Thursday, 22 May 2014

Equality in Communication for All: A Personal Note

This week is Deaf Awareness week, with it's theme -"Equality in Communication for All"

"This Deaf Awareness Week you may be asking - what is deaf awareness? It's about 'promoting the positive aspects of deafness', to 'promote social inclusion' and raise awareness to all the organisations that support the week."

"Most importantly it's about helping people that are deaf.   When asked what deaf awareness meant for them, one person said: 'I want my family to include me in their conversations.'  This really got to me and emphasised how important this is to tackle."

"Do you know that 15% of the population are deaf to some extent?   Out of every 10,000 people, ten will be extremely deaf and 100 will be partially deaf."

This is a good link about the week:

A Personal Note on Hearing Loss

On a personal note, my hearing loss is hereditary, and I think it is a condition caused otosclerosis, which caused a substantial deterioration in my hearing during my late 30s.

I used for a time at work to have great anxiety about speaking to clients, because I could often not easily hear them. "I'm sorry, I can't hear you properly, could you speak up a bit please", I would often say, and so they would for a sentence or two, and then reduce their volume so that it was semi-audible again.

Fortunately, my boss took steps to remedy this by getting me a telephone with a volume boost, and extra volume control. This was brilliant, and I no longer had to strain to try and work out what people were saying. For the most part, I no longer have any problems with speaking to people on the office telephone. My mobile phone is more primitive regarding volume, and sometimes I have problems, but not with most people.

I have two hearing aids, one for each ear, and they are vastly better than the ones I was first given, which more or less just boosted the volume. It was an analogue system. It was fine for internal environments, but outside, in the streets of St Helier, traffic was very loud, and if windy, the wind noise caught in it and was amplified, rendering it largely useless.

The modern digital hearing aid is connected to a computer, a sound profile (it probably has a technical name) is made for each ear of the frequencies you can hear, and how loud each has to be to hear it, and the software programs the hearing aid so that the frequencies are all raised by different levels according to how little I can hear each one. The end result is a much more even hearing experience. The wind, while it can affect hearing if strong, is not so much a problem. Nor is traffic noise.

I don't usually wear them at work. There's a lot of extraneous noise in the office, such as a photocopier close by, and I can hear that well enough without hearing aids. I keep them close to hand, unlike the deaf lady in Fawlty Towers, so that I have them ready if someone wants to speak with me.

It is amazing how different voices are. Some people, even with a hearing aid, are difficult to hear. The level of their voice and the frequencies range they speak on is just not good for me to hear them. Other people can be heard relatively easily even without a hearing aid.

The barber must think me very taciturn. When I go to get my hair cut, I take out my hearing aids, and so of course, the usual banter which people have in a barber's shop is mostly difficult if not impossible for me; it is certainly a strain.

Even with hearing aids, one thing I cannot easily do because of my hearing loss is triangulate sounds easily. People with good hearing can usually tell where a noise is coming from. I can, provided I am almost on top of the sound, or the sound is loud enough. But sometimes a sound appears to come from behind me, when it is in fact in front of me.

I have found that compensate a lot with sight. Because of the nature of my hearing loss, my balance is not brilliant, and I would be wary of riding a bicycle again after so many years. If I close my eyes, I find it very difficult to keep my balance well, but with my eyes open, I can balance without trouble.

Sight also plays a part in understanding people. My hearing aid will boost a speaker's voice, but my listening can be improved and enhanced by watching their lips move. It is not lip reading as such, but I have found that the way words are shaped, coupled with the words I can hear, improves the quality of my hearing considerably.

I find something very similar when watching TV, and subtitles are available. I can turn the volume on the TV down considerably because I can convert the not well heard words into well heard words by being able to read them at the same time. That works very well. I really find subtitles very useful indeed.

One of the oddest things about hearing loss is the way in which the brain compensates for the deficiencies of hearing. Sometimes when I am not concentrating enough, the person is far away, or I have not got my hearing aid in, I will hear them say something which seems very odd, but seems a clear as a bell. It is my brain filling in the gaps, sometimes to rather surrealist effect. Many people have noticed that the TV news subtitles sometimes get the words totally wrong - my hearing is sometimes like that.

Coughs and colds can be troublesome, as they increase hearing loss sometimes below the threshold at which it is easy to hear, even with a hearing aid. Sometimes, if there is a hearing infection, it is not possible to use a hearing aid at all. The world becomes much more silent.

Busy restaurants can be a problem, as it is sometimes very difficult to carry on a conversation except with people directly to your left or right. Talking and listening to people opposite you can be next to impossible. Background noise is also boosted, though not as badly as with the analogue aids I began with.

When they are used, hearing loop systems can be very good indeed. They are certainly far better than listening to a voice boosted by a microphone, with the sound travelling some distance across a room. I went last year to a recital by a performance poet (the brilliant Matt Harvey) held at St Aubin on the Hill Church, and the acoustics, even with a microphone were poor, and a strain to listen even with my hearing aid. I switched the hearing aids to the hearing loop system, and was able to relax and enjoy his wonderfully funny poems without effort.

Around 2006, I think, I had not been for a hearing assessment for around ten years. I went along, expecting the worst, but in fact there had been negligible deterioration in my hearing. So far, every two years I have been for a re-assessment and the hearing loss still seems to have slowed down or halted. I expect that age will bring some increase, but I hope not as sharply as in my late 30s.

I was reading an article about Bill Oddie, how his hearing loss meant he could not hear his beloved birds. Hearing aids have now enabled him to hear birdsong again. I can also hear birdsong well with hearing aids, and I can understand his joy at hearing birdsong once more, because I have experienced that myself.

I am very fortunate, I am not totally deaf, and the nature of my hearing loss means that hearing aids work well with me. I can still enjoy music, radio, conversation, birdsong, and a wide range of sounds, even if I know there are limitations that I have to work within.

To be stone deaf, or very profoundly dead, must be to inhabit a very different world. Labour politician Jack Ashley became completely deaf after a minor operation, aged just 45. He described the event as "rather like being struck by lightning". He wrote this in his autobiography, "Acts of Defiance":

"No one can reasonably expect the public to understand total deafness. I am sometimes bewildered by it myself. But with the right kind of help, a person deprived of all hearing can still get by. What matters is the support they get, the attitude of people, and, above all, their own determination. These are the means of escape from the apparently inescapable and rejoining society."

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