This week is Deaf Awareness Week, but I’m not deaf. I will admit to being a bit hard of hearing so people who are profoundly deaf or have hearing which is worse than mine will think I am lucky. Perhaps I am.
As an Open University student, I am lucky in that the course I am doing is all online (LLB) so I don’t need to attend lectures in a brick university which was built when the old Queen was on the throne and has levels of comfort, heating and acoustics to match. I can sit in a comfortable armchair, with headphones on for any audio content, and get on with cursing the fact that the software has fallen out with my Safari browser (other browsers are available, thank goodness, and they mostly work). However, never one to miss a good opportunity to moan (OK, I’m Scottish so it is in the blood) there are occasions when having less than perfect hearing is a bit of a drawback (I live in England so that is demonstrating a typical English understatement). Let me explain.
They say you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. In the same way, I can pick my home study environment but even I can’t avoid meeting people face-to-face. Day schools, the term they use for, what I still call real tutorials as opposed to that pale imitation, online tutorials, can be a challenge if you do what everyone else does and sit as far from the tutor as the confines of the room allow. I sometimes wonder if all the other students know something about tutors that they are not telling me. Anyway, that is fine because I can choose to sit at the front and hear every word spoken without being disturbed by books being shuffled, crisps being eaten and phones on silent buzzing away. It is social occasions that are the worst challenge. “Why is that?” I hear you ask, or I just might if I had my hearing aids in.
Hearing aids are good at amplifying sound and delivering it into your ear, what they don’t do is separate out different sources of the sound. I describe it as a ‘wall’ of sound, everything delivered together as one bundle and at the same intensity. If there is more than one person speaking, a not unusual occurrence at social events, it is sometimes possible for me to follow a conversation as long as I can see the mouth of the speaker. I can’t lip read at all but the movement and shape of the mouth allows my brain to select matching sounds from the ‘wall’. Most of the time this is not possible, even in more formal settings such as a meal there will be multiple conversations and some mouths that I can’t see, or they are busy working on a food morsel that has become lodged between their teeth as they make a point.
So, what is the solution?
If there is someone in a group with hearing difficulties this fact may not be obvious, they may not have their hearing aids in or even if they do, they may be hidden behind hair. Some of the most modern hearing aids sit inside the ear and are undetectable without the sort of close inspection that violates the wearer’s personal space. If someone is quiet, looking a bit lost, and keeps looking from person to person, this may give a clue that they are having difficulty following the conversations. Are there multiple conversations going on? If so, my plea would be to have one conversation in a group and only one person speaking at a time. You will often find this brings the outsider back into the social mix as now they can hear the words being spoken. You never know, they may even have something sensible to say. Give it a go the next time you think there may be a person having difficulty hearing. We don’t wear a badge saying “One at a time. Please” but perhaps we should.