Sound Of Silence: Challenges Of The Hearing Impaired
When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t help but notice how many birds were singing outside my bedroom window. I always hear birds, but today it was different. It was as though they were celebrating spring. I made my morning cup of coffee and turned on some music. It was the beginning of a perfect day.
As I sat on my front porch taking in the sights, smells, and sounds around me, I wondered what it would be like for someone who couldn’t hear. How different a world they must live in. No birds singing to wake them up. Not being able to hear the soft sounds of music to soothe their soul. Being visually impaired, I understand what not being able to see well feels like, but being such a lover of music, I couldn’t begin to imagine what life would be like not having it.
With a world bombarded with audio stimulation, being hearing impaired would definitely be different. Even if I were to hold my hands tightly over my ears, the sounds still come through.
As unfathomable as this is to me, “20 percent of Americans, 48 million, report some degree of hearing loss.” Hearing impairment is as diverse as the people living in the United States. Like with anything else, there is a scale of hearing impairment, and although some may be completely deaf, some may just be mildly hearing impaired.
I realize my statement above is, in fact, a little ignorant. I know that when it comes to my visual impairment, I can’t stand when people make assumptions based on their own experiences, so me doing the same is ridiculous. I am far from the only one to make this assumption, unfortunately.
This is just one of the assumptions made about deaf or hearing impaired individuals. Although there are many stereotypes and misconceptions, one that seems to be universal among all those with a disability is that the hearing impaired are not capable of working or are only able to work at low paying jobs. I know better because Erika Lavezzo, my sister-in-law, is hearing impaired and one of the most intelligent, creative, and caring people I know.
Erika was born with a hearing impairment, and after surgery and with the use of hearing aids, still has some hearing loss. Up until recently, I haven’t had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time with Erika, but when on a trip out of town visiting family, I stayed with her and my brother. I gained a whole new understanding of her world with limited sound.
With my somewhat ignorant stereotypes, I realized how wrong I was. Not only is she intelligent, creative, and caring, but she is one of the hardest workers I know. She faces everything she does with such enthusiasm, and yes this also includes working. She does childcare during her church services and babysits on a regular basis. She is a mom to an adult son and has become one of my closest friends.
Erika has faced a lot of the stereotypes and prejudices that many with disabilities face. On top of being hearing impaired, Erika also has a learning disability that affects her ability to spell. This in no way means she isn’t highly capable, after all I know many people who have issues spelling. This double whammy of sorts cause others to think because of these issues, she is not capable.
While looking for work in the past, she has faced challenges. Erika shares that, “My biggest challenge when looking for a job is that people won’t speak up for me so I can hear them.” I can’t understand this personally, but I know the panic I feel when asked to fill out an application with a font that even the fully sighted must struggle with.
The prejudices and opinions of others have caused her some insecurity. When talking with her, I asked her what some of those insecurities may be. With complete openness, she responded, “Yes, because people won’t understand me because I don’t speak clearly.” Erika also has a slight speech impediment that does make it harder for her to enunciate words, but I wouldn’t say to the point where it hampers others’ ability to understand. Well, at least not for me.
To stomp out some of the most common misconceptions: not all those with a hearing impairment read lips. Erika doesn’t, and not all those with a hearing impairment know sign language. While I believe that Erika does know sign language, she does not use it on a regular basis. In the week I stayed with them, I only remember seeing her use it once, and that was to teach my almost two-year-old granddaughter a sign.
Just as with any other person with a disability, she is a force to be reckoned with. If she had the opportunity to tell a future employer about her strengths, she would say, “I am a fast learner, and that I don’t let my disability get in the way,” and she doesn’t. She is a leader by nature and has an uncanny ability to get things organized and done in record time.
When I asked Erika what advice she would give to those with a hearing impairment, her advice was as inspiring as she was. “You can still do the job. You can do anything you put your mind to. Don’t let it stop you.” She doesn’t either. No matter what the obstacle, when she sets a goal, she achieves it. She loves her music loud, she dances and plays her harmonica like a boss. She even taught my granddaughter to play it.
Opening our minds to the possibilities of what is unfamiliar to us is not always an easy thing, but in doing so we can create awareness and understanding for those who seem “different” to us. Essentially, since the only ones who are truly losing out are those who don’t take the time to see things differently and enjoy the similarities and difference of others.