I watch everyone’s faces echo with laughter at Christmas Eve dinner with my entire family. I ask my sister next to me what the joke was. She tells me, “I’ll tell you later”. Of course she wouldn’t want to get left behind in the conversation with me by trying to explain the joke. Everyone knows a joke isn’t as funny the second time around, but I never had the opportunity to hear the joke the first time. The only thing I can do is sit silently and mimic my family’s emotions to pretend I am a part of the conversation. I am 7 years old and I have finally gotten hearing aids, so I should be able to hear now—at least according to my family, but to me it just feels overwhelming. I can hear noise, but I still can’t comprehend most of what people are saying to me without lip reading. My voice seems foreign to me and I wonder if this is how I sound to other people. I also wonder why my hearing aids aren’t working. Shouldn’t I be able to hear normal now?
I sit at the table eating watching my family converse. I come from a big family so there is constant overlapping conversations which fills the space with overwhelming background noise. My hearing aids are picking up everything: the clanking of the pots in the kitchen, the fan, the washing machine. This is new for me because before I had hearing aids, I had never heard these noises and now they are all I can hear. I can’t drown them out even though I am trying really hard to. The noise is overwhelming to the point of causing me a headache so I take my hearing aids off and focus on reading lips. I try to ask my cousin if he wants to play a board game when we are done eating. My cousin says something with his mouth full and his hand covering his mouth so I can’t read his lips. I ask him what he said and he snickers at me and laughs at me with my other cousin. I am surrounded by people, yet I am alone.
I am playing with my cousins and the new gifts I received for Christmas. My cousin looks at me and tells me my mother is yelling for me. I put my Polly Pocket down and go find my mom. She is angry with me. I can see it in her face. She looks at me and tells me she has been calling for me for a couple of minutes so that we can go home. She tells me that I need to learn to listen and then asks me if I am wearing my hearing aids. I tell her I took them out at dinner because I was getting a headache with all the noise. She tells me if I can’t listen and wear my hearing aids then I won’t get my presents for Christmas tomorrow. I try to explain to her how loud everything is, but she won’t listen to me and just tells me to put my hearing aids back in. I worry that in a world this loud, my voice will never be able to be heard. My concerns were falling on hearing ears that could listen, but chose not to.
One of the common misconceptions of hearing aids is that they ‘correct’ hearing, but hearing aids do not do for hearing what glasses do for seeing. Glasses are able to give the wearer 20/20 vision and essentially when wearing them, the wearer’s eyesight is corrected. Hearing aids, however, increase volume, but they do not increase comprehension. Hearing aids do not restore hearing to ‘normal’ hearing, instead they amplify sounds. One who is Deaf/Hard of Hearing (D/HH) will never have normal hearing despite all the technology developed (cochlear implants, hearing aids, etc.) to aid the D/HH population. There is no correction, which is why many individuals choose not to utilize these developed aids. For many years, from ages 12-20, I actually never wore hearing aids because I hated them. They didn’t help me hear better, for me, they just increased noise. All I was ever told when I asked for an accommodation, help, or for someone to repeat themselves was: “You need to wear your hearing aids”. It was as if people were saying that I didn’t deserve help because I was choosing not to hear, but what many peopled failed to realize was that hearing aids are not a fix all. They are an aid. Aids help some people and don’t help others. This is something I wish my family and I knew when I was growing up. I was never not listening. I just wasn’t able to hear and even when I could ‘hear’ with the help of my hearing aids, I still couldn’t comprehend what was being said.
These misconceptions are problem because not only do they reinforce the stereotype that D/HH need to be ‘fixed’, but they also create the fallacy that deafness can be corrected. For the longest time I thought that there was something wrong with me because hearing aids didn’t work for me. I was continuously told that hearing aids would make my life easier, but no one listened when I told them the struggles and difficulties I had with hearing aids. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that many people felt the same way I did and that it is a real issue. For the first time in my life my struggles were validated and this changed things for me because it gave me a choice. If you have a D/HH person in your life, then I ask that you respect their choice, because not everyone wants to hear noise.