Wednesday 2 August 2017


I just got off the phone from a conversation with one of my Besties. We've known each other for a *ahem* long while now, been through lots of stuff together, figuring out how to mother our kids without screwing them up too much, you know the usual kind of stuff.

So it's always awesome to talk with her. And it's EPIC when there are no small humans around to interrupt us....  It was epic today.

But we did have a minor challenge. I have no voice.  You know, like laryngitis....  keeps dropping in and out like a dodgy phone connection.

But, being the generous friend I am, I remained committed to keeping up my side of the conversation.  I'm determined, if nothing else.

Being the generous friend that she is (which may be more pertinent in this case), she also persevered.  And let me tell you, her end of the deal was much tougher...

Filling in the gaps, adding in the words and syllables that just didn't come out .... Like those "you're a certified genius if you can read this" memes with all the gaps.

If you could ask her right now, she would be able to tell you that it was, well, somewhat exhausting.  Nothing to do with my charming personality and sparkling wit, of course.  Just the strain of having to predict, and infer what the heck I was rambling on about.

I got to thinking about how similar it is to having a hearing impairment.

I was born with a 20% hearing loss. Nothing much to be done about it in my day.  I don't think it even occurred to my parents to let my teachers know that it might be relevant.  These days, a 20% hearing loss is a marker that a child is at risk of reading difficulties (if you can't hear the sounds, it's going to be hard to link them to those pesky letters).

For some reason that didn't happen in my case.  In fact, as I grew older I think it enhanced my ability to get lost in a good book (I certainly was able to block out the sound of mum telling me to set the table...)

But it also meant that I struggled to keep up with a group conversation.  By the time my brain had filled in the gaps, things had moved on.

Whispering with friends at a sleepover? No chance... No friends?

Someone discreetly giving me information in an undertone?  Well, let's say it was definitely discreet - because I never heard it.

TV?  A tiresome struggle.  We now use subtitles constantly.  I sure am thankful for that crazy speed reading program we all did in primary school - all of us sitting in a darkened hall while the words flicked up faster and faster - I always loved that challenge.  So glad that skill has translated to something useful in my adult life!

Movies? Not a chance.  You may think that the theatre sound is ear-splittingly loud.  Yes, it is. The music, the sound effects etc. But the speech?  Usually the clarity is so poor, that despite the deafening (pun intended) volume, I have no idea what is going on.

And those are just the fun things...

Public announcements?  If I'm lucky I'll understand them (jokes about City Rail announcements aside)

Quiet conversations with an upset child or a friend.  Heartbreakingly frustrating to say, "I'm so sorry, I didn't hear that, can you tell me again?"

Professional training...  No, we didn't bother to use microphones or they just don't work in this echoing hall.  Or even have the speaker stand up.  Discrimination?  Sorry?  I didn't quite catch that?

Daily life has been exhausting at best, isolating and soul-crushing at worst.

But I'm lucky, because I know I have a hearing loss.  So at least I understand why I experience those things.  And my hearing loss is minimal.  I also have Hearing Aids now, which have made me wonder how on earth I was coping without them.  The cost of Hearing Aids is so prohibitive that again, this makes me part of a privileged few.

What about the percentage of the population which doesn't realise they have a hearing loss?  That this is their normal.  Particularly children.

Do you want to know what it could be like to have a hearing impairment?

I've listed some great simulators here, here and here.  They're all a bit different - it's worth checking them out if you have the time.

I think we can do better. What can we do?

* look at people when we speak to them.

* have options like subtitles available on every program - you have no idea how many programs leave me crying with frustration when I've tried to watch them - even though they would have had a subtitle track when they were aired somewhere, sometime.

* speak clearly when announcements are made and have visuals attached

* make sure amplification works.

* have speakers stand up and face the group when contributing to a group discussion

* use apps to check whether your work environment is too loud (there are free decibel readers like this one), and wear the protective equipment - once it's gone, its gone!

If you think your hearing is changing, go see an Audiologist.  Right now!  They can figure out what will help you the most, and help your brain to keep connections healthy.  And truly, the miracle of modern hearing aids is worth exploring.  The technology has changed astoundingly in the last 20 years (when all they did was make everything loud) to now when they can be tailored to your specific losses, and be controlled by your mobile phone!  Amongst all the fabulous features I can control with my phone (no I'm not texting in your meeting, I'm shutting out the sound of all the annoying people behind me who won't. shut. up), my favourite is the 'off' setting.  Nope, can't hear you at all! La La La La La

Be awesome, like my Besties, who have cried with me over my frustration and isolation (although that may be because a particular Madonna movie that shall remain unnamed was really that awful), and make sure I know what's going on.

Have you got tips for making sure you can be heard by others?