I Didn’t Think That Had Anything To Do With Hearing…


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The other day I was talking to a friend who heard another person claim that I was a snob.  Conversation went something like this:

“Hey Pete, how’s it going”

Good, thanks, and you?

“Fine.  Hey, I bumped into someone the other day that knows you.  Funny thing she said that you were stuck up.”

Really, me? Stuck up??  A snob??  Why did she say that?

“Well, you walked by her the other day.  She said “Hi!”, but you just kept on walking on by.  Didn’t say a word to her.  She was really insulted”

Ahhh.  Could it be I just didn’t hear her?

This got me thinking about some of the funny or unusual things people with hearing loss sometimes do.  Most people would not connect that these behaviors are in fact related to our hearing loss.  Below is a list of some of the weird things people with hearing loss do, why we do it, and how we can make it better.

  1. Ignore People.  This is the example above.  Likely what happened to me is that the environment was noisy and I didn’t hear my name in all the racket.  Alternatively, the person could have been on my left side, which is my non-implanted ear.  I don’t hear much on that side even in quiet.  Or my batteries might have been dead.  Or maybe I just wanted to enjoy some peace and quiet and turned everything off.
    1. What to do about it:  First off, anyone that knows me, knows I am a very social person who never snub anyone.  Don’t take offense.  Try to get my attention visually or by tapping me on the shoulder.
  2. Close Proximity:  I do not do this too often, but I have seen others with hearing loss do this.  Since we can’t hear well, especially in background noise, we sometimes invade one’s social space try to get closer to the sound source, in this case the talker.
    1. What to do about it.  First off, this behavior is most likely exhibited by people who do not get amplification to assist with the hearing loss.  Get proper hearing aids and assistive listening technology for noise and you won’t have to do this anymore.
  3. Forgetting Names.  Actually, I am not sure I am forgetting people’s names, but rather I never heard it correctly in the first place.  The reason we have such a hard time with names is that there is no linguistic context to assist us.  For example, if some said “Please pass the salt and _______”, we know that the most likely final word is pepper.  But if someone says, “Hello my name is ______”, it could be anything.  Other times, I may have misheard the name and called someone the wrong name.  Eg, Norma instead of Nadia.  Hearing, learning, and remembering names is brutal for people with hearing loss.  
    1. What to do about it.  Well use a wireless system that gets rid of noise.  So in a noisy social situation, you have a better chance of hearing the name correctly.  I also use a buddy system with my wife who has normal hearing.  She fills me in with the names after the introductions.  I also have a cue for my wife when introducing her to someone whose name I ought to know.  For example, if I do not now the name of a person I really ought to know, I turn to my wife and say “Have you two met yet”.  She then promptly extends her hand and says “Hello my name is Kim”.  Other person reciprocates.  Problem solved.
  4. Knock Over Drinks at Dinner Table.  How on earth could this be related to hearing loss you ask?  Simple. I am busy listening to someone across the table.  It is a noisy restaurant.  So now I have to rely more on lipreading cues for communication.  I am staring at the person’s lips, reach for my beverage without properly looking, and then knock it over.
    1. What to do about it.  Don’t reach for the beverage while trying to listen.  Use a wireless system to get rid of noise.
  5. Bump Into Things/Scratch Up My Watch.  This is very similar to the above scenario.  If I am walking down the street with someone I am looking at their face face to lipread.  Since I am not paying attention to what’s in front of me, I bash my watch into walls and posts.  Sometimes I crash into people.
    1. What to do about it.  Buy cheap watches.  Apologize profusely to people I bump into.  And again, use a wireless system to get rid of the noise.
  6. Speaking Too Loud.  This one is more obvious.  Folks with hearing loss routinely have trouble monitoring their vocal intensity.  And it gets worse when in noisier environments where it is harder to hear oneself or others.
    1. What to do about it.  This behavior is also more typical in people who do not have personal hearing aids yet.  Get some!
  7. Speaking Too Soft.  This is more common for me.  I do this for a number of reasons.  First, I am scared that I am speaking too loud and so I overcompensate.  Secondly, I do have a tendency to overestimate the hearing capabilities of normal hearing people.  I think you can hear a whisper from across a room.
    1. What to do about it.  I carefully watch the faces of people I am speaking with.  If it looks like they are straining to hear me, I speak up.  If their eyes widen and they push back from the table, I am likely speaking too loud.  Lastly, I inform close friends and family to let me know if I am too loud or too soft.
  8. Inconsistent Hearing Behaviors.  Sometimes I hear you, sometimes I don’t. What’s up with that?  Guy must be faking it.  Actually, no.  The inconsistencies are likely due to varying noise levels.  Sure in a face to face situation in a quiet room I hear pretty well. BUT THE WORLD IS  REALLY NOISY PLACE.  I would say that I find myself in a ideal listening environment at best about 10% of the time.  The other 90% of the time, the noise levels severely impact my ability to communicate.
    1. What to do about it: This is why I have been using my wireless FM system so diligently.  I cannot imagine how I could function without this technology.

So there you have it.  Some weird behaviors that are in fact related to hearing.  I am sure there are other examples.  So please share your stories, I would love to hear about them.

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Discrimination Against Hearing Ear Dogs


Photo by Richard Lautens, Toronto Star.

Photo by Richard Lautens, Toronto Star.

On Thursday April 18th at around 12:30 p.m., I attempted to go for lunch with my two work colleagues at a restaurant called Spring Rolls.  When we arrived, the manager told us we could not bring my Hearing Ear Dog in.  We immediately informed him that this was not a pet but a Hearing Ear Dog and as such was legally entitled to come into the restaurant.  He still continued to refuse to seat us, telling us first that Health Code laws prohibit this.  We told him this was nonsense and in fact the law allows me to bring a Hearing Ear Dog into the restaurant.  He still refused, saying that we cannot have a dog near other customers.  Again, we pointed out this was nonsense as well and the law allows us to be served.  He then proceeded to suggest we sit on the patio or in an upper area of the restaurant that was closed, but he would reopen so we would not be seen near anyone else.  We rejected those two options.  First, it was not warm outside and did not want to sit on the patio.  Second, segregation is also a form of discrimination.  We don’t segregate on the basis of skin colour, gender, or anything else, so why should I be segregated because of reliance on a Hearing Ear Dog?

After about 5 minutes of arguing, and his continual refusal to serve us, we were forced to leave.  We then proceeded to be served without any problems whatsoever at Jack Astors.

Lets review what the Ontario Human Rights Code says.

Ontario’s Human Rights Code  is a provincial law that gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in the social areas of:

  1. employment
  2. accommodation
  3. goods, services and facilities
  4. contracts
  5. membership in vocational associations and trade unions

The Code’s goal is to prevent discrimination and harassment because of many areas (race, gender, age sexual orientation etc.), including disability.  Section 10 (1) of the Code defines “disability” as follows:

“because of disability” means for the reason that the person has or has had, or is believed to have or have had,

  1. any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,
  2. a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability,
  3. a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language,
  4. a mental disorder, or
  5. an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under theWorkplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997

The two relevant themes are that I was discriminated in the social area of “goods and services” due to a “disability“.

Through various contacts, two media outlets were contacted and agreed to do a story on this issue.  The Toronto Star published an excellent article.  Here are the contents of the article.

Interesting how the manager has modified his story to the Toronto Star reporter.  The article states the following.

“At the Spring Rolls restaurant on Queen St. W., Rupinder Bahl told the Star the reason Stelmacovich and his friends were offered seats upstairs or outside was because the tables at the front were either occupied or reserved. Stelmacovich, however, says many of the tables up front were empty.

When the restaurateur was asked if he understood that under Ontario’s Human Rights Code Stelmacovich cannot be refused proper service, Bahl said the dog didn’t need to be inside because he had friends who could help. Asked if he refused proper service he said, “Of course not.””

Point of clarification.  The restaurant was almost three quarters empty.  He never mentioned the need for reservations, this is something he made up after our incident.  The only reason he offered the upstairs area was to segregate us.  This was a special area used for parties and events and was not open to the public.  There was absolutely no reason that we could not have been seated in the normal part of the restaurant.

In addition to this article, the CBC also sent a camera crew to interview us.  This segment appeared on CBC on Saturday April 20 on the local Toronto 6 p.m. news.  Here is a link to the story of the CBC website.

Again, he brings up the lie about reservations.  Here is the relevant quote:

“The manager of the Spring Rolls restaurant didn’t want to appear on camera — but over the phone he told CBC News it was never his intention to offend anyone. He said the empty tables were for other patrons with reservations and he offered to welcome Stelmacovich back with a free meal.”

I told both reporters from the CBC and the Toronto Star that I will not file a Human Rights Complaint under the following conditions:

  1. That he acknowledges that he made a serious mistake by discriminating against me.
  2. He apologizes for this error.
  3. That he guarantees that it will not happen again not only to myself, but to anyone who relies on a service dog.

He failed to do that.  As such, I will be forced to proceed with a formal Human Rights Complaint.

Some may wonder, why bother with the hassle? My experience recently in Ottawa is the reason.  Before, when I had Amie, my previous Hearing Ear Dog, I had some incidents with taxi cab drivers.  However, when I went again to Ottawa with Flora, all the taxi cab drivers were excellent.  I asked one driver what he knew about the rules on service dogs  and he replied “Yes, we have be clearly instructed we must take people with service dogs”.  Obviously someone took a stand, and by doing so, made my life easier.

Now it is time for me to return the favor.  So this is not about me, or Flora, and a free meal.  This is about all people who rely on service dogs and face this kind of discrimination every day.

Keep your free meal buddy.

Top Ten Reasons Why I Need a Hearing Ear Dog


As many of you are aware, my sweet dear Hearing Ear Dog Amie passed away on June 13 of this year.  Initially, I did not even want to think about getting another dog.  As a family, we all needed time to grieve the loss of such a special friend.

Are we over the loss of Amie yet?  Absolutely not.  But I think I can now start to think about  getting another Hearing Ear Dog.  This is of course not about replacing Amie.  That is impossible.  But our hearts are certainly big enough to make room for a new dog to become part of our family.

One interesting thing that has happened to me over the few months is other people have also enquired as to whether I will get another hearing ear dog.  Interestingly, the question is not always posed the same.  In fact, they can be classified into three categories.

First, are the “Genuinely Curious”.  These people are truly just asking out of interest.  They do not hold any biases or preconceptions.  They are not fully aware of the impact of hearing loss in general, nor do they fully understand my particular details.  To these people, I do not mind explaining both my situation, the nature of deafness, and the role of hearing ear dogs.

The second group I call the  “Erroneously Positive”.  These people may make comments like “I really do not see you as deafened” or “You seem to be doing just fine”.  Generally, I do not sense any animosity or ill will.  Instead, I believe these people are actually complimenting me.  They judge my degree of disability (or rather lack of disability) on my functional abilities in a one on one conversation, rather than the results of my audiogram.  Interestingly, this flies in the face of the so-called ‘hearing aid effect” in which people with larger hearing aids are judged less positively than those with smaller devices.   These studies were done with photos.  I believe that showing static photos bears no relationship to the real world of communication.  Here I am with a cochlear implant, bigger than the biggest BTE hearing aid from 25 years ago, a hearing aid in the other ear and an FM system in my hand and yet folks don’t think I have that much of a hearing loss at all.  Its quite remarkable really.

The third and last group are what I call the “Ignorantly Hostile”.  Sadly there are quite a few of these people.  They make judgmental comments laced with suspicion and almost hostility.  They make comments like “Yeah, but you don’t really need a hearing ear dog…you just want a pet”.  Some comments are just ignorant, not so much hostile but annoying nonetheless.  Example “Now that you have your cochlear implant, you don’t need Amie anymore, right?”  I am not alone…I have read similar stories from other CI users.  For example, a CI user named Denise wrote “So? If you have a cochlear implant now, why do you need a dog? Didn’t that (as she gestured towards my CI and bling) fix you?”

One thing that many CI users would like others to know is that the cochlear implant is not a cure for deafness.  We have artificial battery operated ears that does not sound like normal hearing (See What Does a Cochlear Implant Sound Like).  It has an electronic microphone that does not have the same sensitivity as the normal ear.  Hearing aid and cochlear implant microphones work best in a 3-5 foot range.  Moreover, the CI or hearing aid does not have the same capacity to filter out noise like the normal cochlea.  Lastly, we cannot wear these devices 24-7.  When we sleep at night we are even more deaf than we were before we got our implants!

To illustrate the limitations of microphones, try this experiment.  Stand about 20 feet (6 meters) from another person.  Have a recording device in your hand.  Most mobile phones have a voice recorder.  Now have the other person speak to you and record their voice.  Did you hear and understand ok?  I am sure you did fine.  Now play it back the recorded version.  Listen to how thin it sounds and how much background noise there is.  Now do it again, but add some additional background noise from say a stereo or TV.  Listen again to how much harder it is to understand the recorded version.

Welcome to the world of people with hearing aids or CI’s.  This little experiment only shows the limitations of electronic microphones.  It does not even address the lack of noise filtering of our impaired auditory systems.

In short, here is tonight’s Top Ten List entitled “Reasons Why I Still Need a Hearing Ear Dog”

1. When I sleep at night, I take my CI off and I hear absolutely nothing.  I need to wake up to get to work in the morning and a regular alarm clock will not work.  Vibrating alarms are not bad…but read on.

2. Similarly, most fires occur at night when people are asleep.  Studies show that visual fire alarms do not work effectively in waking people up (see this article on Waking effectiveness of visual alerting systems ).  A hearing ear dog will physically wake me up.

3. I travel extensively for my work and I cannot take a suitcase full of technical devices with me everywhere I go.  I am not sure how I can hook up these devices to the main fire alarm of a hotel anyway.

4. I have had hotel staff march into my room while I was in my birthday suit.  I did not hear them knock.

5. Hearing aid and CI microphones are not as sensitive as natural hearing.  So I am hit and miss with sounds.  The hearing ear dog will ensure consistency.

6. Many times the sounds I need to hear (doorbell, phone, microwave etc) are not at an adequate signal to noise ratio for a person with hearing loss.  It is buried under noise making it impossible for our damaged cochlea to detect.

7. If I know someone is coming to my house and I am alone, I must sit and wait on the main floor in order to hear them knock or ring the doorbell.  I can’t reliably hear these sounds from another floor of the house.

8. I sleep better at night knowing someone is there listening for me.

9. Traveling is actually easier with a working dog, at least to the countries I go to.  It reminds airline staff I cannot hear the announcements to board so they come get me ahead of time for pre-boarding.

10.  Hearing ear dogs help to filter out the assholes of the world.  If you don’t like dogs, I won’t like you.  So I get to find out a serious flaw in someone’s personality a lot faster.

For more information on Hearing Ear Dogs see the links below:

Lions Foundation of Canada

Pacific Assistance Dogs Society

Putting an End to the Chubby Deaf Guy


Greetings readers from South Beach, Miami Florida.

I have not been the healthiest guy. I eat too much and don’t exercise enough. Very bad.

I am on blood pressure medication as well as cholesterol reducing drugs.

Frankly I have had enough of this crappy lifestyle. I am 47 years old and if I don’t get my shit together, I am going to be faced with a future of even more disabling conditions. And that is not Living Life to the Max with Hearing Loss.

In the past 21 days, I have made some major changes.

First, I have stopped chewing Nicorette. Yes, I quit smoking quite a while ago, but I have been using Nicorette for about 10 years. It has now been 21 days since I have had a piece of Nicorette. So as far as I am concerned, nicotine addiction is over. Check one.

Second, I have stopped eating crap. I have drastically reduced my portion size and I have reduced my consumption of fatty foods. Funny thing is that I now get a feeling of being full and satisfied with much smaller portion sizes. Its great!

Third, I do cardio-vascular exercises at least 5 out of 7 days a week. I slap on the heart monitor and keep my heart rate at about 140 bpm for 30 minutes.

Fourth change is I do weight training at least 3 times per week. I have learned that muscles burn more calories, even at rest. That’s why really fit people can eat more food and stay slim. Their resting basal metabolic rate is higher.

So far, after 21 days I have noticed the following changes.

1. I have lost about 10 lbs.

2. I sleep like a bear at night.

3. My mouth is feeling better now that I don’t chew Nicorette.

4. I already look a bit better.

5. My self esteem has improved.

Starting to get slimmer...10 lbs down, 40 to go.

We have a $400 bet going on at work. The winner will be the person who loses the most percentage weight. I fully intend to win.

This is a gift I am giving to myself, and one that you can give to yourself too. I am convinced that to do this successfully, it must come from a combination of reduced portion size, improved quality of food, cardio exercise, and weight training.

Not only that, but there are some studies have shown that there is a correlation between hypertension and hearing loss. So getting fit might preserve residual hearing.

Wish me luck!!

What’s It Like To Have A Deafened Father.


This week’s entry was written by a person of whom I am immensely proud of and adore: my son Alexander.


Alex and Amie in Algonquin Park

Growing up with a father with a significant hearing loss is an experience that I have lived with for 17 years. As I write this, I am awaiting my father’s summation of morning routines, in which he will put his “ears” on, as I so boldly used to state when I was younger. This of course referring to the hearing aid and cochlear implant that he must put on each day before I can speak with him. Having a deafened father is not something that I see as common where we reside, so when I speak of this upbringing, it can only be based purely on my experiential knowledge and very little external influences.

There are many things that shape my father as the man that he is and the father that he is, and whilst his disability is undoubtedly a significant trait; with the power of today’s technology, it is not a difficult one to deal with. Certain aspects of my upbringing in this regard are difficult to recollect, as I have been accustomed to it being reality. And not reality in some form of bleak, cold, hard sense, but rather that I have never known any different. Growing up with a deafened father forces you to adapt to certain mannerisms that are prevalent in all people with this condition. Whether it means patiently waiting for my father to put on his hearing aid and cochlear implant before engaging in a conversation, or knowing to always get his attention by means of small hand signs or light physical contact, these things have become second nature. My father’s ability to engage in conversation and interact with me on a day to day basis is in no way diminished by his hearing loss, and if anything has increased the intimacy of our most heartfelt conversations. I say this because if his body language does not read as being fully immersed in the topic at hand, then I know from experience, and due to the fact that he would have difficulty expressing an opinion if he had not been fully listening and reading my lips that his response would seem distracted. This allows for a much more human feel to our household, as it removes a large majority of the potential for noisy dinner conversations, shouting across the house and scattered voicemail reminders of family plans.

As a young child, my father’s hearing loss did not provide any genuine troubles. The teasing on the matter from my cohorts would only exist as an extension of an insecurity, and a lack of terms to call me after the basics would be used up. However, as my mother and father instilled the values of confidence and compassion in me at a young age, I had the ability to recognize this as no substantial attack towards my father, but rather a last resort due to a lack of genuine teasing to conjure up. To draw upon a previous point, part of the reason it never bothered me is because I did not, and could not ever know any different. This was my father they were speaking about. Why should I care if they wish to tease, when my father had done so much for me? This was never became a prominent issue.

One joy that I have had the pleasure of sharing with my father is that of music. As he has mentioned in previous entries, playing and listening to music is no easy task for anyone with any form of hearing loss. This has been a struggle for my father since day one, yet he never hesitated to give me his utmost support when I decided to pursue music as a passion. In fact, he joined me on this and our basement (or man’s den as my mother would say) has now been transformed into a small recording studio. The values that music has brought to my life are innumerable and without my father’s utmost support, I may not have gone nearly as far as I have. Music has allowed me to grow intellectually, emotionally and has given me confidence I needed after traveling to play shows to people across Ontario. None of this would have been possible without my father’s support, and the many long nights spent listening to me practice and helping me progress. Also, as mentioned in previous entries, a huge silver lining in the cloud, is our hearing ear dog Amie. Growing up with a dog has changed the very essence of who I am, and my love for animals and living beings has grown to be insatiable. My father and I have matching Amie tattoos, which is something I will carry proudly with me forever. When my father’s laser eye surgery took a turn for the worse, as a child I jokingly stated “This is a good thing Dad! We can get a seeing eye dog now too!”. These are two great things that have come out of my father’s hearing loss, that I feel a father without such a condition may not have been able to offer to the same extent.

All in all, growing up under this has had immense implications on me. It does go against many of the typical father son paradigms that exist in the all too unrelatable parenting advice columns, and it has most definitely been different. It goes without saying that there are ups and downs, as in any family relationship, but the majority of them have not been anything that any other family would not face. It has changed my outlook on people with disabilities, culture, society, technology and opened my eyes to many things that I would not have been aware of before. In many regards, it truly has shaped me into who I am today.

 

Thanks son!

What’s in a Name? Terms for Hearing Loss


Various terminology is used to describe people with disabilities.  Interestingly, the terms we must use has become a sensitive issue.  Some terms are understandably negative.  For example, the terms idiot, moron, and imbecile used to be accepted terms to describe persons with varying degrees of intellectual disabilities. They are very hurtful terms and of course are not used anymore.  The etymology of the term handicap is believed to be related to begging for money, although this has been disputed by others.  Nonetheless, we must avoid this term as it now has negative connotations.  Strange that Joe in Family Guy uses this term to describe himself, but then again, Family Guy is not a place to learn political correctness.

Similarly, we use many terms or names to describe hearing loss.  Some of the commonly used ones include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Deaf-mute
  • Deaf and dumb
  • Hard of Hearing
  • Deaf
  • deaf
  • Hearing impaired
  • Deafened

Hearing loss is a nice generic umbrella term.  It encompasses conductive, sensorineural, or mixed losses.  I failed to find any reference on the internet to this term being negative or derogatory.

“Deaf-mute” and “Deaf and Dumb” both describe the notion that people with significant hearing loss from birth both cannot hear and cannot speak.  These terms should never be used as they are both inaccurate and of course derogatory.  Most kids born with hearing loss, when provided with appropriate auditory-verbal therapy, support and equipment do learn to speak extremely well and go on to achieve high levels of education.  Some families choose sign language for their children, and also can achieve great things.

“Deaf” and “deaf” are actually considered to be somewhat different terms.  Deaf, when used with a capital “D” (also know as “Big D Deaf”), typically describes members of the Deaf Community who use sign language as their method of communication.  The Deaf Community have their own cultural identity, social groups, drama productions etc.  When used with a lower case “d”, the term deaf or deafness is a general term to describe all degrees of hearing loss.  Typically, the image the term “deaf” conjures up is a person who uses sign language, and therefore, the term deaf, whether capitalized or not, version more commonly used to describe people who sign and cannot hear.

Deafened is also a term you see out there, and is one of the terms I use to describe my condition.  Typically it describes someone who has lost the majority of their hearing post-lingually (after the acquisition of spoken language).  However, deafened people may have had their hearing assisted via high powered hearing aids or cochlear implants.  There are organizations such as the Association of Late Deafened Adults in the US. So this term is well accepted.

Hearing impaired or hearing impairment seems innocent enough.  It can be used to describe a condition in which ability to detect certain or all pitches is either partially or completely impaired/

Interestingly, the terms “Hearing impaired” or “Hearing impairment” seem to be the ones that draw the most criticism and controversy today.  I was looking at the National Association of the Deaf website for their perspective on this term.  Here’s the first sentence “Deaf and hard of hearing people have the right to choose what they wish to be called, either as a group or on an individual basis”.  I completely agree with this statement.  Nobody should force a term on any group.  But here is the second statement “Overwhelmingly, deaf and hard of hearing people prefer to be called “deaf” or “hard of hearing.”  Really?  I completely understand and respect the wishes of the Deaf Community to NOT be called hearing impaired.  But I cannot recall anyone asking people with hearing loss who do not sign if they all wanted to be called Hard of Hearing.  When did this happen?

Hard of Hearing officially refers to those persons with hearing loss which is permits the use of the auditory channel for a certain amount of speech/language.  Hard of hearing people typically use hearing aids, cochlear implants, and FM systems.

I do not like the term Hard of Hearing.  In fact, I vehemently detest it. The problem I have with the term “Hard of Hearing” is two-fold. First is the image it conjures up.  And secondly, the proponents of this term to obtain failed to achieve consensus amongst people with hearing loss that this is the correct term that shall be used.

When I think of the term Hard of Hearing, I imagine a old person from the 1930’s with a listening tube stuck in the ear muttering “What’s that sonny?  I am Hard of Hearin’ and ya gotta shout!”.  I find the term archaic, unintelligent, and unflattering.

Hard of Hearing Person

I have asked many people who are not Big D Deaf (that is, the so called “Hard of Hearing”) about their feelings of these words.  Many do not object to either Hearing Impaired or Hard of Hearing.  It is becoming abundantly clear to me that it was the Deaf Community who did not like the term Hearing Impaired.  Again, that is fine.  I completely respect this.  But what I object to is that the term Hard of Hearing was forced upon everyone else.  We could have gone with Deaf and Hearing Impaired rather than Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily seeking to resurrect the term “hearing impaired”.  If that term is dead, so be it.  But I will do everything I can to also kill off the term Hard of Hearing, I hate it that much.

I am very glad that in the US, the group “Self Help for Hard of Hearing” (SHHH) changed their name to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA).  This new name has no negative connotations, and is generic enough to encompass all people with hearing loss.  It is a very welcoming term.  I have joined the HLAA, but not our own Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA), entirely due to the name.

In the end, the most important thing that all of us people with hearing loss desire is to be seen as people first.  Yes I have a hearing loss and use a cochlear implant, hearing aid, and FM system.  But I also am a father and husband.  I have a graduate degree in Audiology.  I love music, and play bass in a band.  I love to kayak, fish, and hunt.  I am all these things, and I do not wish to be defined solely by one attribute.  So perhaps the term People with Hearing Loss may be the best term of all, as it emphasizes the person first.

10 New Years Resolutions for People with Hearing Loss


Here we go again…its that time of year where we make all sorts of cliche New Years resolutions.  We all make the typical “lose weight” “exercise more” types.  Those are permanently affixed to every year’s list of resolutions for me.

As a person with significant hearing loss, there are some things which we can do that will make our lives more enjoyable.  So here are some suggestions for New Years Resolutions.

  1. Develop and Enjoy a Hobby.  As people with hearing loss, our communication challenges affect us in so many ways.  Its easy to let this dominate our lives.  So this is why I put this one at the top of the list of resolutions, because I feel it critical to develop and nurture our entire person.  For me, I have taken up Archery.  I love how archery calms me.  In addition, It requires much practice and skill, so it challenges me.  And it completely takes my mind off my hearing loss.
  2. Learn to use a new Communication Device.  Have you tried captioning on your TV?  Have you tried an FM system?  Do you use your different programs on your hearing aid?  This year, make it a goal to pick a device and learn to use it well.
  3. Learn a New Communication Technique.  There are all sorts of behavioral ways we can learn to communicate better.  Technology is only part of the story.  Ask yourself questions such as “Do I always make sure I sit with the light behind me so I can see other people’s faces better for lip-reading?”, or “Do I use a specific clarification rather than just saying what or pardon me?”.  Pick just one technique and try to apply this as much as you can.
  4. Take Action. This involves learning to be assertive, but not aggressive.  I need to work on being a bit more assertive.  For example, when I sit in a restaurant, sometimes I do not pick the best seat.  The best seat would be one in which I can see as many faces as possible and where the background noise is behind me.  All I need to do is just say to my dinner party “Do you mind if I sit there?  It would help me communicate better.”
  5. Learn to Accept Things.  Even with all the best technology and communication techniques, there are certain situations that may still be too challenging.  For example, even though I may go out to a bar with friends, I cannot hear all the communication from all the people in my group.  With the use of my FM system, I can, however, have conversations with one person at a time.  Therefore I have learned to accept this limitation.  I wish I could hear all the jokes zipping around me, but I can’t.
  6. Develop Calmness.  Again, another one I need to work on.  I am getting better, but sometimes I do get frustrated by my limitations.  Normally, this drive I have to not let this hearing loss limit me is a good thing.  It has driven me to become an audiologist, and learn to use all sorts of technologies and strategies to communicate better.  But sometimes, we might hit a brick wall.  I can get worked up by this and boil inside and its not healthy.  This year, when I get that feeling, I will try to draw upon the calmness I am learning from Archery. (See how this all ties in together?)
  7. Teach a Loved One Communication Strategies.  Communication is a two way street.  I would say that perhaps unlike other disabilities, hearing loss always affects your love ones.  Talking always involves at least one other person and as such, requires changes from communication partners.  So take some time to teach one “significant other” some techniques.  For example, my niece is likely the fastest talking teenager on planet earth.  It is incredible how many words per minute she can say.  I have worked on getting her to slow down when talking with me. Interestingly, she is now working as a waitress saving money for University next year and she has found that she does her job better when she slows down her speech for her customers.  Win win!!
  8. Plan a Dinner with Good Communication Techniques.  This one is a fun project.  Scout out a restaurant that is low noise and has good lighting.  Pick out a table that also fits these two criteria.  Pick out a seat that allows you to see everyone and where your back is towards the background noise.  Decide the number of people in the dinner party that you comfortably can communicate with.  Think about the communication devices you will be using, such as an FM system.  Think about the request for clarification techniques you will employ. And then make a reservation and enjoy!
  9. Read.  For the majority of us, our sense of vision is just fine.  Our eyes are an unimpaired portal to information.  The more we read, the more we keep in touch with the world around us.  Topics become more familiar, which assists greatly in lip-reading and hearing.
  10. Take Time for Family.  Here’s another one for me.  I get so wrapped up in dealing with my own hearing loss issues, that I sometimes do not see how things are with my family.  Be sensitive to how your hearing loss affects your other family members.  Be thankful for the things they are already doing to help you.  Also, your family members have things happening to them, both good and bad.  Make sure we take time to listen to them, rejoice in their successes, and help them with their challenges.  Its not always just about us.

Stigma and Hearing Loss.


Over the past year, I have been growing my hair.  I have done this for a couple for reasons.  First, I am still in the midst of a mid-life crises, but in a good way.  I am celebrating the fact that I still have a full head of hair at 47, and I am showing if off it a silly display of vanity.  Second, it looks good when I am playing in my band (its great for head banging).  But thirdly, I must confess, is that it is helping to conceal my hearing devices.  The latter was not one of the initial motivating reasons to grow my mop, but I have noticed a change in the way people look at me now that the devices are less visible.

People tell me I look like Matthew McConaughey's chubby, but sexy, deaf brother.

So what is the issue here?  Obviously there is still a stigma associated with hearing loss.  Lets look at the definitions of this word “stigma”.  The Merriam Webster on-line dictionary defines stigma as “a mark of shame or discredit” and “an identifying mark or characteristic; specifically : a specific diagnostic sign of a disease”.

So do I see using a hearing aid, a cochlear implant or an FM system as a sign of shame or discredit?  Of course not.  In fact Canadians, Americans, Europeans, Australians, and others who live in the developed world should realize how fortunate we are to be living in a society in which our either our incomes or social programs can afford to provide us with devices that can help us hear again.  World wide, there are likely millions of individuals with hearing loss who cannot afford the luxury of better hearing.

Are using hearing devices a specific diagnostic sign of a disease?  Well, maybe.  It certainly does give away the fact that I do have a hearing loss.  But as I will point out later, there are other signs that indicate the presence of a hearing loss, namely, one’s communication abilities.

I think that for many years, hearing aid companies did not help to diminish the perceived  stigma associated with hearing devices.  They constantly tried to advertise “invisible” hearing aids.  One could even order hearing aids that were delivered to your home in a “plain brown envelop”.  What’s up with that?  Are we ordering porn here? These kinds of marketing practices only served to reinforce the notion that hearing loss is shameful.

Frankly, I think most of the notion of hearing aids being stigmatizing on an individual is bullshit.  The ultimate proof of that comes to me every year around Christmas time in which I go to lots of Holiday parties.  What I am about to describe to you has happened to me so many times, I wish had a nickel for every time it occurred.

The scene is set as follows.  I have my refreshing beverage in my right hand.  In my left hand is my Phonak SmartLink+ FM transmitter.  I am happily conversing away with lots of folks, and inevitably, someone will ask about it.  The conversation goes something like this:

Other Person: “Hey, what’s that thing you got there?”

Me: “Well, that’s my FM transmitter”

Other Person: “Oh yeah, so what does it do?

Me: “”It picks up your voice and helps block out the background noise.  so I can hear you a lot better in this noisy party”

Other Person: ‘Wow, cool.  so how do you hear with it?”

Me: “Well, it transmits via FM radio waves to little receivers attached to my cochlear implant and my hearing aid”

Other Person: “Wow, thats so cool.  You know my Dad should get one of those.  His hearing is way worse that yours”

Me:  “Really?  Wow. His hearing is worse than mine?  Is he deaf?”

Other Person: “No, no , no.  He’s not deaf.  Probably just hearing loss due to age.  But he just completely falls apart in social gatherings.  He totally avoids them.  Constantly saying “what?” all the time.  Drives us all crazy, especially my Mom.  He won’t even go to things like this anymore.”

Me:  “Does he wear a hearing aid.”

Other Person:  “No, he doesn’t want anyone to know he has a hearing loss.”

So what do I conclude from this exchange?

  1. People judge the amount of “disability” you on the basis of your behavior and your ability to function, not just on the presence of hearing devices.
  2. Because I seem to function better in a noisy environment with my FM system, hearing aid, and cochlear implant, I am perceived as having LESS of a hearing loss than a silly old coot with presbycusis (hearing loss due to age) who won’t even wear a hearing aid.
  3. Often the biggest barrier to better communication is the person with hearing loss themselves.  They erroneously think others won’t notice their hearing loss if they do not wear a hearing aid or use an FM system.  The fact is that they are constantly having communication breakdowns and this is extremely obvious to everyone.

But this brings me back to the hair thing.  The cochlear implant is bigger than a hearing aid, so folks do stare a bit.  It can get annoying.  So, I grew my hair a bit and it covers it up more.  So shoot me for wanting to look a bit cooler.  But I can assure you, I would never trade my ability to function for the sake of cosmetics.  I know that I would be perceived far worse if I kept saying “what, huh, pardon me”.  The hearing devices and FM system help me function and decrease negative perceptions.