Last summer, I went to my first hearing loss convention. The convention catered to the needs of the hard of hearing with CART, loops and FM systems. The workshop presenters and the attendees were all hard of hearing like me. We all knew to look at the other person when talking, repeat or rephrase as needed and slow down just a bit to be sure the message got across and we all wanted to make sure each other heard. Some people even signed as they talked.
The first day or so, the sign language panicked me but as I relaxed, I started picking more of it. In spite of what you think, hearing loss conventions aren’t quiet, they are the total opposite. We all talk loud. Sometimes it becomes so loud, it’s gets hard to hear so the sign language was a welcome addition. If I couldn’t pick up the words, sometimes I picked up the sign enough to know what the topic was. Suddenly, I was glad I pursued sign language classes in the past. Sitting at lunch with a bunch of girls, one of them explained it was just another useful tool for communication. “Every little bit helps right?”
Yes! That was it exactly. That’s what I wanted more of in my life, every little bit helps. People willing to help me understand conversation in my every day life. All weekend, I watched in awe as she chatted in sign with her husband and son, both hearing and both fluent in sign as well. How I wished a partner or kids like that.
Why couldn’t normal life be like this? Why can’t I have this world all the time? Where did I go wrong?
In the mid 1990’s, I took my first ASL (American Sign Language) class when I realized my hearing loss was progressive. I might as well prepare for the eventuality, right? Why wait until the last minute? The class was geared to interpreters but what the heck, I would still learn. My husband and both my parents signed up for the class as well. I felt like the luckiest person alive. These people cared enough about me to keep up with my communication needs.
Learning ASL wasn’t just learning some signs, it was learning signs in backwards sentences from our native English. Some signs were similar causing confusion and it took practice or work to get it right. My parents dropped out within the first month. They were tired coming in after work and it was hard work. My husband stayed in the class and even took the next semester with me.
Since I homeschooled the kids at the time, I taught them sign as I learned it. Together we used it some but didn’t incorporate it into a daily habit. My husband and I rarely used it either so as the kids re-entered public school, sign language fell by the wayside except for a few signs like, bathroom, soda and fart (kid humor).
I didn’t think about sign language again until 2009. In that time, my hearing had dropped quite a bit and it seemed like a good idea to learn again. Now I lived in a big city with a wonderful deaf and hard of hearing center which offered various classes for free; ASL, CASE (Conceptually Accurate Signed English, signing in English order), lip reading and living with hearing loss. I asked my boyfriend to attend to learn with me. He agreed but dropped out after a month with various excuses. “My hands hurt. I can’t take the kids in the class. I have to work.” After my first experience with ASL in the 90’s, I sort of expected this but felt disappointment anyway. I continued to take the class and signed up for the next one to finish the book.
Some months later, we had a Cued Speech teacher do a presentation at an HLAA chapter meeting. With hope I asked my boyfriend to attend the meeting with me. Cued Speech has seven vowel placements around the head and neck area and then eight consonant handshapes. That had to be easier and more acceptable than sign language. The lady carefully gave us a demonstration on how it worked, then someone asked to see what it looked like at normal speed. Her hands flew all over keeping up perfectly with what she said. Astounded, someone asked if people could read it that fast and she replied yes. The teacher offered to give classes to families and excitement rolled through me.
“What did you think,” I asked.
“It seems difficult,” he replied.
“Yeah but it’s only a few basic signs and placements.”
“I was okay until she went at the speed of sound then she lost me. I’m thinking pencil and paper looks pretty good to me right now.” He wasn’t going to do cued speech either.
I felt the great big thumb crush my hopes once again. Using only pencil and paper sounded like a bleak future to me. How depressing.
Not accepting that idea, I decided to take lip reading classes, now called speech reading. It felt like a last resort at working with the hearing world, making a tiny flame of resentment burn inside of me. Once again I was the one doing the adapting, making it easy for everyone else. Why don’t those around me try to make it easier on me?
Every fall I signed up for speech reading class only to have it canceled for lack of enrollment. About a year or so later, one finally got the green light. There were eight of us who wanted to learn to lip read. It didn’t take long to figure out it was no easy task! The harder I tried, the worse I did. It took half through the class to learn to relax, have fun with it to do better.
Practice makes perfect, right? I asked my boyfriend to help me practice a few days after the first class, while we waited to catch a plane. He refused feeling silly doing it in the middle of a crowded airport. To me it was the perfect way to kill time, who cares what others think but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I asked another day at home and he threw out several words at a rapid pace with the letter of the week, over exaggerating and feeling self-conscious again. I didn’t ask anymore. I took myself to class and practiced with my classmates. In the end, lip reading helped but I still can’t lip read with any real precision. Again, it wasn’t the magical cure I hoped for.
This isn’t about my relationships, but more my attempts at getting someone, anyone to communicate with me in a different way because I don’t want to be reduced to paper and pencil. Going to the convention proved to me that it can be done and I want it. I want someone to care enough for me to go that extra mile to keep included in the world. Is that unrealistic? I’m not asking for ten miles or the whole way, just a little extra help with more tools.
I know our partners deal with us day in and day out. They have to repeat often, remember to look at us and not talk from other rooms. But wouldn’t the ‘extra tools’ help get rid of some of that? Maybe I didn’t push enough but ultimatums aren’t the answer either. Or maybe I made it too easy by trying to live in the hearing world.
I would love to hear feedback from you.
Do you think the hearing people in our lives could do a little more adapting to our needs?
Is having our partners learn sign language unfair?
If your partner signs, how did you do it?
What is middle ground?
Right now I’m single again. I’m going to be very picky about my next partner but I don’t want to be unrealistic either.