Introducing my hearing

Conversation with new people goes both ways either I can follow them or I struggle. This depends on location, noise level, accent and amount of light. One thing that tends to make a difference is when the other person knows that I lipread. The other person makes a more conscious effort to face me when they speak and are more patient when I ask them to repeat. In turn I will be more relaxed without having to worry about chasing someone’s face.

A good example of the benefit of letting people know is back in school my teachers were briefed by teachers of the deaf about my hearing. Because of this my teachers faced me when I spoke to them one on one and I did not have any major problems.

Now my hearing aids are visible so it should be obvious that I am hard of hearing right? No from my experience not everyone knows and even if they do they might not know about lipreading. Best thing is to do is to assume they don’t know and it is my job to let them know.

Out of a life time habit I do not do this as much I would like. I tend not to say anything about it and just go with the flow. I am more likely to talk about it when I am struggling to follow the conversation. So whats the best way to introduce this? If I say that I am hard of hearing or I am deaf people do not know what to do with this information. What I found to work better is to say something like “I lipread” or “I lipread as I am hard of hearing” when I meet people for the first time.

If you think about it once it is out there you basically introduced the elephant to the room. This would give you more freedom to relax and express yourself.

TEDx talk: Navigating deafness in a hearing world by Rachel Kolb

Rachel Kolb is an English graduate from Stanford university. First ever deaf person to receive a Rhodes scholarship from Oxford university. In a TEDx talk she talks about the challenges of being deaf in a hearing world.

A lot of things from this talk resonated with me especially the belief that deaf people cannot write. I remember a teacher telling me this and as 13 years old at the time I believed it. As Kolb put it when we do this we put ourselves in a box and we are limiting ourselves in the process. But really with a growth mindset, practice and persistence anyone can develop a skill.

Her description of what it is like to follow a group conversation is amusingly accurate:

I communicate fine face-to-face. But walking into those kinds of group conversations is like watching a world championship ping-pong match with ten different people and half a dozen balls. There’s too much going to get much of it.

Kolb finished off with an important point how we always have a choice in what we opts to do:

And when I came to Standford, I was shell-shocked by this college social environment. You know, the keg parties, music blaring over there, people talking, all this stuff going on. And during those moments, it was very easy to think, “I can’t”. I can’t have a normal social life like another young person. But over time I’ve learned one very important thing: I have a choice. I might not be able to choose what is easy for me or what is difficult. But I can choose how to use the abilities that I do have. This might mean meeting with friends who do know sign language, It might mean meeting with friends one -on-one, two-on-one, maybe three-on-one if they promise to behave. And by embracing the choices that work for me, I have experienced many richly rewarding things as a result

Remember disability is not inability nor is being hard of hearing or deaf a reason to feel self conscious, best to try and embrace it and use it to your advantage.

What did I learn from lipreading lessons?

Lipreading is a skill which involves recognizing lip movements. Lipreading is when a listener uses speaker’s lip movements to see speech. Majority of people lipread to some extend but it is used more extensively by those who are hard of hearing .

How somebody lipreads differs from person to person. Personally, I lipread using a combination of lip movements, hearing, body language and context.   Without sound, I would struggle to see the difference between words with similar lip movements such as pat and mat. Knowing the conversation topic helps me scan for certain words related to the context which make it easier to follow the conversation. In addition body language such as facial expression and helpful gestures play part to decipher what is being said. It is easier to interpret the message if someone says “Who, me?” with a questioning face expression, open their hands and pointing at their chest.

In some cases when I meet someone new initially I struggle to lipread them. But this get easier with time as I get familiar with their lip movements. In rare cases there are those who I would struggle to follow even if they have been talking to me for a long time. The reason is not always clear it could be the accent or it could be something I did not pick up on. From my experience laughing and talking at the same time makes things harder. Other habits that make it harder is head turning and hands on mouth.

Lipreading is a challenge in a group settings as it is difficult to look at different speakers from one side to another. This means a lot of head turning to face the speaker. In a group setting I have to face the speaker before they speak.

In lipreading lessons we did an exercise in which the teacher would say sentences without voice and I had to repeat them back to her. These sentences were stories, rhymes and phrases. In addition to this we had conversations without speech.

In these lipreading lessons, I did not just get to practise to lipread, I also learnt a lot about lipreading theory as well as other communication tips and about deaf services ad equipment. Lipreading theory is about consonants which look similar on the lips such as M P and B. I also covered homophenes which are words that look similar on the lips. These include words like ‘most’, ‘post’ and ‘boast’ or ‘mat’, ‘pat’ and ‘bat’. In order to tell these apart again, context matters.

Most of the communication tips I learnt about, I had used previously albeit unconsciously. One of the most valuable tips is if you don’t hear something it’s best to ask closed question. For example if you are not sure if someone said ‘mat’ or ‘pat’ ask them. “Did you say mat?”, rather than “What did you say?” that way the receient will answer yes or no. If you ask them to repeat you might end up back at square one. This method resulted some amusing experiences were I would ask about a word completely nothing to do with conversation! Other tips include being in a quiet and brightly lit environment area. You should also face away from the light so as not to get the light into your eyes and thus can see speaker’s lipmovements.

Going to lipreading lessons has helped me to be more aware how I communicate with others. Firstly I am more assertive to reduce communications obstacles such as telling people that I lipread if they speak while looking away. It also made me aware of what works for me or what I struggle with.

If you are someone who rely a lot on lipreading and never been to a lipreading class before I would recommend them. If you are interested in learning lipreading here are some resources:

  • Lipreading practice is a free site is by Gloria McGregor who herself loss hearing in the 80s. The site is full of videos and practice exercises. The lessons are split into different consonants sounds and vowel sounds.
  • ATLAS  is website for Association for Teachers of Lipreading to Adults. On this site there is a timetable for lipreading classes.
  • The booklet Watch this face: a practice guide to lipreading is a good introduction to lipreading. The author uses pictures of lip shapes to illustrate.

What changed my perception about my deafness?

Throughout my teenage years I grew up being insecure of being deaf and my hearing aids. I would go as far as hiding them from sight. A lot of the things that I did or didn’t do in public were determined by my deafness. I would rarely ask for help in shops because I feared I would not hear them or they wouldn’t understand me. Or at a party I would avoid talking to someone I was not familiar with. If it seemed like someone was annoyed at me for not hearing them I would I feel bad. When it came to meeting someone new, I would wonder to myself what they would think of my hearing aids. Deep inside I was frustrated.

This mindset changed when I read the following passage from book Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle:

Illness is not the problem. You are the problem as long as the egoic mind is in control. When you are ill or disabled, do not feel that you have failed in some way, do not feel guilty. Do not blame life for treating you unfairly, but do not blame yourself either. All that is resistance. If you have a major illness, use it for enlightenment. Anything “bad” that happens in your life use it for enlightenment. withdraw time from illness…. The condition that is labeled “illness” has nothing to do with who you truly are”

I remember reading this passage and the words hit me like a brick. That was the moment I realised being deaf is not the problem; it was the way I thought about it that was the problem. This passage has changed the way I think and also the way I act. This inspired me to start doing things that I thought I couldn’t do and stop using being deaf as an excuse.

I no longer hide my hearing aids, which are there to help me hear. If someone gets annoyed communicating with me, I now realise that this is their problem and this does not define me. I started to notice that actually, there are people who are willing to make an effort to make sure I can communicate with them. For example, the instructor in an exercise class who made sure he was facing me when he spoke so I could lip-read; or those people who took out their phone in noisy areas in order to be able to communicate with me.



Purpose of this blog

My purpose for this blog is to share with others my deaf experiences in a hearing world. I grew up thinking I couldn’t do certain things because I am deaf. I am now learning that this was all in my mind. Deafness was not the issue the problem was the way I thought about it.