Sometimes people ask me what it’s like to be deaf. It’s a difficult question for me to answer since I don’t know what it’s like to be hearing. I have to somehow understand what it’s like to be able to hear to fully answer this question. I do ask people what it’s like to be hearing which oftentimes lead to fascinating discussions.
I have thought about this question many times over the year. There are many different ways I can answer this question. What is it like to be a deaf person in a hearing world? How has being deaf shaped who I am? How can I really understand what it’s like to be deaf if it’s the only thing I have ever known?
How can I truly explain what it’s like to be deaf in a hearing world without launching in a 5 hour-long discussion? There are so many things to take into consideration. I do think that being deaf has allowed me to notice the small pleasures that are sometimes overlooked by hearing people because the world is a loud place. Colors are brighter. Body language conveys so much more than spoken words can.
Oftentimes people just want to know what it’s like to live in a hearing world when I miss out on so much of what is being said around me. That’s the main point of their question even though I have came to interpret their question in so many different ways.
One of the many answers that I try to offer when I am asked this question is for people to imagine what it would like to live in a foreign country if they didn’t know the local language. You might be able to get the general concept based upon figuring out a few words here and there. I think it’s the closest way a hearing person can come to experiencing what it’s like to be left out of conversations and learning that you can’t count on others to tell you what’s going on. You will feel more self-conscious and not as confident when you’re not sure what’s going on. You will quickly learn that only you and you are responsible for yourself. You also learn how to use the smallest clues to figure out what’s going on. Sometimes, I feel like I’m always trying to put together a puzzle using clues that many people overlook. As a deaf person I have learned how to be independent, take care of myself, and that sometimes the only person I can trust is myself. I know I can’t rely on being able to communicate with people around me to figure out where to go, what to do, etc. I’m also used to having to go with the flow, not knowing what’s going on, and expecting the unexpected.
Being deaf in a hearing world can be very frustrating yet very rewarding.
How do you explain what it’s like to have a hearing loss to those who ask you?
I was hearing for 48 years and now have total hearing loss for 5 years, so I know a little bit about how it is to be on both sides of the fence. I think you did a great job using the “living in a foreign country and not knowing the local language” as a comparison. I often use that same analogy myself. It it just very confusing and frustrating and there is a sense of insecurity and uncertainty and fear even. What will happen if I get into a situation and need help and I have no way to communicate with people?
I was diagnosed with hearing loss at 17, it is a hereditary nerve loss and it has been going downhill for many years. Now, at age 51, my hearing loss has progressed to the point that I only have about 5% hearing left in each ear. While I am still able to hear and somewhat understand one on one conversations if the surrounding environment is right, I have great difficulty functioning in public by myself if I’m required to hear or listen for something.
Like Sherry, I have experience on both sides of the fence. No one has directly asked me what it’s like to be hard of hearing but those that do express an interest I try to invite them into my world. I answer questions in sign language (my limited usasge of it anyway, I’m still learning), I will speak in a whisper in a noisy setting or ask them a question while my head is turned so they don’t hear the whole question and have to guess what I am asking. It gives a reasonable example of what I experience on a daily constant daily basis. Some come away with a better understanding, others are sympathetic, still others just don’t understand.
I think Kelly’s example of being in a foreign country is an excellent idea and I will probably steal it to use in my explanations. But more importantly is last five words in her first paragraph, “… oftentimes lead to fascinating discussions”. If more of the hearing world would enter into these discussions we could educate each other and truly break through the communication barrier.
That’s my two cents worth anyway.
I enjoyed reading both of your comments, good inputs!