One of the most challenging aspects of my teaching job is lip-reading multiple speakers’ voices during group meetings. When hands go up for Q & A at the end of staff meetings, I try hard to decipher what is being spoken from multiple mouths scattered across the room. Of course, it helps when the meeting facilitator remembers to hand the school’s FM (frequency modulated) microphone to the person speaking. This technology that provides extra volume ensures that what I can’t lip read might be more audible to me.
That Time My Hearing Aids Screeched
I have also tried handing my own FM system “mini-mic” to the speakers. This small microphone is specially designed to feed sound directly into my hearing aids. But I learned during a graduate school class that sometimes that extra volume will cause my sensitive hearing aids to go into acoustic feedback overload. “SQUEEEEEAAAAALLLLL!” is what those around me can hear coming from my hearing aids when they experience this kind of overload. I can’t always hear the squealing sound, but I do see the awkward stares flashed at me by those sitting closest. Too shy to say anything, these people pretend not to hear my noisy hearing aids until I pull some person aside and ask, “Be honest. Are my hearing aids making a strange sound?” That person nods, and during a classroom break I politely ask the presenter for my FM mini-mic back.
Overheard Comment #1
A comment came from one of my friends who attended a workshop I recently presented called “Thriving with a Hearing Loss”. He said, “I am impressed with how you handled the audience questions. It looked as if you heard everything.” Well, friend, I tell you. I have presented this workshop multiple times over a period of five years. During that time, a lot of the same questions have been asked. Also, I move around the room when people are talking so that I am no further than ten feet away from the person asking the question. That is just enough feet for me to see a moving mouth and be able to lip read as best I can. If I still cannot understand the question, then I ask the person to repeat or rephrase their question slowly.
Overheard Comment #2
A comment I won’t forget came from a parent of one of my students immediately after an initial IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting. When I disclosed that I also have a hearing loss, as her child does, she teared up. “But you speak so well,” she said. “Now I know that my child will be in good hands in your classroom.” Or at least that was what I was able to hear and lip-read from her. At that moment, I was okay with her comment because this parent had been on the fence about the school’s ability to meet her child’s hearing and speech needs. So I didn’t take offense to her comment.
But really…can’t a person with hearing loss “speak well”, or is that one of the many stereotypes the hearing loss community must endure?
So if I can’t clearly hear my own voice, does that mean that my ability to speak well is some kind of superpower? If I can pretend to follow every comment during a meeting Q & A, does that mean “Oh, you do so well with lip-reading” is a perfectly acceptable thing to say? Or if I ask the person sitting closest to me if he heard my hearing aids squeal (a sound that my high-frequency hearing loss can’t clearly detect), then does his nod mean that he believes we both have heard what I actually cannot fully hear? Because to my ears, that squealing sounds more like the static noise produced from an old TV with its rabbit ears not working.
How can I make these comments go away?
I can’t. But one thing I can do is to stop pretending that I can hear everything as clearly as the person sitting beside me. Maybe I shouldn’t lip read as hard as I do at one of those meetings and then sit stone-faced while everyone laughs at a joke.
Because let’s face it: The reality of hearing loss is not being able to “hear” exactly like everyone else.
In reality, this is how I make my hearing loss look easy to observers:
- I make sure my hearing aids are in good working order before the meeting starts.
- If there is a meeting agenda, I read it line by line so that I have something resembling a script to follow.
- I sit at the front of a meeting room.
- I make sure my left ear is positioned closest to the speaker because that ear is how I hear best.
- I try to be fully awake with an attentive brain and eyes so that they are ready to do the actual “hearing”.
- Because of lip-reading, my eyes are my ears. If I can see a speaker’s mouth I am more likely to understand their words.
- My brain works like a detective to piece together any auditory or visual cues so that they make sense to me.
- I ask lots of questions because this provides clarity with speaking topics I do not completely hear.
- I look to the person beside me for cues on how to respond. If that person raises their hand, then I know that it is Q & A time.
- If the person sitting next to me begins to shift uncomfortably in their seat while giving me awkward stares, then I know that either I missed a question I was supposed to answer or my hearing aids are squealing at full volume.
Do any of these strategies resonate with you? Have you tried other strategies that work well? Please share in the comments below.