Braille Menus

Kyersten has always loved the outdoors... here she is on Lookout Mtn. in Georgia.

Kyersten, my “going on 20” daughter and I, went to Baltimore yesterday. She had a field trip she had to complete in order to earn some extra credit in her 200 level zoology class that she is taking. This has been a TOUGH class for her and she earnestly reasoned with me why she so desperately needed the car to go the National Aquarium. She can be pretty convincing. I had not been in awhile, so invited myself along so that I could spend some one-on-one time with her. Perhaps since we’ve recently visited some colleges on her “short list” that she will be transferring to next Fall, it was still keenly evident to me how precious little time I have left with her before life really changes! She was very willing to endure my company and cheerfully agreed (even before I promised lunch out!).

The aquarium is a great place to be with a CI and working dog. There is SO much to hear, and it can be a great place to practice using some of my special programs like “BEAM” to hear just Kyersten in a din of NOISE. It is good for Chloe, for we do not frequent really noisy places out of habit. It is good practice for her to stay calm and focused amidst all the “merry mayhem”. Towards the end she was wagging her tail at every squealing group of school children, and even met another service dog. Butch was a HUGE black lab that was built like a tank. He was very “lab-like” and friendly. He and Chloe said a brief hello and went on accompanying their partners. Chloe was much more relaxed after that – smile. A harmless moment of flirtation is enough to put the wag in the tail of my hound dog!

A Dolphin Show can be really noisy and tough to hear at with all the echo! Doesn't keep it from being REALLY FUN!

Lunch at the Cheesecake Factory

I gave Kyersten the option of several places to eat there in the Inner Harbor. She gave me one of those “duh” looks that 19-year-old’s are so good at… She loves cheesecake, so I really didn’t need to ask her! She eats a pretty light lunch there in order to save room for what is important. CHEESECAKE. Smart kid, yes?

Even though it was 12:30, we didn’t have to wait in line at all. Perhaps because it was a weekday? The young man asked us to follow him back through the restaurant. The area he led us to looked out over the promenade and one wall was all glass. I made the mistake of glancing around too much and caught site of the ceiling fans in my peripheral. I sort of “toppled” with a decided lack of GRACE into my chair. Kyersten just grinned at me, as she guessed my problem. I situated Chloe under the table, and turned to look at the young man who seated us.

“May I bring you a Braille menu, ma-am?” he asked politely.

I could see Kyersten’s eyes widen across the table.

Without missing a beat, I pointed to my CI and said, “Oh no thank you! I’m fine with this one” (and then pointed down to the regular novel-length menu on the table).

When the young man walked away, Kyersten rolled her eyes and said, “OH BRUUUTHER!”

I just grinned and said, “Hey! He was polite, and I do have a service dog with me. I toppled into the chair… for all he knows I don’t see well!”

Kyersten just looked at me, and looked at the cochlear implant on my head decorated in gold, red and green jewels for Christmas. She then looked at the opposite ear with the prominent BTE hearing aide and bright red ear mold.

She didn’t say another word, but that 2nd eye roll said it all.

Not the first, won’t be the last!

This was not the first time I’ve ever been offered a Braille menu before. I have friends with low-vision or are legally blind. I appreciate the fact that many restaurants have Braille menus!

I also appreciate it when restaurants train their employees “enough” that they have learned to recognize someone with a special need. Oh sure! They might not identify the need correctly, but I truly believe it is the thought that counts! When I have students in my ASL classes do projects like “go to the mall” without your voice and only sign, (“Deaf for a Day“), many come back to class and tell me that they were offered a Braille menu at the food court at various places. We discuss how they handled this and what this may mean.

Hearing Loss is Unique to Each Individual

Hearing loss itself is unique to every individual. The disability is not a “cookie cutter” change in hearing. I get some responses from people sometimes that do not like that I use the “disability” word. I’m OK with that, and respect their opinion and choice to not identify with that word. Personally, I am OK with admitting that I have a disability. I believe it does not strip away any power, self-esteem or pride to admit that. I am NOT, however, disabled. Yet, my disability may not be anything like that another person with hearing loss experiences.

I have Meniere’s disease. I do not meet many people with hearing loss who have Meniere’s. I am bi-modal (one CI, one hearing aid). I am more likely to meet bi-lateral people if I meet someone with a cochlear implant now! (Which I think is JUST TERRIFIC!) What they experience in their hearing loss is different than what I experience. Some people use a “bit of sign”, while others are culturally Deaf and do not use their voice at all. Some people have hearing aids that they do very well with, while others put their own in a drawer and “fake it” through life. I hear very well in quiet to “medium-noise” environments. I don’t even have to speech read anymore thanks to the wonderful technology of my Nucleus Freedom! However, in really noisy environments I do have to speech read even when using special programs. Other people with cochlear implants may do better in noisy situations.

I have had the privilege of participating in various forums, workshops, conferences and conventions. I have seen people with hearing loss really become defensive with other people with hearing loss. You know? (scratching head and really ponderin’ on that) I just don’t get that! So what if someone hands you a Braille menu! Were they genuinely trying to help? Does it matter that they don’t realize your hearing loss is different than their own? Perhaps they do not understand that what works for them may not work for you. Why come unglued and act defensive?

Here are a few real-life examples I have observed:

1. A person with hearing loss walked up to another person with hearing loss and pointed to their wires connected to their body-worn processor for their cochlear implant. “Why on earth would you wear something like that with all those wires showing?” Oh yeah… that produced a positive response!

2. “Bling” on cochlear implants and hearing aids are often disdained by other people with hearing loss.

3. “Why would you go with THAT company for your CI? The one I went with is so much better and their success rate is much higher!” (Should we just be happy someone is HEARING AGAIN?)

4. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the last part of what you said”. “What? You have a cochlear implant now, shouldn’t you be hearing better than I am with two hearing aids?” (Yeah… as long as you aren’t talking while crunching raw broccoli, bozo…)

Let’s face it! We will likely meet someone else with hearing loss who has chosen different techniques, coping mechanisms and technology in order to live life to its fullest. They may hand us a Braille menu. Our response should be positive… and let them know we genuinely appreciate their attempt to be helpful. An angry retort, thrown “menu”, defensive attitude and “hearing loss sermon” will not bring anything positive out of their mistake. Relax. Smile. Educate in a positive way.

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

 

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5 thoughts on “Braille Menus

  1. Love it! I’ve been offered a “handicapped” room at hotels when I let them know I have a hearing loss. (*Kyersten “DUH”*) I can’t hear well but I’m not physically handicapped! One particular hotel that I frequent know now to give me a regular room with the equipment that I need when I stay there….it is up to us to educate others. Thank you for doing that!

  2. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at how often those with service dogs get offered braille menus at restaurants. Like you, Denise, I am just so glad that they are more available than ever for our friends who really need them! I sometimes do get frustrated when someone asks a question that brings on the eye roll in me, but I really try to contain myself and answer the question or educate, keeping in mind that most of the time people are simply acting off of the best information that they have available.
    I am personally not a bling-er (but who knows what the future will hold, it wasn’t so long ago that I kinda sorta hid my processors) but I actually envy those who feel free enough in themselves to wear it! Thanks once again for a great blog on hearing and life!

  3. Several times I’ve been offered an accommodation in Braille when I asked for another kind of accommodation for my hearing loss. 🙂

    For example, after I told an airline stewardess that I was hard of hearing, she gave me the emergency instructions in Braille.

    We do need to realize that not everyone is swift on the uptake. They genuinely are befuddled sometimes, and simply haven’t thought through what they’re doing, but they can mean well. Denise, you make a good point that we need to appreciate their efforts to be helpful.

  4. What an interesting read. Even though the waiter got it wrong, I would give him an extra tip just for showing good intentions. Thanks for sharing.

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