Misinterpreting

Misinterpreting

I haven’t had a chance to talk about Chloe, my retired service dog, much lately. The sweet ol’ lady has been retired full-time since May 2015. Chloe has not had a good year. Being together 9 1/2 years, means she was pretty set in her ways as to being with Denise 24/7. So if you take a loyal, hard-working hound dog who has done the same thing for almost a decade, retire her, bring a new dog into the pack who is now Denise’s partner, move to a new house, and have only a few things to do around the house for hearing alerts, a dog can just go a little nuts… which is what Chloe has done. Chloe is on arthritis medicine, which helps her arthritis a great deal. Being able to get around more comfortably means she is looking for stuff to do around the house. Chloe has developed an anxiety disorder, which could be the result of a number of things including age. She obsesses over things she decides is her job and continues until collapse.

We moved into a wonderful, older home, with NO STEPS! I fall once a week now instead of 2-3 times a day. Even for our two older dogs, Chloe and family dog, Tyco, the fact that we have no stairs is a plus as well! Our older home makes noises that our other home did not. We have an older HVAC system, gas heat and stove, a wood-pellet stove, and older wood floors. Chloe, retired hearing dog, believes every new sound she hears now is her JOB. So she will stand over heating vents and guard because there are strange noises coming from them. (We have checked for critter invasion, had the home inspected, etc., and this is truly just mechanical noises. The other dogs ignore the sounds completely). Chloe will stand “working” until her legs shake and she collapses. We were having trouble getting her to eat. A major vet appointment that included blood-work, scans, and over-all senior check-up, revealed nothing that would make us worry that this is anything other than an anxiety disorder. Chloe is OCD. She misinterprets what she is hearing and together with her other keen senses (like smell), seeks out the origin of the strange sound and does a perfect hunting dog “point”,  standing guard until she collapses.

Chloe is on meds and is doing better. She still guards shadows and obsesses over household noises. We are making it a priority for her to get out of the house more and “do things for mom and dad”. My husband and I discuss hound dog a great deal. She really means a lot to both of us. We know and understand the difficult changes she has had to shoulder, but also understand that she is hearing things well (she is a DOG and was trained as a hearing assistance dog)… only Chloe is misinterpreting what she hears.

The sounds are not important – but Chloe is escalating the sounds as a priority.

The sounds are harmless – but Chloe considers some of them a threat.

The sounds are minor “blips on the radar” – but Chloe equates them with cardiac arrest.

Misinterpreting

Have you ever completely misunderstood what someone said or misunderstood the behavior of someone?

WHAT? You mean you always assume correctly? Ok. Well you can quit reading. The rest of you feel free to continue…

As a person with hearing loss, I often misunderstand what people say. I work hard to consider the context, facial expression, and body language of someone speaking and I still BLOW IT sometimes.

Someone can yawn and cover their mouth and I will completely lose track of what they were saying.

My cochlear implant can pick up some random, ambient noise and I will miss what someone said.

I’ve even stood in the sunshine with someone while they squinted and wrinkled their eyebrows at the bright light, and missed that they were being sarcastic about something because their face looked MEAN.

I use email a great deal. If I have my phone out, it is to TEXT, not to talk earlobe to earlobe with someone. Because I do a great deal of writing, when I am misunderstood or misinterpreted in an email, it really hurts. I work hard at making what I write sound like what I SAY. That’s why y’all have to muddle through my exclamations and grammatical errors that emphasize how I would SPEAK something. (So thanks for that – <wink>).

Basically in misinterpreting… there are two scenarios. Either WE are being misinterpreted, or we are the one over-reacting and obsessing over unimportant cues. So what’s a person to do?

  1. You are being misinterpreted.

If you are being constantly misinterpreted, is it your problem or their problem? Really the responsibility goes both ways. If you are constantly being misunderstood, however, take a good hard look at the who, what, when and where.

Who: Do the same people always misunderstand? Maybe they are extra sensitive. Maybe they haven’t learned to see past the obvious to what you really meant. Are you sarcastic? Do you know some people just don’t GET sarcasm? They don’t appreciate it, don’t use it, and are constantly hurt by it.

My husband, son, and daughter speak fluent sarcasm. As a person with hearing loss, I had come to count on what I SAW when communicating. I finally had to explain, “Look y’all! Give me a smirk, eye roll, or something! If you don’t, you are gonna get smacked up ‘side the head!” I just don’t connect with sarcasm.

What is being misunderstood? Is it a subject others are passionate about? Is it a subject that is highly debated? (Is it an election year? <groan>) Are you being clear?

When are you being misunderstood? Is everyone tired? Are you being misinterpreted when everyone is rushed? Late?

Where are you being misunderstood? A friend told me once that she has learned not to talk about serious things during happy hour at a local bar. <grin>

Figuring these things out can be helpful and allow you to determine how you can be misinterpreted LESS.

2. You misinterpret others.

Especially because one of my “differently-abled” quirks is hearing loss, if I misunderstand someone I become rude. Not rude-rude, but interrupting rude. I stop whomever is speaking and ask for clarification. I may say:

A) I’m sorry, could you repeat that?

B) Excuse me… I thought I heard you say…     …  could you repeat that part?

These “rude” but necessary interruptions help me misunderstand and misinterpret LESS. If I wait to ask for clarification I may forget (but stay mad), or the person themselves may forget what they said.

What about if you are angered or hurt by something that someone WROTE? I still ask for clarification. Maybe even though I am searching the context or doing my best to “read between the lines”, I’m still missing something. There is nothing wrong with responding (better done in a private manner and not in a public venue) and asking for clarification. I don’t know about you, but I’ve written things before that were taken wrong and it wasn’t until someone asked for clarification that I realized how harsh something I wrote seemed to the people who were reading it.

texting

Sometimes? Sometimes people are just going to try really hard to misunderstand what you wrote too. It happens. I’ve learned to pick my battles. You cannot always expect someone to look for the best in you. Some folks look for the bad. Just drop it and go on.

being misunderstood

Change really isn’t hard

One of my offspring is a debater. The kid can argue the paint off a wall. It use to really bother me, but I never wanted to say “shut up, already”! I never wanted to act as if their opinion held no merit. I had to learn to LISTEN. Do you know my kid actually has a lot of really wonderful ideas, points, and opinions about the world? I drove him to lunch the other day and because we were each other’s “captive audience”, I got him all to myself for 20 minutes. My kid is more informed about politics than I am. If I LISTEN I have discovered he has a lot to say.

I use to misinterpret what he said all the time. I had to change. I couldn’t take sound bite snippets and judge him for being a ninny-hammer based on one comment. I had to learn to listen “in context” and wait until he had finished speaking before agreeing, or agreeing to disagree.

Some of you may be thinking… “why should *I* have to change the way I communicate?” Communication is the glue that holds all relationships together. No one communicates perfectly. We can all brush up on better communication skills.

Last week I was asking some questions about a video we watched and trying to get the students to “think like a scientist”. I saw a student grimace and shake their head. I stopped and said, “It’s fine if you don’t agree! I welcome everyone’s opinion and think it is important to express various views! Do you have another opinion about what we saw?”

They looked startled for a minute and sheepishly admitted, “No. I was making a face because someone farted”.

Oh.

You aren’t always going to understand perfectly. You are going to misunderstand facial expressions and other nonverbal cues. You, yourself, are going to contradict what you are saying by how you look or how you are saying it once in awhile.

My encouragement to all of us is simply to work harder. We can all learn to communicate clearly, hopefully creating less chance of being misunderstood. Communication matters because people matter. If you are a person with a disability or chronic illness, work hard at communicating your needs – and what you don’t need. It is much easier to “do your part” and then walk away in the face of persistent misunderstanding, than it is to share the blame for not having tried at all.

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

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Entitlement

When you think of “entitlement”, do you picture someone with their arms crossed and a demanding attitude? Do you associate  negative thoughts with the word? I have heard the word “entitlement” discussed at length in various groups lately. Parents may bemoan the fact that “kids today have a sense of entitlement that promotes a feeling of justification for all they do and all they DESERVE“. My husband and I even “shake our heads” at our own kids from time to time. Don’t get me wrong… our kids are TERRIFIC. They are well-adjusted, do not use drugs or drink alcohol, their language is acceptable, they make good grades, they are responsible and willingly reach out to others. But sometimes? Sometimes they act as if they deserve certain things even before earning the right to have that luxury, trust, or understanding. Thankfully, we can simply remind them about the blessings they have and use a comparison or two between their own lives and the lives of some of their peers and they are quick to apologize for their previous attitude.

Teachers  confess that students in classrooms across the country are morphing into groups of individuals who demand respect and favors they have not earned. Elayne Clift (2011) said, “Whether it’s rude behavior, lack of intellectual rigor, or both, we are all struggling with the same frightening decline in student performance and academic standards at institutions of higher learning (para. 6)… when teachers refuse to lower standards, those students seem to resort to a new code of conduct that includes acted-out rage, lack of respect, and blame”(para. 8). From what I understand, this attitude is reaching epidemic proportions in classrooms. Thankfully, I have not experienced this in my own classrooms yet. I do, however, believe it CAN be a problem and is certainly happening in many schools. Parents and caregivers may unintentionally (or with very real intent) foster and promote this attitude in their children.

What about “Occupy… ” a city near you movement? I’ve listened to some of my peers argue that those camping out and “occupying” locations in cities across America, are individuals trying to make a point about those in power and wealth, yet harbor a sense of entitlement.

I’m not here to debate any of these issues. Instead, I wanted to point out that a sense of entitlement is alive and well in the disABILITY community. I support being a positive advocate and for educating individuals as to what their rights are under the ADA. I’m not here to debate these issues, however, and recognize that there are plenty of examples of people with disabilities being misrepresented, mistreated, and unfairly judged.

What is ENTITLEMENT?

Webster’s defines “entitlement” as:

1. a : the state or condition of being entitled : right b : a right to benefits specified especially by law or contract
2.: a government program providing benefits to members of a specified group; also : funds supporting or distributed by such a program
3.: belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges

When I first began losing my hearing at the age of 25-years-old, I knew next to nothing about hearing loss and how it can impact a life. I spent the first decade of progressive hearing loss learning about hearing loss in general. I sought support and information about how to better communicate and how to deal with the emotional consequences of an acquired disABILITY. When I developed Meniere’s disease as well, I challenged myself to learn all there is to know about a disease with no cure. As a result, I’ve learned what my own triggers are, what steps I can take to lesson the symptoms experienced, and reduce the severity of flare-ups. I’ve become an advocate for those with hearing loss… especially those who are late-deafened. I support and advocate on behalf of those who use service dogs to mitigate their disABILITY.

I’ve met PLENTY of folks who do the same. This does not mean, however, that I have not met people with hearing loss, Meniere’s disease (or other balance disorder), and people with service dogs who exhibit an attitude of entitlement. Many have taken laws that protect their rights and use them as a weapon of mass destruction. Instead of resting on the assurances these laws were meant to produce in the lives of individuals with disABILITIES, these laws are used to insist on more than what is deserved and intended. Don’t get me wrong! Companies and local and federal government should be compliant with specific criteria the ADA outlines and determines as provisions for equal access. A person with disability should be given any available means and technology at work so as to do their job in such a way they are on equal footing with another who does not have a disABILITY for promotions, raises, and opportunities. My “beef” with people with disABILITIES begins where folks insist everyone else in their life adjust their attitudes to satisfy their fragile egos.

Respect is earned…

Whether you have a disABILITY or NOT… respect is earned. We are not entitled to respect by our fellow man. Let’s face it. There are mean people out there… and mean people SUCK. But we as individuals who live with disABILITIES are going to get a whole lot further if we treat even mean people with – respect.

In the service dog industry mean people can “bring out the mean” in others. I’ve seen it happen time and again, and frankly? It’s happened to ME. Some wise-guy person in “charge” will barrel up into my personal space, put out a hand to physically stop me from entering an establishment with chest puffed out, hand on a hip and a look on their face as if to say, “over my DEAD, lifeless body“. My first reaction? “That can be arranged…

Nothing gets my back up quicker than a cocky, insolent ignoramus who chooses to invade my personal space as well! Especially since the latter may mean I over-compensate and “fall down go boom“. I know my rights. I have copies of the law. I’ve been trained (thanks to Fidos For Freedom). But I have learned that fighting “fire with fire” only leaves me with singed body parts. Sure, I may gain access, but at what cost?

One of my favorite Bible verses is Proverbs 15:1. I just love Proverbs! You could read one verse a day… strive to learn and apply something from it and be busy a very long time… or close to three years since there are 915 verses to be exact, but I digress (grin). Proverbs 15:1 (ESV) says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Pardon my grammar… but AIN’T THAT THE TRUTH? Nothing takes the “wind out of the sails” of an angry store associate quicker than to be gently confronted with the truth of the law. The law is on our side, after all. Some folks are “deaf” to the truth though and because of preconceived ideas will thumb their nose at the law and insist persons with service dogs STAY OUT. Even if you need to call the police to file a report and insist on your right of entry and service, staying poised and in control should be paramount. When we lose control, it only exacerbates the situation. Worse? It sets up the next person with a service dog to encounter this same store associate with an even BIGGER chip on their shoulder.

Tired of paying the same ticket price as person’s with normal hearing at a theater, only to hear VERY LITTLE? If you want to promote open captioning or rear-window captioning… do so with a positive attitude armed with information about who uses it, what the law says, etc. Marching up to a theater manager with both guns a-blazing… accomplishes very little. When theaters do provide these services and use this available technology, be sure to thank the management. I’ve heard some HoHearies say, “why should I? Folks with normal hearing don’t have to thank the management for being able to hear a movie they paid for!” But is that the point? We are trying to raise awareness and help companies like movie theaters to provide these things so that we all benefit. (Hearing Loop.org has a great article here). We need to earn their respect. Thanking management does a number of things:

1) it reminds them who we are… real people who enjoy attending things like movies.

2) it helps them keep the numbers in perspective… many people use and enjoy captions. These “thank you’s” equal number of tickets sold and helps them remember the big picture…

3) it helps them see we ARE appreciative… not demanding snobs or spoiled people with a sense of entitlement.

A great blog post by Shanna Bartlett Groves on this issue can be viewed here and here.

Are you trying to get your church on board with providing an induction loop for people who use hearing aids and cochlear implants? Is the task difficult because there are not very many this would effect… or perhaps there is ONLY you? You will have an attentive audience and lay the groundwork for actually achieving this freedom to hear in church if you handle it the right way. Do not march up to the deacon board with a self-righteous sense of entitlement. Should they care that ALL may hear and participate in church? Well duh – of course they should! But we need to ask in the right way… with the right attitude. Non-profits have more freedom to say “no”. However, we can help them understand what this may mean for those who utilize t-coils in a way that our churches are eager to spend that little bit of money necessary to put in a virtually hassle-free technology that allows us to hear. If you hurl accusations about their lack of “Christian love” and belittle and chastise them… you will only insure they begin to believe that people with disabilities are demanding folks with a sense of entitlement. You may even need to show them how much you care about this issue. Offer to head up fund-raising for this technology. For many smaller churches, funds may be very limited in what they can provide even if they WANT to do so. (Hearing Loop.org addresses this issue here). I have a friend in another part of the country that finally talked her church into purchasing an induction loop system. She then went straight to the local newspapers and pushed for a story to be done on what this small church was doing to provide equal access for those with hearing loss. Her church ended up getting a great deal of positive publicity… reminding all in the community what churches are suppose to be doing in the first place. (A great blog post by fellow HoHearie, Shanna Bartlett Groves can be viewed here).

Yes. I think knowing our rights and standing up for equality is important. It is the “how” that concerns me. Heaven forbid that the way I handle something negatively influence the NEXT person who has a specific life challenge! We influence the thinking of those in the general public as well…

Several weeks ago I was at Costco picking up bulk items that we insist on purchasing in case the world should end. The carts there are ginormous (hey… it’s a word!), if only to hold the huge packages of paper towels, toilet paper, and bottled water we purchase to save a little money. In the pharmacy section I was busy searching for generic antihistamine. An older couple noticed me, first by spotting Chloe and then by noticing the cochlear implant (after reading her vest). They sidled closer with genuine interest on their faces. The lady said, “That’s one of those bionic things that people use to hear better with, right?

Yes,” I replied with no small amusement. Noticing the hearing aids in the ears of the gentleman I added, “I have no regrets about getting one either!” I had to repeat this actually, for he didn’t hear me very well the first time! I started to share a little information about my own hearing loss when the man piped up and said, “Well if God wanted me to hear better than I do now, He wouldn’t have allowed me to lose my hearing.

Now I could have gotten all feisty about someone questioning my own acceptance of what God has allowed in my life. I felt a little “twinge” even – to set this man straight. But I knew this would help very little where as a gentle response would accomplish much more in the long run. “Really? I look at my cochlear implant as using technology available that HE allowed as a blessing in this day and age in which we live!” The man looked confused as he had not heard me very well, but the woman said, “Honey never mind him. He can’t HEAR. You hear so much better than he does! Where did you get your implant?” … and with that I had the opportunity to plant a seed of hope and to share information that may one day provide better hearing for this (ornery) man. It is, after all, all in the attitude!

What is your attitude as a person with disABILITY? Do you at times behave as if you are entitled? Learn to gauge the reactions of those around you as you share what could be done to help you communicate more effectively. Ask for evaluations of how you handle these situations from people who are close to you. Respect is earned. May I never behave or respond in such a way that another person with disABILITY is judged at the onset to be a person with a sense of entitlement.

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Clift, E. (March 27, 2011). From Students, a Misplaced Sense of Entitlement. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved November 14, 2011, from http://chronicle.com/article/Students-Should-Check-Their/126890/

Sometimes? There’s Not a Great Solution…

Chloe doesn't know Spanish...

Sometimes? There is not a great solution available for positive advocacy.

This past Friday, my 21-year-old daughter asked me to go shopping with her. I’m always thrilled when she CHOOSES to spend time with me, so I agreed so long as it was the morning so that we could “beat the heat”. She agreed. She wanted to shop for new “under things” and I knew JCPenny was having a sale on these items. Kyersten, Chloe and I headed for Annapolis Mall to shop.

The bad thing about shopping in the “intimates” department is that there is not much room to maneuver. I was having some difficulty with my balance as well so I was just being extra careful about how much moving I had to do. Chloe does great even in confined spaces with the exception of that tail. I talk to her a great deal while we are out because it helps to keep her attention on me. Kyersten was busy looking at different styles available.  My main job was to offer the occasional opinion and situate Chloe so that her tail didn’t knock things off with her loving “wag”. Chloe may not understand all that I say to her, but she does know her name and will wag as if she is paying attention to everything else I’m saying. Because my attention was on HER, and as we were in “tight quarters”, I was taken by surprise by two little girls who ran up and threw their arms around Chloe’s neck.

One little girl was about 4-years-old, and the other (obviously big sister) was probably 9 or 10-years-old. I stuttered out, “Oh! I’m sorry. She’s a working dog and cannot be petted right now”. The girls continued to squeeze and talk excitedly.

I tried to tune in a bit better and realized they were talking in Spanish. With my heart plummeting to my stomach, I held up my hand and shook my head NO saying, “Please don’t pet her. She is a working dog”.

The older girl stopped and tried to talk to me in English, and I understood “She’s a pretty dog”. At this point Chloe broke her sit/stay in order to break the choke hold. I was unprepared and went to my knees and caught myself on a rack.

With bras, panties, and tiny hangers attached to various body parts, I again held up my hand, shook my head no and said, “No please!” in a very firm voice. As I was still wobbling, I sat on my caboose to get my bearings.

The older girl said, “Oh … sorry” with some other words that I could not make out because of the accent. I did understand that she understood that Chloe was NOT to be petted. In Spanish she (I think) explained to her younger sister about Chloe. I think she realized something was amiss because I was now sitting on the floor with lingerie scattered around me. She left quickly with her little sister in tow.

I had Chloe brace so that I could get up, and asked my daughter to pick up some scattered articles. (Chloe could have, but I didn’t figure anyone else would want dog saliva on merchandise). Right as I was on one knee about to stand, the youngest came zooming around the corner with a squeal to squeeze Chloe again (who was now in a stand/stay and “brace”). I held up my hand and intercepted the young lady and my hand blocked her at the chest. Although I did not PUSH, it did stop her in her tracks. I said firmly with a head shake, “NO!” She turned and ran away.

I did NOT want to place my hands on someone else – let alone a child. I didn’t injure her, but I really felt out of options. I was “rattled” the remainder of the day. I was very upset with MYSELF that the resolution to this problem ended up playing out like it did.

When All Else Fails… Be Firm

I did look around for the youngster and never did see her or her older sister during the remainder of our shopping trip. When something doesn’t go according to plan I tend to beat myself up about it I’m afraid! I kept thinking about other options I may have had, and tried to think of what I might do should this happen again. (I’m open to suggestions – grin).

Sometimes we can try to advocate in a positive way – and the situation may just fall apart. Sometimes? You just have to be firm and resolute. We should always try to be positive and upbeat at the beginning…

“It would assist me in staff meetings if everyone would just pop a hand up before speaking so I can locate who is talking”.

“I can easily do my share of answering the phone if I had access to a captioned telephone that would provide understanding for when I don’t hear everything”.

“She’s not a pet. She’s a service dog and she can come into the store with me”.

Yet there are times we may have exhausted other options and have to stand firm.

“I need everyone to simply pop your hand up with a small wave before you speak. Thanks in advance”.

“I will require a captioned telephone so that I can do my job and share the task of answering the phone”.

“Here is a flier about what the ADA says about my rights. I’ll be over there shopping should you have any additional questions”.

I don’t think ANY of us welcome having to be firm and insistent, but there is a time and place for being firm. I try to always remember that there will be others who come after me that may also have accessibility issues. How I handle a situation may condition someone with normal hearing to respond to the next person they interact with who has a disability. There are times, however, when all pleasant and positive avenues have been closed to you. Even in your firmness… keep your cool. Keep it short and stick to the facts. My husband grins and tells me, “Denise! TMI. Keep it short! They don’t care about your background or care to hear your story”!

Accents, Foreign Languages, and Hearing Loss

The great thing about our country is the diversity. Because of where I live there are a large number of minority populations who speak English as their SECOND language. I do not speak an oral foreign language so I’m a little jealous of those who can! My mother taught high school Spanish for over twenty years, but her children never learned (much to her dismay). I have a lot of respect for people who speak English as their 2nd language. It is difficult, however, to understand language when an accent distorts the way a cochlear implant and/or hearing aid pick up the words. I have trouble understanding people with thick accents that may speak PERFECT English. I even have problems with American accents such as folks from Boston, Texas, etc. (I understand “Southern” as I lived there for so long!)

However, the fact that I have difficulty with accents, is MY problem. People with hearing loss should have patience with those who speak other languages as their primary language. I have heard late-deafened folks demean and criticize those who speak other languages. I always think to myself, “Really?” It is far more productive to explain that you have a hearing loss and have trouble understanding when an accent is present. Let them know that you are aware it is your problem, and pleasantly ask if they can perhaps speak slower and face you when they speak. I’ve overheard HoHearies blast people with heavy accents – as if it is THEIR fault! Always – ALWAYS – remember you are an advocate for others with hearing loss whether you signed up for it or not! If you are negative, critical and defensive, you are having a negative influence on how the rest of us are treated in the future. Yes, it can be frustrating and even embarrassing to have to ask someone with a heavy accent to repeat themselves again and again. But “own” the problem as yours – it isn’t their problem. It’s a big thing to be fluent in more than one language, so treat them with the respect they deserve.

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Get Their Attention

I recently attended the annual national convention of the Hearing Loss Association of America because it was actually held in my area this year. At one point, I was in the crowded convention hall perusing the numerous hearing loss vendors and booths. At a distance, I saw an old acquaintance scoot by in their scooter. I tried to wave them down but I was not in their peripheral so they did not see me. After they quickly rolled out of my sight, it hit me! I could have raised my voice and said, “Hey Bob!” This friend did not have a hearing loss, but attended these conventions alongside of his wife who WAS deaf and hearing again with two cochlear implants. I had to smile at my mistake, because I forget that people with normal hearing do not have to have a visual cue in order to get their attention. (Thankfully we ran into each other later…)

I see this all the time in my kids. Kyersten and Chris (now 21 and 20-years-old) attend college but live at home. They really have no memories of my not having a hearing loss. Even though I had a progressive loss, it took twelve years before my hearing was completely gone. They have both told me that they don’t remember my ever hearing well. They are so accustomed to speaking with someone who has a hearing loss, they automatically do things that are more difficult for someone who isn’t in constant contact with someone who is deaf. They always come into the same room that I am in, and rarely try to have a conversation from another room with ANY family member… even those with normal hearing. Recently my son came all the way into the family room to ask my husband a question. It was a simple question that could have easily been asked from the kitchen. The television wasn’t on, and the area was fairly quiet. However, he is so accustomed to facing the person he is talking to, it is difficult to remember that he can do some communicating from another room when it comes to his dad. My daughter is often told that even as shy as she is, she has “uncanny eye contact” when communicating with someone.

Teaching Them Early

When my kids were about 2-3 years old, they were already “old hats” at communicating with a person who had hearing loss. They cannot remember watching television without captions. Even “Barney, the Dinosaur” had captions, as did “Sesame Street” and “Thomas the Tank Engine”. I believe it helped them learn to read as early as they did!

If I needed to tell my kids something, I would walk over to them and get down on their level. I would put my hands on each side of their face and say, “I’ve got my GUESS WHAT FACE ON!” I’d then (almost nose to nose) tell them what I wanted to tell them, or simply say “I love you”.

If they came to talk to me, I could hear that they were talking, but not understand what they were saying. So I’d lean down and put my palms on each side of their face and ask, “Wow! Do you have your GUESS WHAT FACE ON?” It didn’t take long for them to begin putting their own palms on the sides of my face when talking to me.  As they grew older, we dropped putting our hands on the face of the other, but they would come and tell me with direct eye contact…  “Mom, I’ve got my GUESS WHAT FACE ON…” and then tell me what they were going to say.

By the time my kids were 5 and 6-years-old, it had become habit. I was eventually able to afford a refurbished hearing aid that gave me some help in hearing for several years. I recall my daughter (from the next room) telling my son, “Wait a minute. Let me put my GUESS WHAT FACE ON and ask Mom!” As they continued to age and mature, what “stuck” was direct eye contact and face-to-face conversations. It was actually a wonderful gift to help nurture in them, for all of us do very well to give the other person the attention they need and deserve when communicating. No competing with electronic games, closed captioning on television, or computers when we talk. We put everything down and LOOK at the other person.

How to Get a Deaf Person’s Attention

Here are some great tips in how to get the attention of a person with hearing loss.

1. Wave your hand in their line of sight.

2. Touch their shoulder or hand before speaking.

3. Move into their line of sight with your body to gain their attention.

4. Turn the lights off and on (this is especially helpful in a room that may have more than one person with hearing loss and you need EVERY person’s attention).

5. If sitting at a table with the person, gently knock on the top to get their attention through vibrations.

Can you think of any others? I welcome your input!

How Service Dogs Get Attention

Hearing assistance dogs are taught to get their partner’s attention by gently bumping them with their nose or touching them with a paw. As I have a balance disorder, Chloe tries to garner my attention by standing and staring and WAGGING LIKE MAD. She only places a paw on me or bumps me with her nose if her 1st efforts have failed. Smaller assistance dogs, may get their partner’s attention by actually jumping up on them.

Even though hearing assistance dogs are trained how to get the attention of their partner to alert them to sounds, the human partner has to be responsible as well. Shortly after being matched with Chloe my trainer, Pat, took me to many different types of public places to train ME. Chloe was already trained. She drilled into me, two important things:

1. WATCH YOUR DOG

2. TRUST YOUR DOG

I quickly learned to pay attention to what has Chloe’s attention. Her hearing is not only much keener than my own, it is more sensitive than people with normal hearing. I can now even recognize when she hears something if she is standing in front of me (with my only seeing the back of her head). Chloe has a modified “heel”. “Heel” position is when the dog’s shoulders are parallel to their partner’s left leg. However, I do not have peripheral vision on my lower left. So we taught Chloe a modified “heel” that is slightly forward of a true “heel”. I had to learn how to observe the BACK of her head. Thankfully she has these wonderful hound ears that perk up and she “points with her nose” in the direction from which a sound is coming. She will even cock her head to the side to really tune in.

Look the neighbor came out...
Look at that family over there...
something is in the bushes...

If the sound is something she thinks I should hear, she’ll come and get me – phone ringing, door bell, someone calling my name, kitchen timer, etc. These are all trained alerts. However, I have been in situations where I could tell a sound had completely distracted her yet I could not hear or place what it was. When this happens, I ask “Chloe… what is it? Show me!”

Chloe will start to wag and TAKE me to what is making the sound. I have to be careful about this. I don’t want her to take me to every single sound she hears. She may hear the kid’s arguing and cock her head as she listens. I do NOT want her to take me to where they are arguing because they are old enough to work out their own problems! She seems to understand when it is a sound that I need to pay attention to – such as a cat locked in the laundry room, the low-battery sound on the phone in the bottom of my purse, or “Daddy” hollering from the bathroom because there isn’t any toilet paper!

A Word of Caution

I believe that individual’s with hearing loss should get the attention of every person they wish to speak to – even if that person has normal hearing. Do you know how many conversations I have interrupted because I walked up to someone and started talking without hearing that they were talking to someone else? I try to make it a habit (and still sometimes fail) to make sure I have the attention of someone before I begin speaking. This eliminates the likelihood of my talking over someone already talking.

I suspect all of us can improve our communication skills. If you have someone in your life who has a hearing loss, I encourage you to sit them down and ask them in what ways you may better communicate with them. If you have a hearing loss (whether a veteran of deafness or a “rookie” – new to coping with hearing loss), try to sit folks down and have a “heart to heart” about ways they might better communicate with you. This may include family members, co-workers, or even supervisors. Don’t think, however, that once you share with them how to better communicate with you that they will always do “right” from that point forward. I have learned that the people in my life need occasional (positive) reminders.

“Could you put your hand down please? You are covering your mouth”.

“Do you mind looking my direction when you speak?”

“Could you get my attention before you begin speaking? I’m afraid I missed all that you said prior to my looking up and seeing you standing there!”

Stay positive. Few people will put any genuine effort into communicating with you if you belly-ache and whine about it. If you get angry, it may cause resentment and defensiveness. Keep your cool! Smile… be positive! In the end, you are actually helping them better communicate with ALL!

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

“Tag” You’re IT

Chloe and I were recently in a Wal-mart shopping. In the household cleaning section, one doesn’t expect to run into a child. Among the 4 or 5 other shoppers and carts stood a 5 or 6-year-old little girl. I don’t know how she ditched mom, but she was obviously unsupervised. She was about 20 feet away when she first caught sight of us and slowly made her way down the isle towards us. Inwardly I cringed… for I didn’t really feel like asking her not to pet Chloe. Instead she got close enough and looked at Chloe’s vest (although I’m not sure she could even read), and then at the side of my head where my cochlear implant and BLING sparkle for all the world to see!

She smiled at me and said, “This is a WORKING DOG”.

I replied (with some surprise), “You are EXACTLY right! Chloe is a working dog”.

Unsure of what communication might follow that exchange, she smiled impishly up at me… reached over with her index finger an POKED me while exclaiming, “TAG! You’re IT”. With a squeal she was gone and around the corner with pony-tails flying behind her.

Service Dogs and Play

Chloe’s tail started wagging and she looked up at me with an expectant, “Yeah! Let’s go!”

I just grinned at her and caught sight of a lady about 3 yards from us just grinning from ear-to-ear, having seen the whole thing. I smiled back, calmly walked by her and just as I was passing her – reached out and poked her while saying, “Now YOU’RE it…”  She burst out laughing and we went on our way.

I am asked occasionally if Chloe is ever allowed to play. Most recently this came up at a DEMO we did for the Department of Disabilities for the state of Maryland. I think people love the idea of working dogs, but often wonder if the dog is ever allowed to be “just a dog”. We always assure people that our dogs have plenty of opportunities to rest, play, and just be a dog. They are frequently rewarded throughout the day with treats, praise, and physical touch. Walmart is not the BEST place to induce Chloe to play, so I opted out of the game of “tag”… but I can assure you that Chloe is allowed to play with our family dog, and with family members very often.

All Work and No Play

Just like people, dogs need down time. Especially working dogs IMHO. But we could learn a few things from our furry partners. Chloe often naps when waiting in line at a busy cash register, or if we are traveling by Metro, airplane, or even the family car. She knows when to rest and get some shut eye. She also knows when to play and enjoy a major tail-wagging romp! I try to remember to take “5” and rest when I can. I try to get 8 solid hours of sleep each night because I actually hear better, and walk more steady if I make sure a good night’s rest is priority.

Perhaps we should all play tag from time to time. Hey! It is good exercise, and I’ve not met anyone yet who didn’t smile after being tagged!

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Hypervigilance vs. Awareness

Where is she looking? What does she see?

Being “aware” is a natural state for me. I think anytime an individual loses one of their five senses, they learn to compensate by being more aware of things around them. When all five senses are working, input is sent to an individual’s brain about their environment, people around them, etc., to help them determine if any action should be taken. However, when a sense goes “missing” as the result of acquired disability, accident, or illness, individuals have to learn to compensate.

Now that I have Chloe (my hearing assistance/balance assist dog partner from Fidos For Freedom), I have changed from a hyper-vigilant state to simply being more aware of my surroundings. You see, now I depend on HER. If I’m watching my partner as I should, she hears and then sees things I often miss. I’ve learned to pay attention to her body language and cues, as well as visual focus and reactions to stimulus around us (such as a sudden, loud noise). Do you know my blood pressure has gone down since I’ve been matched with Chloe? Hypervigilance is a negative state of being.

Psychologists define hypervigilance as an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity coupled with an exaggerated intensity of behaviors in response to possible threats. Hypervigilance is often accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. People who are hyper-vigilant often stay in an abnormal high state of arousal and respond to stimuli by constantly scanning and detecting possible threats. Individuals with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) often exhibit hypervigilance. Why then would a person who loses a sense,  struggle with hypervigilance? I do not believe that people with acquired disabilities start out being hyper-vigilant. I think it evolves after an individual experiences something very negative as a result of having lost a sense. For example, I do not remember the exact day and time – but I do know that in June of 2003, I was shopping in a retail store and was stunned by the reality of how dangerous being deaf can be. I was scanning the shelves for items and a person evidently needed by. I didn’t hear the “excuse me” or whatever was offered to let me know I was in the way. The woman pushed passed me fast and I ended up flat on my face on the floor. I rolled over and looked around to see her standing there indignant (and not at all apologetic) demanding, “Why didn’t you move?”

“I’m sorry – I’m deaf”, I replied. She had the good grace to at least blush, pushed her cart and hurried away. I was so shook up that I left my cart where it stood, gathered my things, and left. I vowed from that day forward that I would do everything in my power to make my invisible disability more visible. I went through a fairly stressful number of months after the incident and became hyper-vigilant whenever I left the house. I stayed in a state of exhaustion because of it. Enough time went by that I eventually learned to relax a little and just work at picking up good awareness habits. I wear my hair up so that the technology I use is visible. In 2005, I was implanted with a cochlear implant that served to reduce my tension even more since I re-gained the ability to hear. After I was matched with Chloe, “being aware” became even easier. In training, an oft repeated phrase we hear is, “Trust your dog”. In the beginning it is very difficult to do because we are not accustomed to doing so. It takes practice to eventually instill the HABIT of trusting our dogs.

I got a lot of flack this last fall from extended family members for taking my dog to the hospital with me when my daughter had emergency surgery. My family members who do not live with me do not understand that Chloe isn’t a “crutch” – she’s a tool. I use Chloe to be more safe and more aware of my surroundings. My husband and I very rarely go someplace without Chloe. However, occasionally we do go to places where we leave Chloe at home for her safety. These places may include: ICU areas of a hospital, zoos (where animals may become agitated since they want to eat Chloe), or to places that may have guard dogs (such as jails, etc.). When we occasionally go to amusement parks, I do not ride fast rides because of my balance issues. However, someone with an assistance dog may determine that these places are not good for the dog to be either. You can’t exactly put a dog on a roller coaster! So when I happen to be without Chloe, my husband has noticed that I am startled more easily because I don’t have anything alerting me to things I miss on my own.

I do not take Chloe with me to stores, church, and restaurants when I’m visiting my parents. They do not welcome the attention she draws. It is their home and I respect their wishes. I’ve had folks tell me, “WE will be your ears and watch out for you. You don’t need Chloe”. However, when I’m counting on people to cue me it never actually happens. People ignore many sounds that are just background noise to them. I’ve noticed that my parents can be having a conversation and stop on the curb while I just step right out into the road, unaware that a car was coming because they blocked my view of that direction. I have to be much more careful. I’ve also noticed that as a result of having a balance disorder, I stumble more when Chloe is not with me. In throngs of people, individuals “bump”, “crowd”, and invade the space of people around them because they are in a hurry. When I have Chloe with me, people notice and take care to stay outside my immediate perimeter. I’m rarely jostled or bumped when Chloe is with me. As a result, I fall and stumble less.

So Chloe does reduce my anxiety and create a different kind of awareness. I’m aware of HER. I depend on her. Having said all of that, having an assistance dog is not for everyone. In some ways it is like having a really smart toddler around. She investigates things with her nose, and yet I don’t want her to put her nose on every thing we come across. So I have to remind her “head up, Chloe” and be aware of things at her eye level. For example, because it is Easter season, going to Wal-mart means I need to be aware of all of the stuffed bunnies and ducks often at her eye level. Stores put them there so a child will say, “Mommy? Can I have this?” Well Chloe would like them too! So I have to be aware of her at all times.

At Fidos For Freedom, teams do a “meet and greet” activity. I HATE THEM. This activity is very hard on the people there who have a hearing loss. The idea is that you put your dog in a safe place and then communicate with another person or a couple of different people in a group. When you have a hearing loss though, you have to see the person’s face if you are in a large, noisy room filled with other groups of people talking. So it is difficult to make sure Chloe stays “safe” and STAYS PUT while actually carrying on a conversation. The activity is one of those “necessary evils” we endure so that we know what to expect in public – in REAL life.

I have heard people with hearing loss bemoan how difficult it is to carry on conversations when there is a “hub bub” of chatter around them. Sure, I may have a special program on my cochlear implant to help eliminate background noise, but it is not perfect! It is hard to concentrate on the speaker! Add to that trying to make sure your partner is in a safe place, only adds to the stress level a bit. So although Chloe eliminates much of the stress in my life, it can add to it as well. I don’t know that there is a good solution for “group meet and greet” for a person with hearing loss also partnered with a dog. (I’m open to any ideas though – grin).

Ok? SO?

Today’s post comes as the result of an email I received last week. With the person’s permission, I asked to blog about her question. “How do I know if an assistance dog would help me? Is it more trouble than it is help?” These questions are important ones if the person is thinking about training for an assistance dog. Some others you may need to ponder:

1. Am I OK with the attention having an assistance dog draws to me in public?

2. Am I OK with people stopping me and asking what the dog does for me?

3. Am I OK with having to pack a “bag” to go anywhere in order to make sure I have the things needed to travel with a dog?

4. Am I OK with occasionally being confronted and denied access?

5. Am I OK with having to care for and groom a dog daily?

6. (Because of #5), am I OK with having to invest in stock in LINT ROLLERS?

These questions and more are important things to consider if you are thinking about getting an assistance dog.

For me, the #1 benefit is that I am more relaxed and at ease in my awareness. I no longer feel the need to be hyper-vigilant and I’ve learned to trust my dog.

Where Can I Get One?

Self-training or Hiring a Trainer:

Countless owners have “self-trained” their dogs to perform specific tasks. There are pro’s and con’s to doing so. Private trainers can be expensive, but they can custom tailor a program for the specific needs of a person with hearing loss. Unfortunately, many dogs wash out before they can become service dog material, and a person might go through several dogs before finding one that is right for the work. Self-training is difficult, and also runs the same risk of washing out several dogs before finding the right one. But many who have self-trained their dogs have a strong bond and partnership as a result of this work. Usually, people who self-train have very good mobility or caregivers to help out, have had one or more service dogs in the past and have had some training experience, even if only with their own dogs. Individuals can hire a trainer as well and some of these trainers assist in “puppy selection”.

Some links to get started:

http://www.dogpawsability.com/

http://sdog.danawheels.net/ot-adog.shtml

http://www.amazon.com/Teamwork-II-Training-Manual-Disabilities/dp/0965621618

Training Organizations:

There are numerous organizations from which a person can get a “program” trained dog. A list compiled by Assistance Dogs International, can be found at:

http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/membersstatecountry.php

Another list can be found at: http://wolfpacks.com/products/servicedog/trainers.html

Many programs offer training and a dog at little to no cost, as they depend on the generosity of donors, sponsors, and volunteers. Others have ways in which you can help to raise money for the dog being trained for you.

Every state has similar requirements for a hearing assistance dog, but I always carry my ADI guide to Assistance Dog Laws. A copy can be obtained at: http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/guidetodoglaws.php

Feel free to email me if you have additional questions!

Sincerely,

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Community

I don't exactly blend into the background...

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.

Not Normal

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.

Denise Portis

© 2010 Personal Hearing Loss Journal