HOH Country

Michael Macdonald
Copyright 2002

I began a quest to find a country called, HOH. I want to go there to live. Why? I am convinced that I am in the wrong country. I am hard of hearing. That means I am a HOH. I belong in HOH. I wear a hearing aid. That is a sign of my HOH citizenship The two most spoken words in HOH country are, "What?" and "Huh?" Why would I move to go to a country like HOH? It's because I am tired of living in a place where I have a hard time understanding spoken English, and it requires work to listen and understand. If there are so many of us HOH's, we are just like the past Jews of the Diaspora, scattered among many nations and we need the United Nations to help us find a home land. After all, there are 25-30 million or so of our families and us.

In hearing country the HOHs are scattered everywhere. Some of us are in organizations like Self Help for the Hard of Hearing (SHHH) or Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA). We HOH people understand living with a hearing loss. We understand the challenges of good communication. For us, communication takes effort, time and money. We don't take our hearing (or what little we have, if any) for granted, not anymore. And I want my own country.

Earth is a "hearing" planet. Earth is the world of, for and by the hearing. Hearing people run the place! They have established the rules of communication. When people with normal hearing speak in a group, I swear they are talking another language. I hear the voices, but I don't understand a word they are saying. Once in a meeting at my work, 8 of us were seated in a semi-circle spread around the room. As we were waiting for the meeting to begin, there was the informal conversation. There they go again, talking that language I hear, but don't understand. Then one person looked at me directly and said, "We are talking about you." Ah, she spoke in HOH. She told me they were talking about an event I was to be involved with the next day that was canceled. "Yes, I heard about it this morning," I replied in HOH language (explained later). Then the group went back to their language they use all the time. After all, this is hearing country.

What’s it like to be a HOH? Imagine that your boss transfers you to Spain to work in the office of one of the company affiliates. All your new coworkers are Spaniards. Of course they speak Spanish all the time in the hall, at the water cooler, meetings, in restaurants, everywhere. The only time they speak English is when they talk with you one on one. Of course, your Spanish coworkers assume you understand Spanish since your boss transferred you there to work with them. Why would a non-Spanish Speaking person be sent there to work? But you don't. And, to make matters worse, you will never learn to understand spoken Spanish no matter how long you stay there. You go to restaurants. You sit at the table with your coworkers. They are chatting away, smiling and laughing, and you don't have a clue what they are talking about. Occasionally the person or across the table from you next to you will say something to you in English. After this happens a few times, you learn just to smile and enjoy the food and the atmosphere, but not the conversation. Now you are beginning to understand what I am getting at.

I think, no, I know, I am in the wrong country. I want to go to HOH country.

I did find Deaf country. Neat place. I learned sign language. But I learned quickly, that if you are not a native, you are never in the inside and never become one with them. Of course they are friendly, and respect you. Yet, you are an alien, even if you can sign.

Where is HOH? I want to go there!

Did I mention that there is a HOH language? I secretly suspect the language I speak is not really English, but HOH. I sometimes think hearing people speak English and maybe I really learned a different language. That is my first theory.

By the way, I finally figured out the rules for communication between hearing people and HOHs. The rules are simple. Remember, these are not laws, just social rules that aggravate, agitate and invite violence.

First, hearing people speak one language (they call it spoken English) in groups or amongst themselves at a speed and volume level comfortable for them, but varies in different places, (like a staff meeting or a restaurant, New York City, Boston, the South, etc.). Second, when they talk with HOH people one on one, they speak their second language called HOH and understand you when you are speaking HOH. Third, you (HOH’s) are expected to understand everything they say in HOH even if it is badly spoken, in a noisy place (like restaurants), when they talk fast, mumble, have a big moustache, stand in front of a window with a bright light behind them, or cover their mouths, etc.

My other theory (Are you still reading this? Un-buh-leev-a-bull!) is that hearing aids are not really programmed to pick up English in group discussions and noisy places, or public places, just some foreign language. When one person speaks to you, the hearing aid picks that up and adjusts the program, does electronic tweaking and translating and, voila, we hear HOH! That's if you can hear them at all. Some of us HOHs cannot hear much, even with a hearing aid we speak HOH. When hearing people talk English (which some of our hearing aids cannot understand/translate), we just nod and smile wondering why this hearing person is not speak HOH (this is a known and common coping device when the hearing are messing up the HOH language).

What drives me nuts (not a pet peeve, but an undomesticated peeve) is when I am in a meeting with hearing folks. I understand some of the conversation because they are either speaking HOH or my hearing is picking up HOH. The rest I cannot understand because the hearing folks are speaking English. They jump back and forth between English and HOH with ease. That's hard to follow. I always end up looking at the wrong person (pointing my hearing aid at them) when I hear a voice. Then I correct myself, look at the other person. Oops, the other one started talking. Ah nuts! My neck hurts! I scribble more doodles on my note pad. What about reading? We HOH understand written English (when it's not written by lawyers). We are adept at reading English and speaking HOH. That is why captioning works. Captioning is for the HOH who cannot understand spoken English because our hearing aids only pick up HOH.

Going my way? Anybody I can hitch a ride with to HOH land?

Many of us are born native HOHs, like myself, who never knew the pleasure of being a hearing person. We’ve been coping since day one in life. Others become HOHs later in life, after they have developed language (postlingual, love these fancy words), heard music and spoke and heard the hearing language called English. Now that they are HOHs they cannot understand because their hearing aid does not work with spoken English or they are still learning HOH. Unknowingly they begin speaking HOH. The first sign of speaking HOH is speaking English very loud.

HOHs are in every age group, race and nation. In HOH country, all would be welcomed. Hearing would be welcomed, but they must learn the language and culture of HOH (hearing aids, speech reading, a plethora of assistive listening devices, face-to-face conversations, quiet restaurants, all movies in theaters with captioning, etc.).

Where are the HOHs on hearing planet?? I learned that one person in nine is a HOH. There are 28 or more million folks with hearing loss. Three million are deaf. That leaves 25 million HOHs (I did not count them). Wow! That's enough to be a country or at least a state! HOH language should be listed as one of the top two or three in hearing country, and it isn't. Why is that? Of course it's because the hearing control hearing planet. Duh!

It took me a while to figure it out, but I know where HOH is. It is right between Hearing country and Deaf country. No, that's not right. It does seem that way. We are not full participants in either because of communication. Yet we are moved between the two at our inconvenience. Moving to HOH country would not be a practical matter. We have hearing spouses, children, parents and relatives. Very few hearing understand what it is like to be HOH. Not all would want to take the time and effort to be HOH literate, including those in our own families.

Perhaps we should advocate for a HOH mayor, Senator, Congressperson or even President. If there is a HOH candidate in the next election, we should rally and publicly demand, "HOH president Now, HOH president Now!" (Remember Gallaudet?.) That would be great! But we don't get together too often. I cannot find more than two handfuls of HOHs in my neck of the woods and there are 28 million of us? Some must be in hiding. Oh, I understand it takes an average of 7 years for late deafened HOHs to accept their hearing loss. We need to be ready to help them, when we can find one. We are as diverse as the Hearing. We have our opinions, religions and political beliefs to keep us from being organized and homogenized. In addition, we are busy trying to live, survive and communicate each day in hearing country. It's hard work to understand the spoken language of the hearing and it's not our fault. We speak and "hear" in HOH.

By the way, some HOHs do meet at conventions. You think maybe they are planning to start their own country? I’ll have to go check one out and sign up for citizenship papers. Heck! I would go for a HOH union (HOHU?). Wouldn’t want to be left out of the action, ya know.

Perhaps we are destined to continue as we have been, living inextricably in hearing country as an invisible subculture with no real clear definition of who we are, as opposed to Deaf culture, which has a language and a sense of identity. They have done well in that respect. Perhaps in time we will get organized. Seeds have been, and are being planted every day that may well sprout into a strong vibrant "culture."

I know in my mind there is no HOH country (gee, I’m not nuts, not yet). But my hearts is there. Maybe we should have a HOH state. Twenty five HOHs and their families would be a good size state, like Rhode Island. Not that many would come? You think? Well, then maybe a city, a neighborhood or just a block? No? Okay, how about a big building with all the assistive devices we can get installed? No? Still not enough folks? Want to live in a big house together? No? Okay. Maybe we'll just visit each other sometimes. See ya at SayWhatClub, SHHH or ALDA conventions or on the net.

I guess we HOH folks are staying right here smack dab in the middle of all over hearing country. Yes siree Bob, and, we ain't leaving either. We are real. We are people in all cultures, and all nations. We have our survivors, the fighters, the outspoken, the quiet, the brave, the weak, the strong, the nice, the mean, kind and unkind, the..., well, you get it. We are unique just like everybody else.

We are a people and everyday more are born HOH or becoming HOH for one reason or another. There are some who are mourning the loss of their hearing or are parents mourning the loss of their perfect child who is now HOH or deaf (aka, not perfect). We are imperfect in hearing, but not in mind, heart and spirit. We are people. We are real. We have feelings. We laugh we hurt, we smile and cry. We have dreams and hearts big and small. And we live in hearing country. We are just like hearing folks except we don't hear as well.

Forget that HOH country stuff. Let’s build a culture, like the Deaf did. We'll make our stand right here in hearing country and let our voices be heard (even if we don’t hear ourselves). In my case, we are Americans in hearing America.

We sing (not always well) with pride just like everyone else. If you could only hear me sing (my lip reading versions):

(Sung to the tune of "This Land is Your Land")
This lane is your lane; this lane is my lane...
From Chevrolet to the New York Lincoln
These lanes were made for you and me.


My country ticked off thee,
Sweat gland of lee beer tea
Off thee I say.

I love America. I just don't get the way these hearing people sing these songs. They need to read the printed versions like I do. Don't they know the words? Got to straighten them out.


HOH Country In My Heart.
HOH country in my heart.
It’s where ever I am.
I don’t always like it.
I did not choose it,
But here I stand.
I didn’t make it, I don’t fake it,
I may never escape it.
At times a lonely land,
My prison, my freedom.
My joy, my pain,
My laughter and tears,
Sunshine, and rain.
My country,
HOH country in my heart.


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