Recently Chloe and I were at our neighborhood grocery store. I rounded a corner and came face-to-face with a young boy approximately 6-years-old. His eyes grew wide as saucers and his mouth dropped open. Curious, I looked around quickly to make sure his astonishment was at my own appearance and not on someone in my vicinity. Since it was just Chloe and I… I surmised he was surprised at ME. He looked at Chloe carefully and read her vest. I could see his little mouth sounding out the words on her vest. I could “see the light bulb go on” for him about what Chloe does as her job. He took a step to the side and leaned so as to better see the side of my head. My smile let him know I was OK with that – I even turned my head so he could better see the cochlear implant. His answering smile seemed thrilled to understand as the result of his attentive perusal. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. So unprepared was I, my own mouth dropped open in surprise!
A lady who looked like she’d lost a 7-year-old boy came around the corner in a near trot. She stopped dead in her tracks and looked with relief on the boy and waved at him to “get over here“. He shook his head “no” and signed, “Look (towards me)! Cochlear Implant receive me, able dog own can/able? yes?” His mother practically interrupted his sign and shook her head NO.
She signed back, “Dog want – cochlear implant want not. Appear normal important!” She took him by the hand and drug him away to the cereal isle. I stood there for a few minutes digesting what I had over – erm – HEARD. Obviously, she didn’t realize I am fluent in ASL. I stood there … in all my NOT NORMAL glory… not fitting in… while Chloe sat and stared at a box of Uncle Ben’s rice that happened to be nose-level.
I was speechless! For those of you who know me – well that is a RARE THING – THAT! I finished my shopping in a near-daze.
I wear “bling” on my cochlear implant and have a bright, red ear mold on the hearing aid in the opposite ear. I have an assistance dog who alerts me to direction, sounds I miss, and helps me with balance related tasks. You can look at me and guess pretty quickly there isn’t a lot NORMAL about me. But that isn’t because I have a hearing loss and balance problems. Plenty of people wear cochlear implants or hearing aids. Plenty of people have balance problems. I believe my not being “normal looking” lies in the fact that I make sure my invisible disabilities – AREN’T. There are numerous reasons for that… likely best left for another post. It is in my best interest to be visible. It keeps me from getting injured – although it doesn’t guarantee that.
Not everyone with hearing loss chooses to be as visible with bionics or assistive listening devices and technology. Not everyone with Meniere’s disease is partnered with an assistance dog. Yet this works FOR ME. I’m happy, confident and independent. Isn’t that what every adult wants, after all? Sure – like everyone I have things I am dependent upon. My faith – the love of my family – connections with others. However, what I choose to use in order to live my life independent of the help of others is my desire. I’ve taken steps that I felt were necessary to ensure that independence.
A “Brag” on the Hearing Loss Crowd
Can I just brag for a minute? Do you know that I believe people with hearing loss tend to be more accepting and understanding about differences than any other group? I am MOST at home in a crowd of people who all have hearing loss yet are extremely different.
Some have assistance dogs
some “sport” various CI’s represented by all three manufacturers of cochlear implants
some have vision loss as well
some have hearing aids
some wear neck loops and are using assistive devices
some use sign language
some carry notebooks and READ and WRITE messages…
Yet I am at home among this group. I was reminded of how at home I feel after enjoying the numerous pictures taken by friends who were able to attend the recent Hearing Loss Association of America convention in Milwaukee. Everyone “fits in” at these conventions. It’s much like a family reunion. I don’t agree with everything HLAA does, nor do I believe they always seek to fulfill their original mission. But one thing HLAA does very well is – COMMUNITY. Through forums, live chats, national conventions, state conferences, local support groups, and the Walk4Hearing, HLAA provides community to an every-growing population of people living with hearing loss. Being a part of this community encourages people to do more than live with hearing loss. This community encourages LIVING WELL with hearing loss. I think we all want an abundant life!
William Mather Lewis: The abundant life does not come to those who have had a lot of obstacles removed from their path by others. It develops from within and is rooted in strong mental and moral fiber.
Socrates: Living well and beautifully and justly are all one thing.
Latin proverb: While life lasts let us enjoy it.
© 2010 Personal Hearing Loss Journal