How socially isolating is hearing loss?

Hello!

Sometimes people will refuse to wear any hearing aids and will deny that they need them. It is true. They don’t need them, but it can have a pretty dramatic impact on their quality of life. Do you know what is one of the things that they can help with the most? Their social life.

“blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.” -Helen Keller

Helen Keller believed that deafness was a “much worse misfortune”. The reason being that most languages are spoken. I remember hearing about a family who had a deaf daughter. A few of the immediate family members could sign, but every so often they would invite extended family to dinner, none of who would know how to sign. At first one of the siblings would try to include the deaf girl, but with a bunch of people, the conversation bouncing around from person to person, and with multiple conversations going on, it was hard for the sibling to sign everything, so they would eventually give up, leaving the deaf girl out of the conversation completely. So the girl eventually just started going to her room after she was finished with her dinner, because it was pretty much impossible for her to follow what was going on. So she missed out on a lot of chances to socialize and communicate with her family, because of this.

Now I am not deaf, but I go to restaurants every so often with a big group of my friends and hearing aids are terrible for those type of situations. People usually go to restaurants specifically to socialize, yet I am there struggling to catch any of the conversations, which does feel very isolating. I feel myself start to shut down after awhile, because the energy I have to use to follow along is incredibly draining. If I didn’t have any hearing aids, I would shut down almost immediately. Every so often I end up in situations where I am without my hearing aids and people are talking to each other. Every time I shut down from the beginning, because it makes me feel like a burden having to get people repeat things a bunch of times and then them eventually saying “never mind” or “It isn’t anything important”. The thing is it is incredibly important to me, because I value what others have to say. I want others to know that I want to listen to them, but at the same time I know it can be frustrating to others. If it is that frustrating to repeat yourself, can you imagine how frustrating it is to be the person who is embarrassing themselves and can’t understand what someone is saying after multiple attempts?

I understand that being blind has its own problems that would seem impossible fr me to overcome, but I don’t think that people often realize just how it can feel to be excluded from a lot of conversations. Being deaf can be similar to living in a foreign country that speaks a language that you can’t speak. Ever. On the plus side, at least deaf people can learn to read English, which definitely helps. I’m not going to pretend that I understand how isolating being completely deaf can be, but being hard of hearing, I do get a little taste of what it is like. This is one reason why deaf communities are important. So that deaf people can experience fluid communication and language with people similar to them.

Thanks for reading!

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Terminology

This is my big list of terms that I’ll be updating as I think of more words that I think is useful to know.

Acquired deafness- deafness that isn’t present at birth and occurs later on in life.

American Sign Language- A language most commonly used in North America that uses hand movements and facial gestures. It is a complete language that is mostly used by deaf people. It has its own unique grammar and syntax. It is also known as ASL.

ASL- acronym for American Sign Language.

Audiogram- the result of a hearing test on a chart. One axis being frequency also known as pitch measured with Hertz and the other being intensity measured by decibels.

Audiologist- medical professionals who diagnoses hearing loss and related conditions and also provides appropriate treatments.

Behind-The-Ear Hearing Aid (BTE hearing aid)- a type of hearing aid where the amplifier sits on top of the entire ear and the mold sits inside the ear.

Bilateral hearing loss- some degree of hearing loss on both sides/ears.

Cerumen- a fancy way of saying earwax.

Closed captions- a text display of the audio from a TV show, movie, or a video on a computer. It is usually displayed on the bottom of the screen. This is pretty similar to, but different from, subtitles.

Cochlear Implants- a type of device that helps deaf people hear to some degree. Only some deaf people can get them and even less want them or can afford them. Also, their hearing isn’t restored to a level that a person with no hearing loss has.

Conductive Hearing Loss- Hearing loss that is a result of an abnormality of the outer or middle ear.

Congenital Hearing Loss- hearing loss present at birth.

Deaf (culturally)- people who are considered Deaf typically uses American Sign Language, is part of the Deaf community, and celebrates hearing loss and Deaf culture. The capital D in Deaf is an important distinction. Deaf people might not be deaf and vice versa. deaf people, Read below for the term “deaf” with a lower case d.

deaf (phyiscally)- a condition of having very little to no hearing in one or both ears. May or may not consider themselves to be Deaf (culturally).

deaf community- includes many people other than people who have no hearing. There are family members of deaf and HoH people.

Decibel (dB) – unit used to measure loudness.

Eustachian Tube- one of my favorite words. Not entirely related, but it is the tube between your throat and middle ear that is responsible for equalizing the pressure in your ear with the pressure outside of your body.

Feedback- when the hearing aid is producing a high pitched squealing due to the hearing aid’s microphone picking up on the hearing aid’s output. It is pretty annoying.

Fingerspell- it is when you use the ASL alphabet to spell out words you either don’t know the sign to or words that doesn’t have a common sign. This is used a lot more than verbal English spelling, because there are quite a few words that don’t have signs.

Gain- the additional intensity that a hearing aid wearing gains by wearing hearing aid(s).

Hard of Hearing- a person who has mild to severe hearing loss that doesn’t consider themselves to be deaf. Usually their primary method of communication is speech and may know Sign language.

Hearing aids- a type of device used to help improve hearing and most commonly used by people with mild to severe hearing loss.

Hearing impaired- a somewhat offensive and outdated term for hearing loss, because it implies that the person is damaged and has something that needs to be fixed.

Hearing people- a person with no hearing loss.

HoH/HH- acronym for Hard of Hearing

(ASL) Interpreter- someone who translates spoken English to ASL and vice versa, so that people with hearing loss can understand surrounding spoken conversations.

Lipreading- a way of increasing understanding by trying to guess which words are being spoken by watching lips, though the degree it can help is limited.

Mainstream education- a child who goes to a local school that isn’t specifically for students with hearing loss or doesn’t have a hard of hearing/deaf program. The hard of hearing students is learning with hearing students, instead of mostly deaf and/or hard of hearing students.

Mixed Hearing Loss- when a person has both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss- hearing damage that is a result of repeated exposure to really loud sounds for an extended period of time.

Reading lips- see lipreading.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss- hearing loss that occurs in the inner ear (Cochlea) or nerves that leads from the ear to the brain.

Service/hearing dog- a dog that aids many different type of people, but in this context will mean dogs that aid deaf and HoH people. They can act as ears and alert their owners of ringing doorbells, alarms, knocking, microwaves, and anything else that may make noises.

Speech–language pathologist- a fancy way of saying speech therapist, which is someone who diagnoses and treats various speech disorders and related conditions.