Has an expert ever told you that hearing technology has changed since your day and can do so much more now?
It’s a chestnut* I’ve heard countless times and no doubt will again. It is a variation on the hearing-technology-is-the-answer theme that was told to my parents almost fifty years ago and is still used, subconsciously or otherwise, to sideline the dissenting voice.
In 1967 when I was eleven, two years after I became profoundly deaf, I wore a box hearing aid with a long twisted plastic cord from the silver box receiver stored in a pocket on my dress to a big pink button attached to an ear mould in my ear.
I wore this hearing aid constantly for a year because I was a boarder at the Queensland School for the Deaf and we were required to wear our hearing aids all day, every day.
When I went home at year’s end, never to return (I returned to my local state school and stayed in the mainstream), I took off my hearing aid and put it in a drawer.
One day my mother took it out and told me she thought I should wear it.
“No,” I said.
“But why? The teachers told me it will help you to lipread,” she said.
“It doesn’t help,” I insisted. “It makes it harder. It makes a lot of noise that makes no sense. It’s too hard to work out what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing and put them together. It is easier to lipread without it.”
My mother looked at me thoughtfully and put the hearing aid back in the drawer.
My mother has never been an expert on technology. Even today, in their eighties, my parents do not have a computer and turn off their mobile phone when they are at home; after all, they reason, they have a landline so why would anyone ring them on their mobile when they are home.
She is, however, fantastic with children. Children seem to feel safe with her and she understands them exceptionally well.
So in 1967 when the experts told her that my hearing aid was the very latest powerful hearing technology and I most definitely should wear it, she heard them out and seriously considered their advice but decided my expertise trumped theirs.
Years later I asked her why.
She said there were a number of reasons. I wasn’t a rebellious child; if it had been my brother, she might have tried to persuade him to wear it. She thought I was old enough to know what I was talking about. When I was very young I’d worn corrective glasses for a short while; I loathed them and constantly took them off, but when I wanted to see something I put them back on. She thought that if I was getting something useful from my hearing aid I would not have refused to wear it.
Lots of deaf people are like me and dislike hearing technology. Stories of deaf people who chucked their hearing aids out the car window or in the toilet the day they left school are legion and I know people who no longer use their cochlear implants.
Conversely, lots of deaf people love their hearing aids and CIs and feel disoriented without them, even if what they actually hear or understand with them is minimal.
I even know people who wear their hearing aid regularly but often don’t notice when the battery is flat; for them it is something that feels familiar, much like some people feel undressed without their watch or their earrings.
But for all of us one thing is true – today’s hearing technology is vastly different and much more powerful than it was when we were kids. One cannot argue with that.
But when experts tell me that if I’d had today’s technology when I was a child my life would likely have been very different, I don’t just think, ‘yeah, yeah, what if, what if’.
I hear a subtext that goes like this: technology has changed and can do so much more now, so your experience is not valid anymore and we don’t need to listen to anything you have to say.
It is a very powerful way to silence the dissenting deaf voice and experts frequently use it.
One thing that has not changed, though, is that there is still no hearing technology that turns a deaf person into a hearing person 24/7 in all environments. Regardless of how well a deaf person hears with a hearing aid or cochlear implant, they are still a deaf person who needs must face the challenges that every deaf person experiences.
They still must deal with hearing people’s annoyance when asked to repeat something they have said. They still must cope with embarrassment when they misunderstand something someone has said and everyone laughs. They still must battle to get a good education and a job. They still must develop ways to live with the inescapable feeling of being different when everyone around them is hearing and expects them to fit in. And much more.
The deaf experience is so much larger than just the technology that helps us hear a lot, a little or nothing worth having.
Experts who focus on the hearing technology and what it can do and are unwilling to listen and give value to the life experience and advice of deaf people regardless of their age or experience with technology exhibit a profound lack of understanding of what it means to be deaf. We should, like my mother almost fifty years ago, listen to and seriously consider their advice but make our own decisions based on so much more.
So, has an expert ever told you that hearing technology has changed since your day and can do so much more now? How did that make you feel?
(*A chestnut is a repeatedly told story that may or may not be true. See http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/old-chestnut.html )