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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!

 

How To Enjoy The Holidays With Hearing Loss

Guest blogger Paisley Hansen discusses how to enjoy the holidays with hearing loss.

Tips for Having a Joyous Holiday With Hearing Loss

The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone, but if you experience hearing loss, they can be especially difficult. As much as you want to be a part of the festivities, hearing problems can present a special challenge for both sufferers and the people that surround them. This holiday
might be the perfect time to change that. Here are several tips on hearing loss and how to survive this magical time of year for you or someone you love.

Hearing Loss Affects All Ages

Many people associate hearing loss with the elderly. Although seniors can lose a portion of their hearing due to aging, there are also a lot of young men and women dealing with the same. You may have been surprised to see young people out and about wearing hearing aids. There’s no
age group that’s excluded, and anyone can feel the detachment that comes as a result of missing out on meaningful conversations.

Difficulties for the Sufferer

The feeling of isolation that comes from not hearing properly may, in some ways, be worse than the actual hearing loss itself. Some people tend to withdraw from activities and dialogues leaving them feeling awkward and vulnerable to misunderstandings. Holiday time can be especially tough with so much going on, and you want to avoid that at all cost.

Frustration for Loved Ones

Hearing loss can also be difficult for friends and loved ones in several different ways. First, the fact that you might not be able to be part of holiday discussions can be heartbreaking. They want you to be included and miss talking to you. Second, a family may push for you to get help
before you’re ready. This can create tension even in the closest of families.

Dementia in Older People

When a person suffers hearing loss, their brain works overtime to pick up the slack. Not only is this taxing on a person, but it can lead to depression and further isolation. In a worst case scenario, many people are left to their own thoughts and perceptions and, in some cases, this can lead to earlier than usual onset of dementia.

Stigma and Listening Devices

Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma today that surrounds wearing a hearing instrument in that it somehow makes a person look old. This is not true. Today’s devices are far more advanced than the clunky, old models of yesteryear. They’re smaller, colorful and some even work off
Bluetooth. Certain models can’t even be seen. Others look like over-the-ear Bluetooth pieces, so instead of looking out of place, they actually look very trendy.

Communication Is Essential

If you know that your family is worried, holding a serious talk regarding your hearing loss is essential. If they’re pestering you to seek help before you’re ready, it can cause resentment. It’s important to let them know your feelings and fears, and for you to understand them as well. Being on the same page can help avoid strain in the relationship and you can all agree on a
plan of action.

People May Shy Away

Some people may react to hearing loss by shying away at holiday gatherings. They may not want to speak loudly for fear of offending you or calling a lot of attention to the conversation. This can be especially trying if the discussion is personal or in a small setting.
Tell People You’re Hard of Hearing. If you’re headed out for a celebration and feel anxious, never be afraid to tell others that you are
hard of hearing. People are a lot more understanding than you think and will make every effort to make sure you’re comfortable. Being upfront can really help to avoid misunderstandings
within your group.

Avoid Cramped and Crowded Places

Attending events in small, enclosed areas with a lot of people can make for a background noise nightmare. People with unilateral hearing loss especially don’t do well in this type of setting. This includes bars and busy restaurants where the sound of clanging dishes and loud voices can be
overwhelming. Holiday shopping in crowded malls can be much the same. Instead, plan on small-scale shopping or dining in a quieter location.

Position Yourself

When you’re at a party or dinner, be sure to position yourself where you can see everyone. This makes it easier to be in the middle of an exchange, and will help for making eye contact as well as picking up on cues and gestures.

Take a Co-Pilot

If you’re nervous about social settings, it always helps to take a trusted friend to back you up. Sometimes it’s just easier to get involved in chit-chat when you have a familiar face who can relay things to you that you might miss.

Navigating Loud Parties

Attending a party with loud music makes it hard for anybody to hear, even if they don’t experience hearing loss. If you’re headed to a large festivity with someone that has a degree of hearing loss, keep in mind that not only is it difficult to hear, but a combination of music and yelling produces sensory overload which can cause headaches and even dizziness.

Children and the Holidays

If you have children or grandchildren, the holidays are even more fun! Naturally, you want to take part in their gift opening and merry-making. Small children don’t understand hearing loss,
they just want you in on the fun, too. You don’t want to miss a child’s joy and laughter, or hearing their questions if you tell them a holiday story.

Christmas Music

Is there any part of Christmas quite as nostalgic as music? Christmas tunes can be very sentimental. Getting help for your hearing can allow you to enjoy and relive the wonderful memories that Christmas music brings.

Get Decked Out

While you’re getting yourself decked out for a holiday event, if you’ve gotten an ear piece, it’ll be your best accessory! If you’re feeling apprehensive about wearing it, remember these instruments are designed to blank out annoying noises so you can enjoy normal dialogue. Your
hosts will be thrilled to see you taking part again, and you can be proud of yourself for taking charge of your life.

The Holidays Alone

What if you don’t have a large family or holiday plans? If you’re more of a loner, there are still a lot of things you could improve if you have hearing loss. Think of your favorite TV shows and specials and of course, Christmas carols. Taking care of your hearing is much better for your
well-being. You need to know what’s going on around you. It can also give you the confidence to be more social.

A Holiday Gift for Yourself

If you’re ready for a change this year, why not give yourself the best gift you can and find out about getting help for your hearing loss. You deserve to be included in celebrations, dinners and memorable conversations. Don’t let another holiday season go by without allowing yourself to relish every minute.

Listen to What You’ve Been Missing

What have you missed hearing the most? It could be music, the sound of a thunderstorm or the rustling of wind through the trees. You may not realize how much you’ve been missing, not just at holiday time, but all the time. Hearing means being part of an important family discussion. It
means voicing your opinion and listening to everyone else. It also means laughing at jokes and being included in decision-making. It can even mean hearing someone say they love you. It’s time to listen to what you’ve been missing.

Hearing Loss and Disability Benefits

Hearing Loss and Disability Benefits

BY: Rachel Gaffney

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers a monthly benefit to those unable to work for more than 12 months due to a disabling condition. If your hearing loss is keeping you from working, you may be eligible to receive these monthly benefits. If approved, disability benefits can be used for daily living needs such as medical costs, rent or mortgage, utility bills, etc.

Medical Qualifications

To medically qualify, you will need to meet one of the SSA’s hearing loss listings in the Blue Book. The Blue Book is the SSA’s own guide used to evaluate Social Security applicants. There are two listings in the Blue Book for hearing loss, one with a cochlear implant or without.

If you do not have a cochlear implant, to qualify you need to:

  • Have a threshold of 90 decibels or greater in your better ear
  • An average bone conduction hearing threshold of 60 decibels or more in the better ear
    OR
  • Have a word recognition score of 40% or less in the better ear

If you do have a cochlear implant, you can qualify one full year after surgery if:

  • You’re still eligible using HINT
  • Your word recognition is less than 60%, you will still be eligible

The Blue Book is available online. You should review it with your audiologist to determine if you’ll qualify. Different hearing tests will be needed to be approved for benefits, so reviewing with your audiologist will help ensure you can get the proper examinations done. Keep any results and records to help support your claim.

Before starting your application, it’s important to remember that the SSA will evaluate your claim based on the hearing in your best ear. You will not qualify if you are deaf in one ear but can hear well in the other. If you use hearing aids and they dramatically improve your hearing, you will not qualify. Those who qualify are unable to hear even with the use of hearing aids or other hearing devices.

Technical Qualifications

Even if you meet one of the Blue Book listings for hearing loss, you still may not be approved for benefits if you do not meet the technical qualifications. There are two types of disability benefits you may qualify for. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is based on household income, so even if you are unable to work but a spouse is and makes a decent income then you may not qualify.

The other type of benefit, Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), is based on work credits. Work credits are obtained by paying into Social Security taxes. If you worked five of the past ten years, you will likely have enough work credits to qualify.

Starting the Application

To apply for Social Security disability benefits, you can begin the application online on the SSA’s site. This way, you can save the application if you are unable to finish it right away. You may also apply in person at your local SSA office if you prefer discussing your application with an SSA representative. To do so, make an appointment by calling the SSA at 1-800-325-0778 TTY.

Helpful Links:

https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/2.00-SpecialSensesandSpeech-Adult.htm – 2_10

https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/AdultListings.htm

https://www.disabilitybenefitscenter.org/glossary/social-security-disability-work-credit

https://secure.ssa.gov/iClaim/dib

https://www.disabilitybenefitscenter.org/state-social-security-disability