September 03 at 08:00
It’s the word I seem to use more often than any other. (“I beg your pardon” seems too formal and long-winded, “What?” just plain rude.) Sometimes, people say it back, too, when I explain that I am hard of hearing. Oh, sorry. I find this mildly patronising, bewildering at best. Why, after all, would you want to apologise for something that is clearly not your fault, or indeed anyone’s?
Often, depending on my mood, I use the word “deaf” in place of “hard of hearing” as lazy shorthand. But it’s funny how rarely even that word truly seems to register. (“Oh, sorry,” they trill, again.) But surely I can hear “too much” to be properly deaf? And, sorry Deaf folk, enjoy your capital D but it is just not for me.
Technically, my loss is somewhere on the moderate to severe scale. With lip-reading, hearing aids, subtitles, some patience and a few repetitions, I can mostly get by. Just. Induction loops don’t seem to be much help for my kind of hearing loss. But during 20 years of wearing the aids, it things have broadly followed a downwards trajectory.
I am sure some people think I am winding them up after the twentieth repetition of what they are trying to say. It seems that, once the second or third repeat hasn’t registered, the chances of my ever catching it are minimal to non-existent. Equally, it’s easy for hearing people to forget the issue when you cope just about OK most of the time. After all, my speech is all right, and the hearing aids are the only visible sign of an invisible problem.
And, despite the help I get through things like the disabled railcard and a government-provided textphone, it often feels as though I “enjoy” the worst of both worlds. Effortless conversations in crowded, noisy rooms, the following of films without subtitles (i.e. most of them, and those hearing devices they give you in cinemas are worse than useless), the theatre, talks of any kind – all of these dangle tantalisingly out of comfortable reach, like a TV game show. Here’s what you could have won.
Really good phone conversations are another enduring and deep source of frustration, both for me and my interlocutors. I just about have enough hearing to sniff out cold callers though, and tend to say “Sorry, I can’t hear you,” until they put the phone down. Petty? Vindictive? Yes, yes, probably – but, hey, I’m home alone freelancing all day and a girl has to get her kicks where she can.
If I am in a profoundly deaf environment, because I don’t sign, the communication barrier is a tough one and I often just feel left out. And if I am chatting to an interpreter, sometimes, it’s wrongly thought, because I am not signing, that I am talking about others in the room. Cue more frustration. Of course, I could always learn BSL, but, even, then, would I really feel part of and welcomed in the profoundly deaf world? Would I truly be “one of them”?
Clearly, I am lucky to have the hearing I do have. But, just sometimes, it’s impossible to escape the sense of feeling stuck between two worlds, not fully belonging to either, because I was born “not deaf enough”.