Silence in a Hearing World
By: the Journal
Editor: There’s good news and bad news and more good news. The first good news is that there seems to be a growing number of articles in local papers about hearing loss. The bad news is that a lot of them aren’t well researched and therefore spread misinformation about hearing loss. The other good news is that some of them are pretty good, and this is one of them!
This article originally appeared in the Hurricane Valley Journal and is reprinted with their kind permission. You can visit them at http://www.hvjournal.com
People who are deaf and hard of hearing face daily challenges that most hearing people never experience. For these individuals living in Southern Utah, the Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing strives to help them lead fuller lives in a hearing society.
Emily Tanner is the program director at the Division. Born deaf, she communicated through an interpreter.
“About 90 percent of deaf people are born to hearing parents,” she said. “I’m one of them.”
She said only 10 percent of deaf children are born to deaf parents – the rest grow up in “hearing” families, a term used by deaf people to describe anyone who is not deaf or hearing impaired. Both her parents and all of her siblings are hearing.
The state agency serves individuals with all degrees of hearing loss – both those born deaf and those who are “late-deafened.” There are challenges associated with all types of hearing impairment, but Tanner said it can be especially difficult for people who lose their hearing later in life. She said most of Southern Utah’s deaf population consists of senior citizens.
“It’s more difficult for those who are late-deafened,” she said. “It’s part of their life now, and we try to help them know what they can do. We help them cope and try and get on with their lives.”
Some services the Division provides are educational classes such as American Sign Language, lip-reading, and coping with hearing loss, and they also loan out equipment such as doorbell signalers, TTY and video phones, vibration alarms and other devices for individuals to sample, to help them decide which equipment works best for them before purchasing.
Hearing-impaired individuals, both those born deaf and those who are hard of hearing, encounter obstacles in aspects of daily life that hearing people may take for granted. To attend a lecture, festival, or any other community event, for example, a hearing-impaired person would need to take along either an interpreter or specialized equipment, depending on whether they communicate through ASL or have some residual hearing. For those who haven’t totally lost their hearing, when attending a lecture or other event, they can use a device called a pocket talker, a microphone that directly transmits to a receiver worn by the hearing-impaired person. To use the gadget, however, they would have to first get the cooperation of the speaker to whom the microphone attaches – very difficult to accomplish in a large stadium gathering.
Another difficulty for those who are deaf and hard of hearing is enjoying the same entertainment that hearing people have access to.
“It can be very frustrating,” Tanner said. “There are a lot of limitations for deaf people attending events in the community. It’s very limited. We can’t just go out to a movie whenever we want.”
Tanner said the Division has worked with area movie theaters to try and provide subtitled film showings for hearing-impaired community members, but at most, they are able to schedule two showings a month.
Keeping up on current events is also a challenge.
“The TV may be closed captioned,” she said, “but we don’t hear it if our attention is turned away from it.”
She said deaf people are often the last to know when it comes to things happening in the world. What may be all the buzz for hearing people sometimes doesn’t reach a deaf person’s attention until weeks later.
Loneliness can be another challenge if a deaf individual doesn’t live with others who know sign language, or if they don’t live in an area with an active deaf culture.
“Most of the time, deaf people are with hearing people all day long, day in and day out,” Tanner said. “When deaf people get together, we have a lot to talk about, because we haven’t been able to talk to anyone for maybe weeks at a time.”
She said alleviating that loneliness is something else the Division strives to do. They sponsor events for their clients such as bowling, knitting classes, and interpreted plays. They also provide a center for deaf individuals to feel connected to each other.
“This is the hub for the deaf community of St. George,” she said.
Tanner said there are some common misconceptions hearing people have about deaf individuals that should be laid to rest. One is that all deaf people know how to lip read.
Another is that all deaf individuals know American Sign Language. Neither is true.
“There are different experiences, different modes of communication,” she said. “When you meet a deaf person, don’t misconstrue that all deaf people are just like the one you met.”
Some etiquette to keep in mind when meeting a deaf person is that they communicate visually, not verbally. To walk between two signing people and stand there, for instance, would obstruct a conversation. Speaking to a deaf person with a cigarette or gum in your mouth is also a faux pas, as it would inhibit the deaf person’s ability to understand if they do lip read. And to raise one’s voice or overemphasize words when speaking to a deaf person is a natural tendency, Tanner said, but should be avoided.
“Just talk in your normal voice, normal speech pattern. Of course, if we’re not understanding, we’ll ask you to repeat, or we’ll get out pen and paper,” she said.
The Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is government funded, and Tanner said they serve about 200 to 300 individuals in Southern Utah. They are located at 1067 E. Tabernacle, suite 9. To contact them, call 435-634-8983.