Archive for September 16th, 2008

Note:  Be patient with this, please… it goes somewhere, and all I’m doing with this is setting the stage.  It’s for a good cause.

Ever see the movie?  Children of a Lesser God?  The one that brought Marlee Maitlin to the forefront as being (1) deaf, (2) a darned good actress, and (3) pretty damn cute.  I was having fun with #3 there.  She’s pretty/cute and smart, and who I consider to be a very inspirational person.

It’s an interesting world, the deaf experience.  I only have a foot in it and lightly so at that.  I’m lucky.  I read lips.  I have enough hearing that I’ll always be considered an outsider to deaf culture but enough of a loss that the audiologist was surprised that I functioned as I do in society w/o hearing aids.  I also am a fervent supporter of the deaf.

“Hey,” I told her, “it’s a quiet existence, and most times I like it.  90% of what people have to say is BS anyway.”  That really pissed the audiologist off.

But then, she has all her hearing. There’s a great documentary of sorts out there called Sound and Fury.  It documents several families on both sides of the deaf/hearing chasm – for there is a chasm, and it is hard if not impossible to see all the way across from either side.  Here’s the description of the docu:

SOUND AND FURY documents one family’s struggle over whether or not to provide two deaf children with cochlear implants, devices that can stimulate hearing. As the Artinians of Long Island, New York debate what is the right choice for the two deaf cousins, Heather, 6, and Peter, 1 1/2, viewers are introduced to one of the most controversial issues affecting the deaf community today. Cochlear implants may provide easier access to the hearing world, but what do the devices mean for a person’s sense of identity with deaf culture? Can durable bridges be built between the deaf and hearing worlds?

What most folks never realize is how hard it is to follow a conversation with more than 2 or 3 people in a group if you are reading lips.  You get tired.   Imagine thinking hard for four or five hours straight and no breaks.  You get fuzzy and tired of thinking, and there is a part of you that wants to turn it off.  That happens in under an hour for a lip-reader.  There are facial nuances (eyes, mouth, head tilt, nose), there’s the lips (putting movements together and processing), body language, visual aids (powerpoint, drawings, whatever), following who is talking, and then, on top of all that, processing the discussion and formulating your response or input.  This all has to be done real-time with constant re-evaluation of what the context of the conversation is, so the proper interpretation and assumptions can be made.

Lord help you if you stumble.  It is best visualized as a train wreck of the thought processes.  But you gotta keep up, regardless.

And the really maddening part is you are considered stupid because it is hard to keep up.  I remember being called retarded many times in school or weird for responding with something that was out-of-context.  I score quite high on an IQ profile and I’m anything but slow.  Is it any wonder so many deaf people are angry or bitter?  Lose your hearing and try to get a good job.  A good friend of mine could tell you stories…

Life is harder. Hearing your alarm clock?  Hearing a phone?  Will the phone be loud enough to hear the conversation even if you have some hearing?  Does the facility have TTY/TDD?  Does the movie theater have CC at the bottom of the screen?  Some do, most do not.  Forget going to see a play unless you get excited about 3 hours of utter boredom.  Got a baby?  How are you going to hear it if you can’t hear?  Did you hear a sound or not?  What is that smell?  Smoke?  Did the timer just go off on the stove?  Driving is an experience.  It means that a conversation that someone else takes for granted is now a very dangerous distraction for you, the driver.  You can’t hear the nurse call your name at the doctor’s office.  And even if you know the nurse has called you, did you get the name right?  Lipreading isn’t perfect – try to plug your ears and have somebody say “buy my pie” (in any word order) and see if you can tell what was what.  Good luck.  People are not always helpful to the deaf.  Some are outright mean to them.   Some employers will turn you away w/o an apology regardless of how illegal it is.  I don’t have it as bad as all of that.  As I said, I’m lucky, but there are obstacles.

There are times though, when I recognize and learn something new about the coolness of some of what I’m missing in the world of sound.  I’ll put in hearing aids, and while they don’t allow me to catch everything, I can hear frogs, some birds, water dripping in the sink… and I realize how cool some of the sounds are that the hearing world takes for granted.  I got home with my new hearing aids and sat by the sink, listening to water drip into the stainless steel sink <drip> <drip> <drip>.  And it’s funny, but those sounds I cannot hear normally take on a 3-dimensional quality and can be visualized as such.

I’m saying all this not to whine or bitch.  I’m saying it because it makes the real point of this post (coming right up) take on a much higher level of appreciation for those who could use it – several orders of magnitude for some.

At the UofM (Michigan) there is a contest, Feel the Music where students are being asked to come up with a way for the deaf to experience music, on-the-go, in an unobtrusive fashion.  Normally, you experience music if you are deaf – by turning it way way up.  I hear stuff best below 1KHz, so a good bass beat is great even if I don’t have to turn it up to 11.  (The Matrix is good for that).

I wish Professor Zurbuchen and the students a huge success.   They are doing a good thing here.  A thing that is good to hear.

Update:  Here is a link that Prof. Zurbuchen sent me if you want to learn more about the contest.


For being patient, you deserve this.

Ok, one more…

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