SayWhatClub

Navigating A World That Assumes You Hear: How to Deal With Not Being Able to Hear

By Michele Linder

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At whatever stage in life you came to hearing loss, it’s likely no one gave you any specific information on how to deal with not being able to hear. No one instructed you on what to expect, how to react, or what to do to make communication easier. There’s no required Hearing Loss 101 class.  There’s no orientation for newbies that teaches you how to navigate through difficult hearing situations.

          There should be.

I recently posted a great article to our SayWhatClub Facebook Page that I read on The Mighty, a website that publishes “real stories by real people facing real challenges”. In the article, To the Girl Who Saw Me Struggle to Communicatethe author describes a process she’s gone through “hundreds of times” throughout her college career—standing in line at the bistro in the busy student café rehearsing her order before it’s her turn at the counter. 

         “I’ll admit to wondering… if this situation is something she’s dealt with “hundreds of times”, why isn’t she better at it?”

I’m going to break this simple scenario down for you. I spent several decades letting these very simple situations turn unpleasant, frustrating and awkward.

          Yes, I still assess situations that are new to me.  I rehearse, and use my super powers (lipreading, anticipatory and observation skills, etc.)  I do all I can to make things go more smoothly.  No longer am I on pins and needles waiting for what can, and most likely will, go wrong, because–

I tell people that I can’t hear. 

Don’t be afraid, just do it. And, however you say it is fine… for me, I say “Hi there… first, let me mention that I’m a lipreader and I need to see you speak, so please don’t look down while talking or I won’t be able to read your lips.  Lipreading is great, but it doesn’t always work, so I may need you to write down what I can’t hear.”, as I hold up my trusty pad and pen. That may seem like a mouthful, but it’s pretty much a given that anyone behind a counter—wait staff, check-out or bank clerk, etc.—is going to talk to you while looking down, so clue them in at the start of things and they’ll know better.

And, speak up when you foresee a problem. 

If, when you place your order, the counter person asks for your name, let them know you’re not going to hear them call you when your order is ready. Ask for a plan B.  If they make a workable suggestion, great! If not, offer a solution of your own—“I’ll stand over there and watch for you to wave at me when my order is ready, but if I miss it someone needs to come over and get me.”

          If something does go wrong and you miss a cue, and the aggravated guy behind you taps you on your shoulder and rolls his eyes…

Keep your cool.

Because the minute you freak out, all the skill in the world won’t be of any use… you’re now so flustered that any ability you had to figure out what’s being said goes out the window.

And, do let rude people knowin as nice a way possiblethat rudeness is not helpful.

It’s not something they would want from others, so thank them for getting your attention. Tell them you’re deaf and sometimes miss things.  Also tell them the aggravation and eye-rolling isn’t necessary or appreciated.

          If you need justification for calling them out…

Consider it a teaching moment. 

Express your hope that when they next encounter someone that seems to be not paying attention, consider that they might also be deaf.

          “If you do lose your cool, for whatever reason—someone has made you feel “less than” or you’re embarrassed at not hearing and panic—consider this…”

It’s not your fault that you can’t hear. 

Stop buying into the misconception that you’re inconveniencing the world because you have different communication needs.  

          Stop pressing your lips tightly together and glancing at the scuffs on the toes of your black Converse low-top sneakers. No amount of fiddling with your hearing aids or wishing will produce an answer to the mysterious unknown question you didn’t hear. It will never magically appear out of nowhere in written form.  But you can…

Have them write it down, 

thereby creating your own magic! Hand over your paper and pen, and say “You’re going to have to write that down, I’m not getting it… thanks.” Don’t pose it as a question, simply offer instruction for what you need.

It’s empowering when you realize you don’t have to leave difficult hearing situations to chance. When you actively participate in finding ways to make things play out as smoothly as possible, you’ll likely not need a gentle and helpful soul to swoop in and clue you in… you’ll be able to handle the situation yourself before it turns unpleasant.

However, as the author states, she was having an incredibly stressful week.  She was feeling extremely insecure, isolated, and alone with regard to her hearing loss.  We all know how that feels. It’s normal to have bad days when we feel vulnerable and don’t handle situations as well as we could. So, there’s no need to beat yourself up about it. 

          “It’s certainly not my intent to beat the author up in any way, either. I’m really glad she gave the world a window into what life is like with hearing loss. We’ve all had encounters where we’re not in the frame of mind to be our own best advocate.  Sometimes we’re just tired of explaining. Her article made me think about my own bad days, and how far I’ve come in my fifty-seven years.  What I’ve learned along the way has made me stronger and a better person.”

Hopefully, on those bad days you’ll be as lucky as the author was at crossing paths with a particularly tuned-in person who took it upon themselves to step in and help, and who didn’t make a big deal about it.

Sometimes we, and others, can make hearing loss out to be a bigger deal than it needs to be.

          Yes, it is a big deal that one whole sense is not working the way it was designed to work and it affects almost everything you do, especially how you communicate. However…

Take charge! 

Actively work on ways to eliminate what makes a situation unpleasant. Think of it as instruction that increases your self-sufficiency, which in turn makes you feel more capable. And, capable is what gets you out in the world to enjoy your life more.

Live more, isolate yourself less.  Join SWC for more ideas on how to advocate for yourself.

          Most people with a disability want to remain independent and self-sufficient and to feel capable.  Don’t you?

“Meatball Sugar”… Say What?

by Michele Linder

When mishearing leads to a good laugh

According to Miriam Websters Dictionary, a mondegreen is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony.  In a way that gives it a new meaning. It often happens when a person is listening to a poem or a song.  But it can also happen in other situations where spoken words sound similar or look similar on the lips. Interestingly, the term was coined in 1954 by American writer Sylvia Wright while writing about how as a girl she had misheard the lyric “…and laid him on the green” in a Scottish ballad as “…and Lady Mondegreen”.

Mishearing is common among those with hearing loss and those who rely heavily on lipreading, but it isn’t exclusive to that group. Even hearing people get words that sound and look alike on the lips wrong on occasion.

I recently was watching The Great American Baking Show and had a real laugh-out-loud moment during the Custard and Meringue Week episode. The moment can be found at around minute 4:40 of Stephanie’s Maple Fennel Crème Brûlée segment.

Mary Berry, one of the judges on the show, expresses her concern over the unusual combination of maple and fennel being used in a sweet custard dish:

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Stephanie, the baker in question, assures Mary that the fennel compliments the maple syrup and maple sugar.

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Looking a bit perplexed, Mary asks Stephanie…

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Then it’s Stephanie’s turn to look perplexed…

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Realization sets in and the whole room erupts in laughter at Mary’s mishearing…

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Try it while looking in the mirror… say “meatball sugar”, then say “maple sugar”.  It’s really interesting that really different words can be mistaken, each for the other.

Mary, being a good sport, gets a big kick out of it herself…

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And, of course, Johnny Iuzzini, the other judge, has to lend some sarcasm…

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Sometimes the best thing — whether you’re a person with hearing loss, laughter that comes from mishearing what was intended is the best thing.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

For more information about lipreading, see Lipreading Tips posted June 6, 2017.

Gestures Aid Communication

gestures of thumbs up or thumbs down
An easy visual aid for “No” and “Yes”

by Chelle Wyatt

I teach a speechreading class at different senior centers through my work with the state. Every time I teach the class I learn a thing or two. It might be lip shapes of certain letters clicking in my brain at long last. It might be something I need to work on such as saying ‘zero’ instead of ‘oh’ when working with numbers. In life outside the classroom it was rephrasing which I brought back to my students. This last fall I learned how much gestures aid communication.

It’s a lesson in our book which I helped edit a year or so ago. The lesson is in there but I hadn’t given it credit until I watched my seniors struggle last fall learning to lipread. The more we relax, the easier lipreading gets but my seniors weren’t weren’t relaxing. They stared intently, not able to pick up the words in ‘lip speak’ (no voice). With the younger crowd I taught everyone the ASL alphabet and we used finger spelling for hints but my seniors weren’t picking up that up either. I sensed frustration so I encouraged them to use gestures if they saw the puzzled looks.  (Facial expressions are another lesson in our book.  Lipreading is a holistic practice, taking in my many things at once.)

At first they felt awkward, but after a few lessons of using gestures they became more comfortable with the idea. Then they started picking up the words faster, so fast I was amazed. Soon it became common practice with us and it introduced laughter. What happens when a speechreading class becomes fun? They relax. We still focus on the lips but gestures are now a habit for us.

My husband didn’t want to learn sign so much, although he learned the ASL alphabet to help me with words and names I was stuck on which was valuable to our communication.  All along he also used gestures when I was stuck. I laugh at his creativity but it works! And if I laugh the strain on my end disappears. I hadn’t given his gestures proper credit before teaching my class last fall and now I value it.

Gestures are often used at our SWC conventions and gatherings also.  When we are within our tribe, we tend to get more animated which means things get knocked over. Or we might accidentally whack someone beside us but no one minds much and laughter/smiles follow here too.

Gestures make communication easier for those with hearing loss.  Let’s all get animated in our conversations to encourage those in our life to use them as well. People pick that kind of thing up unconsciously, plus it’s fun!  Next time you’re stuck, ask for a gesture.

Mr Spoke, a Vulcan, uses his iconic gesture of good will
Live long and prosper.