How do I hear?

Perhaps while I wait to go shopping for supplies and materials, I could give a little background on my hearing impairment.

I was born into deafness. This is not a typo: Born deaf versus born into deafness. We can only surmise that my loss of hearing resulted from misuse of forceps. It could be possible that I may have already been deaf; but the nature of my hearing loss isn’t even. I have some hearing in one ear and no hearing in the other; I also have vision issue where if you follow a moving finger in front of your face, one eyeball cannot follow past a certain point. There is a slight balance problem, but it maybe more due to the natural equilibrium based on the hearing balance. In any case, these all indicate nerve damage the forceps may have caused.

While it was suspected for a while, an audiology test confirmed it.


Audiology test results

Now, rather than just to let it be it, or raise me as a Deaf child who would only known sign language, my mother worked on bringing a speech therapist to Prince George. We worked with her to develop lipreading and speech skills. I remember wearing a headphone, facing a mirror, with Ms. Mouat sitting next to me, holding the microphone, and forming the word “sheep” almost exaggeratedly. I repeated the word “sheep” probably incorrectly, and for the tenth time.”Sheep” must be properly enunciated to separate it from “seep”, or “steep”, or even “sleep”. (I hate the word “sheep” even now.)

With lipreading skills, I am able to follow people in conversation for so as long as I can see their face, or their mouth. I can carry a conversation 90% of the time in face-to-face. However, if the person turns away from me, my ability to carry a conversation drops from 90% to maybe 45%, if I am in good hearing distance – that is, if the person is a very clear speaker, and the surrounding noise pollution is minimal. But I still lose a lot of what is being said in the conversation.

Incidentally, when face-to-face becomes a group conversation, with four or more people, my ability drops to 45% as well because I have competing sources of dialogue. I don’t know who might be speaking next, or we might have a couple people speaking in tandem, or even trying to drown each other. Then add in the noise pollution factor, such as in a bar, or restaurant. It goes down to about 15-25%.

This pains me to say, but at this point, I drop out from engaging at this point, preferring to keep silent, and just focus on the flow of what’s being said. It is not in my nature to stop everyone and ask them to slow down. Instead of being a participant, I become an observer. Once I switch to this mode, I pick up more on the body language and the facial expressions. Perhaps I get a little too quiet and observant that sometimes people get annoyed.

I think society operates on a share basis – if they share something about themselves, the expectation is that you’re to share something of yourself. That is  the very basic form of human communication. “Hi. I’m A.” “Hi. I’m B.” So easy, really. But then imagine “Hi, I’m A.” “Hi, I’m D.” “Hi, I’m B.” “Hi, I’m F.” “Hi, I’m O.” “Hi, I’m N.” all at once. And then imagine some loud pop music being piped across the room.

Yikes. I’ll just sit quietly and just focus on the core people I’m with, even if I don’t share something about myself. Once people found out that I had a hearing problem, they laugh, and said sheepishly, “I always thought you were a bit of a snob…”

I try to be aware, and I try to remember that people are a lot more forgiving and more mindful once I inform them of my limitations. But sometimes I don’t want to inform them of deafness because I’ve experienced so much ableism. This can be another blog post another day.


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $153 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country.

Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien. L’an dernier, le Conseil  a investi 153 millions de dollars pour mettre de l’art dans la vie des Canadiennes et des Canadiens de tout le pays.

Published February 16, 2016

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