Please say that again

gentsmallHearing Awareness Week (24–30 August) aims to raise community awareness of hearing impairment and ways to protect your hearing. Gillian Bouras wrote a superb piece in Eureka Street (25 Aug 08). Do read it all.

Hearing loss occurs for various reasons. There may have been an injury; there are the effects of aging. Genetics and disease have a part. Over all, 11 per cent of Australians suffer from either partial or complete deafness. As well, quite a number have tinnitus. I have tinnitus and a mild hereditary hearing loss that is worsening with age. So far, they are mostly just a nuisance.

Bouras says

Those who suffer from creeping deafness may be slow to realise it, and to accept it, for communication is of such vital importance to work, social situations and personal relationships. I long refused to accept my own hearing loss, upbraiding myself for lack of concentration, and telling myself good hearing was a matter of willpower.

Hearing loss is a blow to self-esteem. It leads to a strong temptation to become anti-social. It becomes too much of a strain to listen: hearing loss means stress. And sufferers do not like to think about, let alone hear, jokes about the deaf. Nor do we wish people to assume we are so deaf that we cannot hear personal remarks.

[. . .] People with normal hearing often assume that hearing aids are a replacement. They are not, despite recent advances in digital technology. The brain has to retrain itself after hearing aids are fitted, and this process takes time. Hearing aids are also situation-specific, so that, for example, they are not very good in crowded restaurants or at Greek wedding partie never wear a hearing-aid when a bouzouki is playing.

Strategies are called for. The person who has hearing loss accomplishes little if he/she merely says things like: ‘Sorry?’ ‘Come again?’

The deaf person needs to make request ‘Would you mind talking more slowly/facing me/raising your voice a little?’ It is also helpful to issue a tactful reminder. ‘Remember I’m aurally challenged, won’t you?’

Lip-reading is a useful skill to acquire, and formal lessons are not usually necessary. Beards and moustaches can provide difficulty for lip-readers, however.

Kind friends and relations need to be conscious of the problems involved. Even people who are only partially deaf cannot hear round corners or through walls, nor can they hear when somebody is looking in a cupboard, rattling plates or banging cutlery. Music at a dinner-party can be a nightmare, and most sufferers need a telephone with a volume control.

Nor should people with normal hearing believe that not hearing is the same as mishearing; they should also understand that some people can be heard much better than others. In short, a general heightening of awareness is needed.

And part of this heightening of awareness is the knowledge of people who have not let hearing problems stand in the way of a full life and notable achievements.