The Silent Disability……

I suppose that for most of my life I have suffered from an addiction to noise. I enjoy the sounds of a high revving, old school V8 engine, motorcycles, thunder and various mowers as they churn the scent of freshly cut grass or hay into the air. For me, total silence would be a curse. The carefully attenuated sound of a firearm is also an enjoyable indication of my appreciation for our right to own and shoot them. In my brief flying career, I came to appreciate the sound of ATC through noise cancelling headphones, necessary in the small airplanes that I flew. I did not appreciate the noise associated with a fire fight in Vietnam and certainly didn’t appreciate the damaging results of a year on fire support bases where you lived within feet of 105 and 155 guns and their nose bleed inducing noise at the higher charges. I am exceedingly fortunate though, as tinnitus appears to be the only real negative consequence from that experience. As a result of that noise induced damage, I receive a token of appreciation from the VA in the form of state of the art hearing aids, which is no small consideration as they are exceedingly expensive.

We all know about the disabled parking spaces throughout our communities. They are visible attempts at making life a little easier for folks who have some degree of difficulty “getting around”. Much more often than not, we honor those who are not as nimble as the rest of us, even offering help to these folks with such gestures as opening doors and giving them the right of way in shopping aisles and such. Our courtesies are extended because we can easily see they need a little consideration and because we care enough to be kind. Today, I am writing to offer my deep appreciation to those who take the time to accommodate folks who are plagued by the very real, silent disability of poor hearing. In this age of communication, a significant hearing loss is one of the most frustrating afflictions that you can have. I know because I do not hear well.

It begins with those who we share life with daily, our families. When you live with an individual who does not hear well, it takes a little extra effort. As is often the case I have difficulty with ambient noise. Background noise tends to reduce normal conversation to a mumbling exercise that would be humorous if it were not so incredibly frustrating. We become good lip readers, to the point that we can watch television without sound, as long as we can see the speakers as they talk. I deeply appreciate wait staffs in restaurants who are alert to the subtle indications of hearing difficulties such as the small wire leading to my hearing devices or keen attention to them as they speak and we “lean in” to better hear their voices in an environment where there is plenty of background noise. The higher pitches make understanding my grand daughter a real challenge when she offers conversation in her rapid fire style. She knows to slow down and enunciate, especially after a gentle reminder to do so. It is often inconvenient, but conversations with Sharon are most effective when we are face to face unlike in years past when we could converse from room to room with little difficulty. Conversations in a moving automobile present special difficulties as the ambient noise is so multi-faceted. If the speaker is looking out the side window, commenting on something they are seeing, it is often lost on me as the driver. These issues are frustrating for the speaker, and damned frustrating for me as a listener.

Today’s hearing aids are incredible. The better devices are digital, bell clear, and the volume is adjustable. They are pitch oriented and can be programmed to your particular hearing loss. I have friends who simply do not get along with them for various reasons and have given up on their use. I feel badly for them. I adapted to them very quickly and am a terrible conversationalist without them. Just as you are, I become annoyed with “huh”, “what did you say” “say again” and the other indicators that we “ain’t gettin’ what you are telling us” that pepper our conversations. We don’t wear them to bed, therefore “pillow talk” is long gone, unless you are very close….whoa, where am I going with this!

To those folks who are keen observers, easily sensing that a person they are communicating with isn’t hearing well, thank you. To those who respond favorably to hints from hearing impaired folks, such as “I don’t hear well”, thanks for staying in the conversation and amping up the volume a bit or slowing down when we talk. Hearing impairment is a silent disability, and affects many, many folks. Handling this often subtle disability requires at least two people, the speaker and the listener.

Sympathy is not what we seek……understanding will do the trick!

Speaking of noise….on to the super Bowl. Go Chiefs!


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