As a person with hearing loss, I often ponder the question of what it means to be normal. Does my cochlear implant give me normal hearing again? Am I a normal person? If not, am I less of a person because not everything about me is normal?
For any hearing aid or cochlear implant user, I think no one will ever have normal hearing again. There is some form of damage in the auditory system that cannot be corrected. For example, in cases of sensorineural hearing loss, the hair cells remain damaged even after we add the hearing devices. Until hair cell regeneration therapies become clinically available, the ear is still not normal.
Some people have compared using hearing aids to using eyeglasses to restore vision. While it is tempting to draw such an analogy, I do not think this comparison works. For most people with glasses, there is nothing damaged or unhealthy about the eyes. Typically, the lenses of the eye are simply not the correct shape but the eye is still healthy. Moreover, eyeglasses do not convert the light energy from one form, digitize it, manipulate it and then attempt to reconvert it back into light energy again. What hearing aids do is far more complex than eyeglasses.
What we can do when it comes to hearing loss is try to restore normal function. By this I mean we can use equipment and communication strategies to allow us to function better in the various communication situations we face.
In cases of milder hearing loss, we try to restore the normal function of the outer hair cells via sophisticated hearing aids that amplify softer sounds more than louder. We try to restore normal ability to hear in noise via directional microphone technology or additional wireless microphones. We try to restore normal audibility of high frequency speech sounds via techniques such as non-linear frequency compression. When hearing aids no longer help, we try to restore normal audibility via a cochlear implant.
But at no point are we ever making hearing normal. The ear is still not the same as someone with a fully intact auditory system. The extent to which we can normalize function is contingent upon many factors such as the degree of hearing loss, the technology employed, the behaviors we use and sadly financial resources.
Clearly, the more severe a hearing loss is, the more challenging it will be to communicate even with the best equipment currently available. Also, if one has a more severe loss and chooses not to utilize the proper type of amplification for the hearing loss including wireless microphones, then such a person will also not function as well in all situations. This also relates to behaviors. Learn to how to use the equipment in various situations. Learn how to communicate effectively. Teach others how to best communicate with you.
Ok, so my hearing is not normal. Does that make me an abnormal person? Maybe, but frankly who on this planet is completely normal. If you are not the ideal weight, not the ideal height, take medications for some medical condition, you too would not be perfectly normal either. But so what?
I do not worry or care about being perceived as normal because frankly very few people on this planet are normal. But just because I am not “normal”, this does not make me less of a human being. I still want all the things anyone else wants in life. I do not want to be discriminated against nor denied things simply because of my hearing loss.
So lets not even worry or talk about being normal…it is an impossible quest. Lets learn to embrace and accept all of the things that make us different and make us who we are.