SayWhatClub

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.”

Hope

Photograph taken by Gail Solomon
Angie receives blood while using AVA on her phone to transcribe the phlebotomist’s comments. Photograph taken by Gail Solomon

I Don’t Speak Mask (or Mock); I Speak HOPE.

As hearing loss advocate, I couldn’t stay silent about pandemic-inspired masks. But I’m a procrastinator. I’m glad I waited to write about them until today, as I was vividly reminded of the underlying problem.

Masks on the Masses

Our world has never been so “masked-up.” Deaf and hard of hearing people knew masks would bring communication problems, as we’ve dealt with past surgeries and dental procedures that require masks. We automatically lipread, some of us without realizing it. We read expressions and gestures to help us understand what others say. We guess a lot and miss a lot. We have experience, just not on this scale.

As a safety professional, I’m fearful for the safety issues that might arise because of misread and feigned understandings of safety communications made verbally under masks, in high-noise environments; in heightened stresses and fears of the pandemic; in the societal unrest and upheaval we’re experiencing as a result of racism. That’s another article, or more. So are discussions about health, mask efficacy, when to wear or not to wear, individual rights, personal responsibility to yourself and loved ones, etc.

The issue I’m concerned with is how we treat each other while relating, or retreating, behind the masks.

Power in My Purse

I faced my own fears at my first masked-up blood donation. I arrived early at the cross-town synagogue where the blood drive was to be held. Seeing no activity, cars, or Bloodmobile, I checked my email again, realizing that because of the pandemic, the location had been changed from the synagogue to the Red Cross facility nearer to my home. So now I’d be late and encounter hearing struggles! I drove like a banshee to the correct location and wondered if my blood pressure would be too high to donate.

I met the first volunteer at the door, telling him I was hard of hearing and wouldn’t hear well inside. He told me he was a veteran with PTSD. Understanding the tempo of those letters as he spoke them, I thanked him for his service and for sharing that with me. His resonance and candor calmed me.

A room-full of volunteers was another story. At a reception table, synagogue members (I later learned) were thrilled that a non-synagogue member showed up. By this time, I was cranky due to my lateness, dazed by moving masks, and desperate to hear the person talking to me over a constant murmur I could but didn’t want, to hear. Synagogue members helped me figure out a check-in process on my cell phone. A Red Cross employee let me answer questions onscreen. I wasn’t as patient as I could’ve been; despite this fact, my blood pressure was fine. But it seemed to rise as I turned toward the donation chair.

You see, I routinely give blood from my left arm (my deaf side), where a bold vein screams “prick me!” to any phlebotomist in earshot. So, I envisioned the next struggle – a blood collecting process minus lips. Thankfully, a few minutes into pint-giving, I realized the power in my purse. Grabbing it with my free right arm, I pulled out my phone with the Ava speech-to-text app loaded on it. As I began speaking into the phone, my attending blood collector came over. I showed him my words now appearing onscreen and asked him to speak his directions into the phone. His words appeared too. We were both jazzed.

After my donation, I shared Ava with the reception table volunteers and apologized for my previous impatience. They were more than gracious and asked if I’d like to be invited to their next blood drive eight weeks later, which hopefully, will be at their synagogue. “I’d be delighted!” Ava and I replied.

The Power in Me

“There’s an app for that!” we always say. So yes, there’s an app or several (Connect-Hear.com); there’s also good old-fashioned paper and pen, or blackboard and chalk, or white board and marker. The most meaningful solution for me though, is to control my anxiety and realize my inner power – when I can – to take charge of situations and use the tools I have at hand and in me to make them always-positive ones.

At my next appointment, a bevy of health care workers hovered near the entrance to a medical building. Masks began to move as I crossed the threshold. This time, I was in a good mood, announcing as soon as I pulled in close, “Wait! I don’t speak mask!” They all burst out laughing, with one warning she needed to take my temperature as she brought a thermometer to my forehead. I guessed that she also asked if I knew where I was going; so quickly, I made a funny, yet not crude, gesture informing them I’d come in for a mammogram. Laughter is always a good solution. And it makes everyone’s burdens a little lighter.

A No-Mask Mock

I expected mocking from masked hearing people. Sadly, in the health field where I work and serve, I’ve experienced mocking from health care and public health professionals. But tittering, nervous laughs from people who don’t know what to do to help me were the most I’d gotten in the past few months – – until today.

Today, the mask-less neighbor of a friend drove up to us as we returned from a walk. I met this neighbor a few years ago and hadn’t seen him since. When he stopped, he waved his arms in mocking gestures at me. It seemed he only remembered my partial deafness, instead of anything else important about me. I wasn’t shocked, since I knew of this neighbor’s coarseness. A bit rattled with PTSD rising in me, I locked eyes with his, a “Why?” in mine, and walked silently past. Later, in his kitchen, my friend reported to me that after I walked by he asked his neighbor how he thought any person who couldn’t hear would feel if they were treated that way. He told me his neighbor just stared back at him blankly, wordlessly.

Real Problem; Right Language

It seems the real problem is fear in all of us in this brave new multi-masked world: fear of what to do and what to say, as well as our own insecurities hurled at each other in hurtful ways. Masks, and fears, are easy to hide behind. Even mockers are insecure, else they wouldn’t resort to such boorish behaviors.

So, to me, the right language to speak (or sign, for those who don’t speak) is always: HOPE

Help me help you! is Tom Cruise’s plea in Jerry McGuire. Help each other the way they ask you to do so.

Other = Focus on the Other, whether you are the Deaf or hard of hearing person, or the hearing person.

Prepare: Be prepared with your words. Be prepared with your solutions; be willing to use the other’s.

Empathy: Let everything be done with empathy, especially your responses. Even for boorish neighbors.

Issues such as racism are complex and deep-rooted. Yet, in simple terms, they’re based on sight, judging others by skin color or a blood line. If all of us were blind, would these issues exist? What if we were all Deaf? What if all of us used a visual language instead of a spoken one? Throughout history, people have found ways to discriminate against each other based on perceived differences. As with racism, we can easily treat others with disrespect and judgment based on hearing or lack thereof. Masked or not, in a pandemic or not, seeing, hearing, or neither: choose to help; focus on the other’s communication needs; be prepared for interactions; and be empathetic. Speak HOPE! Be another’s help and each other’s hope.

About me: Angie (Fugo) Fuoco is the local chair for the Say What Club 2020, now 2021 convention. She has worked in federal government for more than 33 years in a variety of roles. In March, she joined the EPA’s San Francisco Office of Community Involvement and has since been busy making sure the agency’s engagement activities include people with disabilities, and those of us with hearing loss. She’s excited to host our 2021 Convention next year in Pittsburgh, hopefully without masks!

 

Don’t be Afraid to Travel with Hearing Loss: How Communication can be Better Overseas

Photo by Agustín Diaz on Unsplash

I have traveled quite a bit over the course of my life. From family vacations – to mission trips – to several years working abroad in Indonesia and Ghana, I have tried to see as much of the globe as I can. I even met my husband in Ghana and got married there. Traveling is in my blood. But as someone with moderate hearing loss, travel can also pose some unique challenges. I always worry that I won’t hear my boarding call when waiting for my flight and end up in the wrong zone or miss my flight altogether (while I have gotten in the wrong group to board, I have yet to miss my flight). Here are some tips for traveling with hearing loss and some ways communication is actually easier overseas!

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask for Help

Gate agents are there to help you. If you worry that you won’t hear your boarding call, explain your situation to the agent. They can make sure you board on time and in your correct group. The same goes for train or boat travel. Even if you are in a non-English speaking country, most people who work in the tourism industry can speak English and are willing and able to help you. If you can’t find an agent, your fellow travelers are usually able to help. When I have traveled by train, there is always someone willing to tell me if I am at the correct stop. Generally, people are friendly and want to assist fellow travelers.

There are Usually Signs Everywhere

The airport always has signs directing you to your gate and letting you know your departure time and gate location. The same is usually true for train stations (but not always, especially in a developing country). But if you can’t find the signs to direct you where you need to go, there are always agents around that can help. Or you can usually find maps and directions in English inside the terminal.

Hand Signals: an Effective Form of Communication

When I lived in Indonesia, I walked everywhere. I would often get a bit lost as I was exploring and have to stop to ask directions from someone who didn’t speak English. I found if I said “Paris Van Java?”, the main mall in Bandung, the city I was in, they could always point me in the right direction. Even general conversations could be had mainly using hand signals. If ASL is your primary language, you can usually get away with writing down a few words and using gestures to explain yourself. On the plus side, many people in non-English speaking countries can write English better than they can speak it. And people are often more willing to have a written conversation overseas than they would in the U.S. Especially in Indonesia, I found there were a lot of people who jumped at the chance to practice their English, whether by writing or speaking. Teach them some signs and you may find a new friend who is willing to show you around and introduce you to new adventures.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask People to Repeat Themselves

I say “What?” a lot. I’ve found that if I am constantly asking someone to repeat themselves in the U.S., they tend to get annoyed. On the contrary, when I don’t understand someone overseas, they assume it’s because of their accent. They are usually more gracious to repeat themselves multiple times or say something in a different way so you can understand them. They also don’t tend to dismiss you by saying, “Never mind.”

If People Don’t Understand You, They Think it’s Because of Your Accent

Because I can’t hear certain soft speech sounds, I don’t always enunciate my words properly. Or I may not pronounce a word correctly. While some people are understanding, others are not. However, when I am abroad, people just assume it’s because of my accent. I would say ‘American accent’ but I’ve frequently been told that I don’t sound ‘American’. Most people tend to guess that I am German by the way I talk and by the way I look (my heritage is mainly German so that makes sense). But I have never had anyone ask me if I have hearing loss based on my accent (or on the fact that I can’t understand them).

Find the Local Deaf Advocacy Group or Visit A Deaf School

Different countries have different resources for people with hearing loss. If you are in Europe or another wealthy country, the local Deaf advocacy group may have different resources for you as a traveler or be able to recommend places to go and people you can connect to. If you are in a developing country, there are often very few opportunities and resources for those with hearing loss. Oftentimes isolated, a person with hearing loss has little communication with their society and denied educational or work opportunities. By visiting a school or group, you can provide encouragement and connection. And you can advocate for change by your example.

It may seem intimidating to travel when you have hearing loss. But you will usually find that people are willing to help and it is easier to communicate than you initially thought. Don’t be afraid to get out and explore!

About the Author

Jenny Beck is a chiropractor and advocate for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. She has had moderate hearing loss since a very young age. She is passionate about health, travel, writing and spending time with her family.