Have you ever wondered what it sounds like to have hearing loss?
When I was in college studying to become a teacher of the Deaf, our sign language instructor had us do a lifestyle experiment in which we had to plug up our ears to the best of our ability for a minimum of three days. She encouraged us not to change our normal routine and interactions during the experiment, so it forced us to engage with other. It was an interesting experiment.
The one thing I took away from it the most was how dismissive people were when they thought I was deaf, or even when they knew it was a class project. At the coffee shop, the barista refused to try to talk to me and just handed me pen and paper and looked away. That was fine, but because I was trying to study interactions I deliberately left details like size out of my written order in an attempt to force her to talk to me. Instead of asking, she just gave me the largest size and wouldn’t look at me when I tried to say I hadn’t wanted that. Most of my classmates and campus friends were more willing to repeat themselves, use rudimentary signs and pantomime, or write/text what they were saying. However, several walked away from me without explanation in the middle of sentences when they realized (as they later explained) that they realized I was part of the “Deaf thing people were doing.” I was surprised by people’s unwillingness put in the little extra effort to communicate, and the experiment taught me a lot about the struggles people with hearing loss can have just to socially interact with other people.
What the study didn’t teach me though, was how physically and mentally strenuous it is to try to listen and communicate with those you do interact with. That was the first thing I noticed my first year as a teacher, how incredibly tired my students were at the end of the day, even the ones who came in bubbling with energy. When you have hearing loss, listening and interpreting and filling in the missed information is draining! It takes a lot of concentration, thought, and effort.
Try it for yourself. The following websites can help you experience what it is like to listen with a hearing loss. Notice the amount of energy it takes for you to discern the speech when you don’t already know what they are saying.
What did you think? Was it harder or easier than you thought? Can you imagine listening like that every waking moment? It’s a wonder our DHH students are able to do as well as they do throughout the day.