Frustrations, difficulties of hearing loss are many; – The Sudbury Star
Frustrations, difficulties of hearing loss are many; Sudbury Star reporter experiences life as a deaf person for one day
Thursday, May 24, 2007
The event is called “Deaf for a Day,” but it doesn’t take nearly that long to understand the frustrations and obstacles people who are deaf or hard of hearing experience every day.
Imagine opening a new bank account or ordering a cup of coffee without being able to hear what people are saying, and often without being able to read or write.
Those were my challenges when I participated Wednesday in the Canadian Hearing Society’s awareness event.
One of five so-called VIPs outfitted with ear moulds and ear muffs, I got a taste of what it’s like when one of your senses is impaired. One in four Canadians already knows this because they suffer a form of hearing loss.
Aging is the number one cause of hearing loss, so it’s going to soar in the next decade when the number of Baby Boomers like me over age 65 reaches six million.
Each VIP was assigned a “buddy” – a Canadian Hearing Society employee who accompanied us as we set out to do routine tasks in the community.
Nicki Bumphrey, a deaf-blind intervener, has a heart of gold and her clients, all of whom are deaf or deaf and blind, are lucky to have her.
Bumphrey, who is fluent in American Sign Language, takes clients to appointments and helps them with other duties.
Bumphrey drove me to a branch of a national bank where a customer service representative was clearly uncomfortable dealing with me.
Because the deaf and hard of hearing suffer higher rates of illiteracy, my instructions were not to speak or write to the bank representative.
The rep kept turning to speak to Bumphrey when he and I hit an obstacle in communicating.
It was the same thing when Bumphrey and I visited a coffee shop and I tried my version of charades to order two cups of coffee. The woman behind the counter soon turned to my companion to ask her what it was I wanted.
It’s understandable why people with hearing loss are offended or hurt by the discomfort of people trying to provide service to them and by the fact they look to others to bail them out.
Bumphrey said some of her clients feel as if they are being treated like children rather than the intelligent, competent adults they are.
I could see I was being overlooked, not out of meanness, but because people were embarrassed or didn’t know how to deal with me.
Still, I felt as if people thought I was stupid or slow. Even worse, I began to feel stupid and slow as I resorted to the most basic hand gestures to make myself understood.
Glenn Thibeault, executive director of the United Way, related to the way I felt. He was another of the VIPs taking part in Deaf for a Day.
Thibeault’s tasks were more difficult than mine. He had to visit the Ministry of Health to apply for a travel grant, buy a couple of cups of coffee at a shop where he almost ended up with two breakfast bagels and purchase a pair of sport shoes.
While performing every task, people often addressed his buddy rather than communicating with him.
I learned how vital it is to address people with a hearing loss directly, face-to-face, and to speak loudly and clearly.
Most people with a hearing loss have some degree of hearing, and that was true in my case.
Victoria Baby, regional director of the Canadian Hearing Society, said her organization has a new vision. It’s all about breaking down barriers in the community.
“Deaf is not dumb,” said Baby, yet people with a hearing loss are often thought of as stupid.
The goal is to create a society where everyone is respected, have full access to services and can participate without social, economic or emotional barriers.
I support that vision and challenge businesses and services – and individuals too – to think about that the next time they are dealing with someone with a hearing loss.