Hearing Loss: The Silent Disability
By Gail G. Morrison, HLAA-CA BOT Member
I wasn’t born with hearing loss and was walking and talking at age 9 months. My mother thought I was a genius since my brother, who was a genius, walked and talked at 10 months. Shortly thereafter, I came down with whooping cough and after the illness, didn’t walk or talk until I was two years old. There were no services where I lived in Michigan in the early ‘40s, no testing of new born babies, or programs or schools for people with hearing loss and though it might sound strange, we didn’t know much about hearing loss at that time. And worst of all was that we didn’t talk about any kind of disability. Instead, we kept it hidden.
My mother’s sisters and brother were teachers and at age three, my Aunt Ruth, gave me a three-part command she learned from a child development class: “Go to the kitchen, get a box of cereal and bring it back into the living room.” They had feared that I might have mental retardation. I nodded that I understood and set off to the kitchen. They waited. And they waited. Their worst fears were surfacing. Finally, I returned to the living room empty handed. My aunt, in her best teacher’s voice asked, “Well, Gail, where’s the box of cereal?” I crossed my arms across my chest and declared, “Well! Shorty couldn’t reach it!” They marveled at my comprehension and ability to express what the problem was. My spunk also served me well in the following years!
Throughout my life, I struggled with communication/language issues, yet wasn’t aware of this loss. In First Grade, I wasn’t reading and refused to try when the teacher called on me. “They can read,” I said. “We’re all learning,” she replied and sent me to sit in the corner to “follow along in my book.” Little did she know that the farther away I sat from the voices the less I was able to hear. When my mother asked the teacher “What do we do?” she replied, “We wait.” I think I learned to read by osmosis, but one day I brought my book home and after dinner, crawled onto my daddy’s lap and read the book from cover to cover. Little did I know how many mispronounced words I said, but my parents were ecstatic and so proud of me! I could read! My mother said it was because “You’re SMART!” She was a great mother and helped me in so many ways and by loving me for what I was.
I graduated from Michigan State University with a BA in Elementary Education, yet wasn’t recommended for a teaching certificate and although they didn’t say it or know, it was because of my disability. Happily, that would not happen today. Technology has progressed to the point that both teachers and students can now easily hear each other in the classroom. While at MSU, I met an intern that worked with me and we discovered that I had taught myself to read lips. I was able to listen to the whole sentence and then find clues in the words to figure out what was said. Sometimes this worked, others times, it didn’t. I missed a lot. Again, my mother said I did so well because “you’re smart!”
In 1998, I earned my Master’s in English at CSULB and learned to “hear” normal conversations and thoughts for the first time through reading! I became aware that the conversations and experiences I read about expanded my knowledge and enabled my brain to process new information, something I wasn’t able to do before. I was never a good reader, and suffered from being unable to hear that initial “t,” “b”…was it “take” or “break?” Consequently, I couldn’t participate in “normal” conversations because I couldn’t hear the words. My brain wasn’t getting the information it needed to grow. I learned to “rapid read” and now am a reader!
So, I fell through the cracks for most of my life and education and didn’t receive my first pair of hearing aids until 2001 at age 61 because “there weren’t hearing aids strong enough for me.” By then, I thought that I had completed my education. Enter HLAA: It was just beginning!
I joined the Hearing Loss Association of America, Long Beach/Lakewood Chapter (www.hearingloss.org, www.hearinglossca.org and www.hlalongbeachlakewood.org)in 2006 when a friend took me to my first meeting. It was amazing to be in a room full of people just like me who understood my daily frustrations at not being able to hear. Monthly meetings feature programs that educate us on the latest technology on hearing aids, cochlear implants and assistive listening devices (ALDs) that “put the words right in my ear” instead of somewhere lost in space. We can hear that someone is speaking, but the words don’t reach our ears! With ALDs, we can hear in noisy situation such as a car, a restaurant and the theater. Our meetings are captioned (CART: Communication Access Realtime Translation) and are “hearing looped”, two technologies that we need to hear. It’s wonderful to hear and because of HLAA, I’m learning how to live and as many express “I’ve got my life back.” So many hard of hearing (HOH) people are depressed and stay home because they can’t hear. With ALD’s like the hearing loop, HOH people can show up at church, the airport or the bank (even taxi cabs), turn on their t-coils in their hearing aids and voila! We can hear!
Getting sounds into the brains of young children is essential to their ability to process information so that they can learn how to live a productive life. I’ve seen the work that the John Tracy Clinic in Long Beach provide for children who are either deaf or hard of hearing. Because of technology like the cochlear implant, these children are taught to learn to hear and are being mainstreamed into regular classrooms. It’s life as it’s meant to be.
HLAA was formed by our founder Howard “Rocky” Stone in 1979, a former member of the C.I.A. and who became HOH and found no organizations for HOH people. His belief is that you don’t have to face hearing loss alone. Rocky passed away in 2006, but his wife, Amee and son, Michael continue on with his legacy. I’ve attended two National Conventions and met these two people. Both are devoted and one can feel the spirit of Rocky’s inspiring personality. HLAA’s given us our life back!