Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Stone Deaf?

Often when the world runs into a deaf person the first few questions are related to finding out if they are really deaf?  Initial questions tend to explore how do you communicate if you cannot hear and thus:  Can you lipread?  Is it hard being deaf?  Once those kinds of questions have been explored the next area is how deaf that person may be.  Thus begins an effort to label the experience of being deaf to the degree of loss that the deaf person may have and one of the potential misnomers is ‘stone deaf’.

It will be true, to some extent, that the deaf person has limited external access to sound. It may be helpful to equate the experience of not hearing as being stone deaf.  However, we are making the assumption that stone cannot ‘hear’ and is inanimate.  There are cultures and societies in the world that would strongly disagree with that assessment.

It is my opinion that regardless of how much external sound a person can access it is likely that all of us have access to a noisy inner life involving our consciousness.  Even in deep sleep, there are things going on internally that keep us consistently receiving stimulus of some sort via dreams and other internalized mental gymnastics. From this context, it would appear no one can make the claim they are stone deaf.

It may be possible in brief instances, in deeply religious followings or through meditation to gain a tenuous ability to detach from the self long enough to enter voids equivalent to being in total silence. Other than this all of us remain busy hearing ‘voices’ the entirety of our lives.

Perhaps when we meet others different from ourselves physically,, socially, and culturally, we might respond in a deeper way.  First,  by not comparing each other to what we can do.  It might work better to ask others what they feel, experience, see, and know, and how they respond to their lived experiences.  That may potentially offer a better way to understand each other through the experiences we have while living through those experiences.

Then, no one would be stone deaf.




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In a prior reflection, I wrote about my life experiences involving hearing aids.  After that, there was a period of years without hearing aids where I developed my skills at lip reading into a fine art. Then ten years ago after years of research, reflection, and inner struggle with the idea of doing it, I finally went through the medical procedure to acquire a cochlear implant.

There is one poem about that topic in the writings area which reflects on the quandary of being culturally Deaf and at the same time crossing the line to have a cochlear implant to become some kind of ‘borg’ in the world. I had low expectations as to what it would do for me and much to my surprise it has worked very well for me. I am able to get through days very well out in the world with it on and for all purposes, if I would choose to do so, pass as ‘normal’ in the world. This is an odd thing for me to say because the experience of being deaf is my normal as opposed to the majority who think it is what disables me as a person.

I find it to be positive that I can choose to hear or choose to go about my day in silence. Something that many of my hearing friends have wished they could do as well.  One of the ironies of the cochlear implant process is that the procedure itself destroys any residual hearing the person may have prior to the implant.  As a result, I am, from an audiological perspective, deafer than many deaf people who do not have cochlear implants. Yet, within the culture, I am now less Deaf than I was before the cochlear implant.

The argument goes these days something like this:  Does the implant make me less culturally deaf which appears to be the sentiment these days within the deaf community.  That is, for all purposes, the elephant in the living room for deaf culture. No one wants seems to want to address what it means to be culturally Deaf and at the same time have a cochlear implant as the two seem to be mutually exclusive. As a result, there is a very subtle type of shunning within the community. Or so it seems to me from my personal experiences.

Meanwhile, I go through the process of trying to figure out what all this leads to and how I can continue to have a meaningful life as a D/deaf person in spite of the perspectives of others. Since hearing aids are not much of an issue these days perhaps if they made the cochlear implants look more like hearing aids then everything would be hunky dory.

Or not?

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For someone who starts life in the womb hearing their mother’s voice and emerges into the world of sound the idea of the ear and sound being inseparable and indispensable experiences must be a no-brainer.  One of those ‘duh’ moments where the response is “of course, how could the ability to hear be anything other than a positive, enriching experience.

However for those who were born deaf with some residual hearing the relationship of the ear, sound, and how it is experienced are much different especially when they come into contact with the famous ‘miracle ear’ and its supposedly astounding achievements.  For most of us this ‘ability to hear’ is a jarring introduction to the world of sound and as a result, we cannot fathom how hearing people tolerate a life in constant contact with noise.

This was certainly the case for me at the age of 5 ½ (or thereabouts) when it was discovered I was deaf and shipped off to live at the residential school for the deaf in Kansas.  Within the year I was introduced to the ‘miracle ear’ and it proved to be annoying, loud, distorted, irritating, white noise.  This is what I call my bronco-busting period between the ages of 6-9.  Just as the bronco resists the saddle so did I by resisting the addition of the hearing aid into my world of experience.

For the next three years, I found every opportunity to take it off as soon as adults were out of eyesight, to “lose it” conveniently as I could and to misplace it each night so it was a struggle to find it the following morning.   These are only a few of the efforts I made to cast off the imposition that the hearing aid imposed. In my youthful outlook, there was absolutely no value to the thing whatsoever.  Alas, sometime during my 9th year I was saddle broken and began to leave the thing on during my waking hours.

Now in those days hearing aids were huge things.  Requiring at least the equivalent of what we would identify as 6 AA size batteries but twice as thick.  Now, something that big and heavy does not fit conveniently into a shirt or pant pocket.  As a consequence I was fitted with a harness, just like the broken in bronco, to cart the thing around.  It basically was a bra, consisting of one pocket instead of two cups and into that pocket was deposited this huge piece of equipment connected to a long cable that plugged into an ear mold that then plugged uncomfortably into my left ear.

As I hopped, skipped, jumped, walked, and ran through the day the hearing aid bumped, slid, flopped about, sometimes coming completely out in a jangle of cord tugging on my ear mold.  At those moments I must have looked like a fish just pulled out of the water on a fishing line.   I should add that later in the 60’s when the women’s movement advocated burning bras, I believe that I was one of a small group of American males who totally understood the sentiment and could readily support the movement for reasons beyond male sexism.

Looking back on all this there is one thing that comes to the foreground as I reflect on this whole thing.  I am thinking to myself:  YOU DOLT!  THE TOILET, FOR GOD SAKES!!!  There is was countless times each day, day in and day out, staring right in front of you.  The one opportunity never was taken to simply deposit the dang thing and send it off to toilet Nirvana.  What were you thinking!

Was it an opportunity lost or a disaster averted?  Depends on which side of the fence you sit and where it all relates to your life.  Did I ever learn to appreciate sound… to a limited extent yes but only for a small range of experiences related to music, sounds of the forest, and the wind on certain days (if the hearing aid microphone was not facing the wind) and a few other items such as that.

However, I have never lost the enjoyment of taking the thing off and basking in the tinnitus noises and other related silent experiences that are uniquely those of the Deaf.  Eventually came the day, in my mid-thirties, when it no longer served its purpose and I donated it away.  Yes, yes I know…another opportunity lost to send it off to toilet Nirvana.   What can I say?

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