A Tribal Fling

by Chelle Wyatt

friendshipMost of us who are hard of hearing live among the hearing and probably don’t have hard of hearing friends to hang out with, on a local level anyway. Some of us may be lucky enough to go to HLAA meetings and experience being around other hard of hearing people where we know to practice the rules for proper hard of hearing communication, we know how to talk to each other. When that’s done we slip right  back into the hearing world.

Hanging out with with other hard of hearing people for an extended amount of time tends to set a routine within the first 6 hours (or less) and suddenly we have a new normal. This happens at hearing loss conventions and it’s heaven. Not only is there live captioning at all the workshops and during the banquets but loops are available too so it’s a world catered to hearing loss. To top that off, the people are awesome away from the workshop settings too. There’s almost no impatience with repeats or with the various modes of communication; hearing aids, cochlear implants, personal amplifiers, lipreading and even writing things down when all else fails. As most of you are already aware, I come home with a natural high after conventions.

Last month I went to Minnesota for a week to hang out with hard of hearing friends, most of who I met at past conventions only this was no convention. There were no workshops or fancy accommodations. This was several of us visiting for what we call a “fling” and it was my first time doing this and it’s just as wonderful as going to the conventions.

I kept a running list of my obsersevations while I was there. Here are 10 things I loved about hanging out with my tribe.

  1. We get each others attention before talking. Whether it was touching an arm or waving a hand around, we got the other person’s attention which avoids half the repeats.
  2. We faced each other while talking which also cuts down on unnecessary repeats.
  3. If we were out walking we’d stop to face each other to talk instead of continuing to walk. This keeps someone from walking into a sign, a light pole or falling off the curb. In my case, it kept me from slipping on ice a few times. We may not get anywhere fast this way but communication is better.
  4. No matter who’s house you go to, the captions are already on the television. Woo-hoo!
  5. We can advocate together. At a restaurant we told the waiters we lipread and we wanted captions on the TV. Together we complained to management about improper maintenance of CaptiViews at a movie theater. I think together we make more of an impression.
  6. No one talks with their mouth full because most of use lipreading to some degree. We start chewing fast while holding up a finger or waving a hand around in front of our mouth to signal ‘wait a second’ until food is gone. No flying food with us!
  7. If we are bunking in the same room together, snoring isn’t going to bother either one of us. Bonus!
  8. There’s very little talking while driving which may seem odd at first coming from the hearing world but it becomes comfortable. Hearing in cars has been one of my most difficult situations since I was a teenager, trying to hear above the radio, road noise and traffic noise. I’m exhausted in cars after a few hours of someone talking the whole time. It’s a huge strain on my mental capacity to hear in a car and will eventually wear me out physically too. It was quite nice to sit back and enjoy the scenery with the driver’s eyes on the road.
  9. I had lipreading backup. By far, my friend Michele is better than I am so when we went into a grocery store and both of us only heard/saw one word on the cashiers mouth the entire time I felt relief. Some people are just harder to lipread than others for various reason.
  10. We joined several other friends in a fancy, business style, dark hotel bar. We sat by the fireplace and all our eyes squinted in concentration with a few of us in the shadows. Only with a group of hard of hearing friends can I turn on my cell phone flashlight and put each speakers face in the spotlight with out complaints. (We also had some fun with shadow play.)

There were a few odd things about being with others who are hard of hearing.

  • Without thinking about it, we vie for the best positioning. We want to be front and center. We want to face the room in restaurants for visual purposes. We always want the others persons face in the light.
  • Usually we know when the other person doesn’t understand something that was said. We recognize the look in the far away look in the eyes, the deaf nod or the blank smile…but sometimes we don’t. Some of us are good bluffers but it will usually come out in the end anyway.
  • Niether of us can hear the tea kettle screaming away on the stove. I’m used to my husband telling me when the microwave is done or a timer is going off but that option is not available with other hard of hearing people.

Here’s a couple of things that came to light about those of us who are hard of hearing.

  • We are followers. When with a group of people who are going out to do something we lose track of the back and forth conversation and end up following. (Of course we blindly follow along only with people we trust.) Where are we going? I don’t know but we’ll find out.
  • Without meaning to be, we are noisy in the kitchen. My husband tells me to “take it easy” every now and then when I’m cooking. I don’t think I’m loud but I am and now I know others get the same things from their family also. We don’t know we are being loud, trust me.

The week went by fast, too fast. Coming home I was in my element at the airport and in the plane. I told people what I needed and got a few surprises like the ticket agent telling me he was learning sign language just so he could talk better with those who were deaf. Without being aware of it, I was riding that natural high the whole time.

I came home to reality, sigh. I’m not complaining about my home life because Ken is good about most of the communication between us but it wasn’t my world anymore. Someone told me that’s the sign of a good vacation coming home a bit bummed because it’s over. I can agree with that. It sure makes me look forward to the next SayWhatClub convention.

SLC convention
One of my favorite pictures from the SWC Salt Lake convention.

Why I Don’t Identify with being Hearing Impaired

by Chelle George-Wyatt

I had to back up and think about my statement on Facebook the other day. I don’t identify with being hearing impaired and I know several others with hearing loss who don’t identify with it either. I’m not everyone and I’m not most people because some have said they don’t mind the label hearing impaired. I didn’t get my first pair of hearing aids until 23 yrs old and the lable I got then was “hard of hearing.” Since that was my first label maybe that’s what I’m most comfortable with??? I just can’t do the ‘hearing imparied’ for myself.

Here is the definition of impaired:

1. Diminished, damaged, or weakened

2. Functioning poorly or incompetently

3. Having a physical or mental disability:

n. (used with a pl. verb)

People who have a physical or mental disability considered as a group

Truly, I felt all of the above at one point. Mostly that was before gaining support from others like myself, learning better coping strategies and educationing myself about high frequency hearing loss. Since then, the only time I’ve felt dimished, damaged or weakend is when I haven’t been given proper accommodations. When given those accommodations, I feel included, empowered, fully functional and able to participate.

Before learning better coping strategies, I may have seemed mentally incompacitated when I bluffed and guessed wrong. Once I gave up bluffing, most situations improved. When I took control of my hearing loss, more situations improved. When I educated myself and others about high frequency hearing loss, communication and relationships improved. I had to learn a different style of communication.

A different communication style plays into my current thinking from my past. When my middle son was in grade school, he was 2 ½ grade levels behind. When I took him to school in the morning he dragged his feet and sometimes cried before getting out of the car. He knew he was the ‘slowest’ child in class. Every day when I picked him up, I could see his self-esteem falling and it broke my heart.

I demanded the school test him and they found out he has an auditory processing disorder. Because of all the ear infections as a baby/toddler, he learned visually instead of through his ears so he has a different learning style. Schools teach the auditory method. They wanted him to adapt. He didn’t even qualify for extra help while at school because his average peer was one grade level behind and since he was only “one” grade level behind, he was fine! I could not stand by and watch his self-esteem continue to plummet.

Instead, I researched his learning style and found out many kids are visual learners such as ADD and dyslexic. More and more kids were becoming visual learners but the schools won’t change. I took my son out of the public school system and homeschooled him for a couple of years teaching to his learning style. He blossomed, he caught on and he started learning again. I told him all the time he wasn’t the one who failed, it was the school who failed him.

When we moved to a different state he went back into the public system with an IEP (individualized education plan) in place this time. A few years later in high school he had it figured out, we dropped the IEP and he assimilated into the school without distress or low self-esteem. Success! He wasn’t impaired, he needed a different learning style.


I now apply that to my hearing loss. I haven’t failed, the set mode of communication has failed. More and more of us are becoming hard of hearing. Are we dimished, damaged or weakened? No, we have a different mode of communication that doesn’t fit standard society. Society is the one who makes me feel dimished, damaged and weakened, if we let it. It is part my fault not getting proper accommodations when I don’t educate others.

Why is everyone expected to be the same? We’re not. We all have different needs.

Is it my fault when others don’t accommodate me? Not neccesarily. I now know education is the key and I educate others almost every chance I get. Unfortunately there’s more educating to do, a lot more. I’ve learned things through trial and error. What works for me may not work for everyone. It is not my intent to offend anyone, and I aoologize if I have I only know how the word ‘impaired’ affects me.

I can’t identify as deaf either. I’m somewhere between the worlds because I still use what’s left of my hearing and my eyes too. I have learned some sign language but I’m far from Deaf. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to label us, we all have our own ways.

There’s another word in the definition of impairment I don’t agree with; disability. I feel like I have a lot of ‘ability’ in the right environment. I like what these people have to say:


If everything was accessible, there would be very little ‘dis’ability.

Please, share your views. I do my best to keep an open mind and I can be swayed. When some people use “hearing impaired” I don’t say anything because I know they mean well. When the state uses it to define me, I got a little riled up. It may take me a few days for comments to soak in but I really do consider all views.

2013 SayWhatClub Convention

SayWhatClub conventions are special. Those of us who attend, leave with uplifted spirits on a natural high. After four days together, we feel like family. Not only do we learn more about hearing loss through workshops and presentations but we learn we aren’t alone with our daily trials. It’s one of the few times of year we can be in a crowd of people and not feel left out. Here are some quotes from those attended this year.

*Rhonda: “Totally awesome convention! It was a super fellowship time and learning experience for me…and I’m grateful.”

*Erica: “It was SIMPLY AWESOME! Josh and I had a wonderful time, and it was such a pleasure to meet each and every one of you; old friends & new ones!”

*Pat K: “I thoroughly enjoyed my first convention and look forward to future ones where I can get the whole experience. I came back thoroughly inspired and energized…”

*Sudheer: “I feel wonderful after attending my first convention. Many informative talks and presentations and a great deal of suggestions on dealing with the hearing loss. I have learnt many new things here, which I intend to practice regularly.”

*Barb: “I had a blast at my first (full) SWC Con, and G-d willing I’ll be at next years…Not only did I have a great time & enjoy the speakers, and almost forgot, chatting with the vendors too, but can also say another highlight most definitely was meeting so many wonderful people. My expectations for this trip were far exceeded, and I’ll never forget it.”

*Michele T: “This was my very first Con experience and it was such a remarkable experience. I did learn a few things but mostly enjoyed connecting with others who UNDERSTAND what I’m dealing with. There’s no comparison to finding another that truly “gets it” and you all do! I am proud and thankful to be a part of our group.

The 2013 SayWhatClub convention was held May 15-19th in Williamsburg, VA this year. “New Options in a Timeless Setting.” We were right across the street from the College of William and Mary, one of the oldest in the USA at the Williamsburg Hospitality House (soon to go out of business to be a part of the dorms for the college above). Colonial Williamsburg a short stroll away with the streets shut off to normal traffic and 18th century homes and businesses lined the street. New options included nearby Busch Gardens, shopping centers and plenty of restaurants to eat at.

The convention kicked off with a welcome party in the hospitality room. SWC volunteers man a table just outside the room to hand out name tags and give us a bag filled with goodies.

Hospitality table volunteers


name tags
The picture on the name tags is a reprint of a picture painted by Joyce for the silent auction.

Once inside the hospitality room, we find old friends and greet new ones. Deserts, coffee and tea were offered while we mingled as camera flashes went off. Some people were delighted seeing each other again from previous conventions and newbies tend to be a little shy at first staying on the edge. It doesn’t take long to get them up and talking with the rest of us. After all, this is hard of hearing culture and we like to make sure no one feels left out.

Diane, Neil and Brenda

Cynthia, Diana, Elaine and Marti

Rhonda and Wendy

Tom, Ray and Don

Rhonda, Regina and Michele

As the night goes along, I noticed people picking up each others name tags to check and recheck names. (Looking at the name tag gets the information across faster with less repeats.) No one takes offense when someone walks up and picks up their name tag, it became routine really fast. Plus we meet so many people that first night, it’s hard to remember who is who. Later we check name tags again to see what list that person was on. Later still, we are looking at the same name tag again to figure out where we came from. Everyone is smiling and laughing even if we had a long day of travel.

Afterward, many people chose to go to bed but a few of us went to a bar across the street called The College Delly to visit some more. They had a nice patio setting which is easier on our ears than the inside. We aren’t there to drink so much as carry on the conversation and get to know each other more. Here we catch up and include newbies with past stories. If someone didn’t hear a joke or story, we’re sure to fill them in. There’s plenty of laughter too. We may be short on hearing but our sense of humor more than makes up for it.

Erica and Josh holding up pictures of friends who couldn't make it this year.

That night I feel asleep late but with a smile on face so grateful to be part of this amazing group of people. I feel like I’m home with my people.

The next morning workshops start and our first one featured Gael Hannan and Ear Rage! “I lost my hearing and I want it back.” She told us stories to make us laugh. She acted out scenarios showing us that maybe hearing loss isn’t so invisible after all. She encouraged us to be proactive with our hearing loss and recognized the fact we have bad days.

Geal Hannan


Ear Rage!

The next workshop featured all three cochlear implant (CI) companies, Advanced Bionics, Med-El and Cochlear America. Each representative talked about their product and each company seems to have it’s special features. All three representatives were friendly and good about answering any and all questions.

Workshops ended for the day around noon. At least 30 of us gather in the lobby to walk together to the The King’s Arm Tavern for lunch. It’s in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg keeping to the colonial ways. Waitresses and waiters are dressed in period attire for the 18th century. It’s typical southern fare, meaning good eating. We fill an entire room and with SWCers only and the staff was pleasant and accommodated our hearing loss. Ever been a room full of hard of hearing people? Have I mentioned we are loud? We still manage to communicate whether it’s talking, lip reading or some signing and the laughter never stops.

walking to lunch


riding to lunch


King's Arms Tavern

King's Arms Tavern, the line up


waiting for our lunch room


friends and more friends

role model?


a nice guy

Many of us split up after lunch to tour the area by ourselves or with a group of people. That night we gathered once again at the College Delly for dinner and $1 Coronas. Some people came for a while, then left as others drifted in. Some of us stayed the whole night but at any given time we had at least 20 people in there. We bonded, we created memories and we laughed some more going to bed late.



Barb, Steve and Regina

Brenda holding Kristen and Amy

Chelle holding Kristen and Amy

Rhonda, Mary Lou and Shari

Sudheer and his daughter


Marti, Tom, Susan, Lorne and JoannDonna!


Rhonda, Mark and Erica


a whole table full

I went to bed very tired but drifted of with happy thoughts and feeling blessed again. As our convention booklet says, “We might arrive strangers but we all go home friends.” By the second night, we know this is true.

To be continued….