Personal Experiences

A Lately Deafened Adult: Joyce Rigsby's Story

I grew up with all the advantages of a hearing person but by the time I was 50 and had learned to "listen" I was fast losing my hearing. Loss of hearing could easily have made me an isolated person if I hadn't put forth effort to remain a part of the hearing world.

As soon as I realized my hearing was not stable I enrolled in a speech reading class. There I realized that I needed to learn, besides the basics of reading lips, to understand body language. The process is energy draining and the tendency is to monopolize a conversation. Because I had a tendency towards monopoly anyway, I must constantly be on guard to be sure I'm engaged in dialogue and not monologue. When I become tired my mind seems to blank out temporarily.

This "blanking out" by the hard of hearing (hoh) causes some hearing to say, "You hear what you want to hear." I do admit to understanding more and for longer periods on subjects that interest me. This happens to hearing people too, except they are able to hear a few words and can get back on track quickly. I have found it hurtful to be accused of selective listening when I'm doing my best to be part of an ongoing conversation. At times I'll ask someone next to me, "What did I miss?" and am told,"I'll tell you later." Later rarely comes. An occasional thoughtful soul will read my face and know I've not understood and scribble a few words to clue me in. For those persons I am grateful but have learned not to expect continuous clarification. It is O.K to be the last to know. I've told relatives and close friends, "If it is important that I know what you tell me, please check and make sure I understood."

Years ago I knew an old lady who refused to get hearing aids but wanted to be included and expected the whole family to raise there voices. So before I started becoming deaf, I made a resolve to get hearing aids if I ever needed them - even if they were hard to adjust to. (they were!!) Expecting the world to shout for me is akin to wanting the ground carpeted so I don't have to wear shoes! Too many people who are "hoh" blame others when they can't hear. Impaired hearing does separate the munblers from those with clear diction BUT I soon learned that most people were not going to change for me. (though one interpreter shaved his beard off when he realized I couldn't lip-read him) I got farther by freely admitting my limitations first.

It's so much easier to pretend that I've heard rather than stop an ongoing conversation to clarify a point. Years ago a 2 year old granddaughter said something I did not hear, and I answered, "That's nice." Her mother nearby asked, "Did you hear her?!! She said 'I bit Nathan today."' I've learned that if I don't hear and can't clarify on the spot my responses should be non judgmental. I could have responded, "You did?" and she might have said something that would clarify. With an adult I now often repeat what I have heard and usually they will then fill in what I missed.

Group situations with attendant background noise are the most difficult. Because I've gone to church regularly all my life I did not stop going during my hearing loss. I suggested to one pastor that I might have to change my membership if our church did not invest in a sound system that included provision for the hard of hearing. 'The Williams Sound System was installed and used by more than me. One young minister told me that his church had a brand new system and the hoh chose not to hear rather than be identified as hoh. Assistive devices are invaluable even if you have to sit in a special section or wear head phones.

Before my hearing loss outpaced technology I started learning sign language. If I could do it over I would start sign language at the same time I first went to lip reading classes. Usually it's easier for a younger person to pick up a new language. Hard as I tried to learn I had to give up my dream of becoming proficient in ASL (American Sign Language). But I've made many friends among the deaf through the last few years and have found them patient in helping me learn more. I've learned that not every deaf person can adapt down their signing to my slow speed BUT I've also learned that not every hearing person is willing to accommodate someone who cannot follow the flow of their conversation.

Society on the whole is not in tune with the needs of the "hoh" or deaf. Churches on the whole have done little to include the hearing impaired as an integral part of their planning. But I've learned that I can help myself. When I go into a restaurant I can ask for a quiet corner, I can be sure I'm not facing a window, I can ask the waitress for an extra glass or mug on which to fasten a hand held mike. And I resolve not to blame, monopolize or pretend. I need to use my energy to hang on in as long as I can and then announce my need for "time out." I rationalize that 'ten years from now it won't matter a bit that I didn't hear all "conversation"'. It will matter a lot if I give up and become a recluse!

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