad-Vantages; Serving Stonington, Deer Isle and Ilse au Haut, ME; August 6, 2020. Publisher & Editor: R. Nathaniel W. Barrows.

Live, Love, Learn and Leave, if You Need!

Ah, beloved – it’s been eight weeks, since I wrote my first article about certain effects of mask-wearing on communication with the hard of hearing; time to log some more ideas and experiences.

All praise and glory to God for healing and protection during this time as ever; prayers for the world (leaders and regular folks), and realization of our need to turn back to God. May we be humble and repentant in these days.

Shout out to essential workers (this includes everyone, even those not “working”), former CDC colleagues (whom I’m not ripping every time I post something related to its’ institutional failures), my new and old buds at EPA, and beloved with hearing loss and other disabilities. I’m thankful for you all.

Thankful I could contribute to my country’s work in the professional realm too. A CDC friend reached out to me in April, because s/he knew CDC’s renowned hearing loss communications expert (me!) had only recently left to seek better working conditions. S/he knew who to call, so I gave my “free” expertise to inform CDC’s phone contact tracing, considering people with hearing loss, Deaf, and late deafened, and various communication possibilities (paid for by my trials, but glad to finally be effective for my tribe!).

We have to LIVE during this pandemic, so I’ve gone about my business, practicing the safety and health principles I know and seeking to learn and share knowledge. I’ve traveled safely and with purpose and sought to keep my own health paramount. That old adage: “put on your mask first, before putting one on another” is something to take to heart in every situation, not just when flying or in a pandemic.

Also, living among multitudes of masked others, I’ve had to pray daily for more grace, patience, and love – both to give and receive. Say and DO Shema! Love the Lord Your God… and neighbor as self, Ange!

So thankful for these people, because they helped me learn – and teach them, for those who’d listen long enough for a nugget of communication improvement we might use in the future or with another:

–        For a postal worker’s kind rescue from a fearful coworker’s refusal to write down instructions, as well as rescue from the scene created by the fearful coworker’s “able-ist” reactions to my need. All I wanted to do was get my mail off, not gain ADA/Rehab Act lawsuit fodder that day. Also, I’m thankful for the “fearful” postal worker creating the opportunity to know she needs prayer!

–        For the young lady at REI who re-rung my order to attach to my membership number, graciously receiving my gentle feedback that next time, she should ensure the hard of hearing customer understands her questions (such as, for my member number, which she asked once, but I missed, and that would not have given me credit for the purchase under my membership).

–        For many who realize they can safely stand 6 or 10 feet away (outside or when other barriers are present) and pull down their mask for a moment to let me lipread them. (That’s the range of a hearing aid – 6 to 10 feet – but we who wear them, and the kind people who “get it” know that a hearing aid has so much more power when a user’s eyes are focused on faces and lips.)

–        For another young lady named Katie (mom’s name!) at a business, who learned a bit about hard of hearing mask-readers after I called her Kayla and she’d assured me that I could hear her… Getting her name wrong was the clincher! I helped her realize how disrespectful she was by challenging me, and asked her to do better by giving the next customer the benefit of doubt.

–        For a security guard who reminded me to respond faster to “attitudes” behind masks, especially when mask-owner is armed. (I stayed outside a farmer’s market at closing, drinking my $1-decaf as I’d done another day, but this guard had a different attitude than the other… with his soft voice, I tried to hear him (as I thought he was asking about my welfare), until he yelled, “Leave!”

–        For a Sport Clips hair stylist who cut my hair after 5 months (a pandemic-in-its-own-right), using Ava (ava.me), my trusty speech-to-text app, so we could communicate behind our masks. Here’s me and my new “do” thanks to her. (Note: I asked for a socially-distanced photo; she declined.) Nonetheless, I was happy I could actually stand looking in the mirror at myself to take this selfie!

So there you have it; lessons, love, and learning, and a bit of leaving, when necessary. Love each other peeps, regardless of our ideologies, shades of skin, cultures, abilities and/or any absences thereof. We will embrace and shake and hold each other’s hands when this thing is over or when each individual is ready. In the meantime, fight institutional and social injustice. Use your voice to speak out against it. Just don’t do violence.

Angie (Fugo) Fuoco

for Blog Post
Sometimes, it is just too hard to understand what is being said around us. Be kind to yourself; those who love you will understand.
The views and opinions expressed by the author does not necessarily represent the views of the SayWhatclub administrators and/or subscribers, and are provided solely for informational and educational purposes.  The SayWhatclub is not responsible and does not verify for accuracy any of the information provided.”

Hearing for Two

by Claudia Sanders

 

When my hearing friend talked about her challenges living with her hearing loss husband, I encouraged her to share her feelings. After all, hearing loss is a communication disorder and affects both the person with hearing loss and the person they talk with. What follows is a result of our conversations.

Normal Hearing

I have normal hearing. My husband, on the other hand, has significant hearing loss. While it’s obvious that there’s an impact on the life of a person with hearing loss, there’s also an unrecognized impact on the partner with good hearing.
I’ve considered writing about this impact for some time but have been reluctant for fear of sounding selfish or appearing to paint myself as a victim. The last thing I want is for any person with hearing loss to think that their partner feels they are burden. I do think it’s important, though, to acknowledge that hearing loss not only affects a couple’s communication, but that it also affects them individually. Understanding the impact can lead to effective and creative strategies to reduce frustration for both parties.

Hearing for Two

I realized that I was hearing for two when, I became aware that I was usually on “high alert” when I was out with my husband. Successful strategies help at home. However, whether at a store, doctor’s office, social gathering, restaurant, museum, checking in at an airport or one of the many other places where hearing is important or critical, I am always poised to intervene and help him know what is being said, or asked of him. There are times when I feel the need to tell a friend or stranger, “He didn’t hear you” because of their puzzled look when he doesn’t respond or appears to ignore them.

Communication

The research I’ve done on the effect of hearing loss on the hearing partner has turned up little. Most articles provide tips for the spouse with normal hearing on how to communicate with their partners. The focus, and rightfully so, is on how frustrating and exhausting it is to have hearing loss. The articles also say how one’s partner can help by communicating clearly. What usually isn’t mentioned, though, is how exhausting it is to hear for two. It’s hard to relax knowing that your partner may be missing important information or that he or she is not feeling included in a social situation. The impulse to step in and help is always there and it’s hard to know when to intervene or wait to be asked.

One of the main challenges for both parties is managing the guilt felt by each. The partner with hearing loss doesn’t want to be a burden or too reliant on the hearing spouse. He or she is reluctant to ask for things to be repeated or interpreted and the hearing spouse feels guilty for the occasional feelings of frustration. Open, caring, honest conversations on the most effective way to navigate hearing loss together, can provide insight into what each person is feeling and experiencing and help find solutions to reduce frustration.

Claudia Sanders worked as a job developer and vocational rehabilitation counselor in a non-profit agency helping people with disabilities and barriers obtain and maintain employment. She currently has a part time business as a professional organizer and is a hospice volunteer in her free time.