A Hearing Loss & Late Deafened Blog

When Family and Friends Just Don’t Get It

In Accommodations for Deaf, Relationships on December 7, 2008 at 10:24 pm
I’ve spent the past couple weeks visiting out of state family and friends I don’t often see.  Often when visiting people, they like to take you around to see the sites.  We did a lot of site-seeing this time as usual.  Whenever we go somewhere that offers a short, non-captioned film clip, or tape recorded presentation, a play, a non-captioned movie, etc. . . I find myself in the awkward position of having to turn it down, with family and/or friends pressing me to at least ‘try’ to listen because they think I just might be able to hear this time.  Fat chance with a progressive hearing loss.  My hearing is worse now than it was six months ago.  
Recently, it was like this–
We stopped at a nature museum where there was a short non-captioned film.  I knew it wasn’t captioned because I asked.  I have not been able hear non-captioned films for years.  There’s no point in watching.  EVER.  But I didn’t complain.  I was happy to browse the museum while others watched the film.  There was a nice little hands-on display with colorful cards that explained the items.  I wanted to look through that display while the others watched the film.  However, one person kept pressing me to come ‘watch the film.’
Me–“No thanks, it’s not captioned.  You go ahead.  I’ll be fine here.” 
D–“Why don’t you just try??”
Me–“Because I won’t hear it.”
D–“How do you know?”
Me–“I haven’t heard anything on film in years.”
(If this had been the first time I’d ever explained it to this person, maybe I would have understood the pressing, but we went through it all last year at another museum where I stupidly got talked into viewing a non-captioned film I knew I wouldn’t understand.  ARGGHH)
After the film, he wouldn’t let up.
D–“That was a great film.  You should have watched it.  I bet you would have understood his voice.  It’s just like mine!”
Me–“It’s OK, I was fine here.”
D–“I got so much information out of it.  I’m sure you would have understood!  Why didn’t you watch it?”
Me–“Because I’m sure I wouldn’t have understood.”
D–“Even if his voice was exactly like mine?”
Me–“I’m pretty sure his voice wasn’t exactly like yours.” 
The guy kept pressing and pressing, telling me how much I might have learned and how great the film was.  I countered with information I had learned from the display, and how satisfied I was with my choice not to view the film.
D–“Why do you think you wouldn’t understand his voice if it was exactly like mine?”
Me–“Do you want the long or short explanation?”  (I’m pretty sure we’ve been over this at least ten times– AT LEAST!  He’ll never understand. . .)  But I explain AGAIN. . .First of all, your voice and lips are familiar to me.  Secondly most films have a lot of voice-overs so I never see the face to lip read.  Thirdly, even if YOU were speaking on film, I wouldn’t understand because voices end up in a higher frequency range over microphones and sound systems.  It’s not detectable to YOU, but I wouldn’t hear it.  I hear live sound best, especially when I can lip read and ask for repeats.
“I’m sure you would have understood the guy in the movie. . .,” he says, “. . .besides, you really didn’t need to hear anything.  It was mostly pictures.”
On and on he pressed until I yelled, “ENOUGH!” 
Two days later went to yet another exhibit.  This time there was one of those taped tours on an MP3 with a man’s voice in a little box telling you what you’re viewing.  I passed on the MP3.  The same guy from the museum who wanted me to watch the film now wanted me to try to listen to the MP3.  He was “pretty sure” I’d hear it.  “It’s LOUD,” he explained.  We’ve been through this before too.  Loud doesn’t equal understanding.  Six months ago, while viewing an art museum with this same guy, I couldn’t hear the MP3 guided tour.  He knew I couldn’t hear it because I told him and gave back the MP3.  I haven’t been able to hear any talking on tape, cd or MP3 for years.  Most museums have things you can read.  I get more out of reading than listening.  I’m happy to read and look.  I’m very visual. 
But the guy pestered me again to TRY to listen to the MP3. 
This is why I sometimes prefer people who can’t hear over people who can.  I understand family and friends love me and want to spend time enjoying something with me.  I just wish they’d let me enjoy it my way.  Straining to hear is NOT my idea of fun.    
  1. Could it be related to denial?

    Some hearing people cannot admit to themselves the reality of being deaf and keep looking for hints that it ain’t so, that it ain’t as bad as it seems to be, and that if it ever happened to THEM, it won’t be as it seems to be.

  2. I’m visual too. I don’t listen to MP3s and I don’t watch Hollywood movies without captions. Some movies and videos are meant to be seen more than heard, though. The lack of captions wouldn’t bother me in a travel documentary because I appreciate natural scenery and architecture. As long as I can see for myself, I don’t need a narrator to tell me what I’m seeing.

  3. I feel that way with my family many time too! My dad talks about stem cell nerve regrowth science advancements, tho I have ABI, learning sign, and chose to go to school where hearing loss is common and accpted. he said he wants me to be happy and have full life…. so, basically that means that he thinks deaf and hoh people cant be happy or have full lives! arghhhh!

  4. I believe that hearing people totally cannot understand what being deaf means or even being HOH unless it hits them. Hearing people are totally clueless when it comes to hearing loss. Maybe its denial because they just cannot imagine life without hearing a voice. No one would ever tell a blind person, cmon just go sit down and watch the film and visualize what u might see or maybe you’ll see something and you’ll be surprised? no one would ever say that to a blind person.

  5. As a former hearing person, I totally agree with saytheword. Hearing people are clueless. As our title says, they just don’t get it. You were more than patient with your relative. What doesn’t he get about you not knowing your own self better than anyone???

  6. It must be really frustrating when people don´t understand what it´s like to be deaf. My sister works with deaf people as a signerbut I guess unless you´ve experienced it you don´t know what it´s like. Good luck explaining to these friends I guess they are scared of it happening to them!

  7. Hi All,
    I never thought about it relating to denial but I think you’re all right. I did say at one point that I knew my own limitations and he still wouldn’t let up.

    “Say The Word” you hit the nail on the head with your analogy of blindness. Hearing people may understand blindness better because they’ve all experienced it at night when the lights are out. Sometimes you can even see a few shadows and images in the dark, so they get that you can sometimes see a little, and make your way around a familiar room, while darkness in an unfamiliar room is much harder to navigate until you get used to it. They don’t seem to understand there can be degrees of blindness just as there are degrees of deafness. I like this analogy so much I think it might be a great way to explain hearing loss to someone, maybe by using dim lighting or blurry vision as an example of hearing.

  8. (sigh…) Well, this is really akin to racism in that most people simply do not value the lives of people different from themselves to the same degree that they value the lives of people who are like them. It’s like telling an African-American (Black, your preference) “come on, watch this minstrel show (outdated musical form featuring white performers in blackface makeup – *do not* ask me what was the attraction, I do not understand it either) with me, I’m sure you’ll find something to like if you try.”

  9. Argh – this would piss me off bigtime. I think you’re too patient – I would have yelled at him after 2 mins the FIRST time LOL


  10. One thing I’ve usually said that people will get at least to an extent is this;

    “For many deaf and HOH, hearing and understanding are two different things. Just because something is heard, if at all, does not mean it will be understood. Sometimes a helicopter sounds like a train going by.”

    Or, “you depend on your ears. I depend on my eyes.”

  11. The problem in saying you depend on your ears and I depend on my eyes, is that hearing people make the assumption that all HOH and deaf people are great lipreaders. I am an awful lipreader.
    To think that I am going to see every word that jumps out of a hearing person’s mouth is ludicrous. Its as ludicrous as thinking that Bush was a great President.

    I also hate the type of people who think they are joking around in good faith by yelling out your name and then saying oh yea, i don’t have to yell, you’re not deaf.

    The worse offenders are in my own family. And they are the toughest to get through to. Mainly because, there are times I do hear them well and other times I just can’t get the gist of what’s being said.

  12. STW– I see your point about saying you depend on your eyes, or even telling people you’re very visual as I did. For example, the guy said the movie was ‘scenic’ and there was ‘very little to hear’ after I pointed out that documentaries often have a lot of voice-overs.

    I also want to say something about lip reading. Even ‘expert’ lip readers don’t get everything all the time. It’s impossible! Only 30-40%% of the English language can be seen on the lips in the BEST of circumstances. We all know the requirements– when you’re close enough to see lips and tongue, when the lighting is good, when the speaker looks at you while speaking instead of down or elsewhere, when the speaker doesn’t cover his or her mouth while speaking, when the speaker doesn’t have nervous gum chewing habits, a beard, or speech impediment.

    You could be guessing 80% of what’s being said. I mean– really– what are the chances? Most good lip readers can hear a certain amount of speech. I have great low tones, which puts me at an advantage. I hear most vowel sounds (lower in frequency) which gives me an advantage.

  13. Also– one reason we’re so good at ‘hearing’ or ‘lip reading’ our own families is because we know what they’re going to say before they say it. Here’s an example. One time Wordsmith was at my house. My husband had just cut up a peach, then he went into the pantry and said something. I answered, “to the left, third shelf up.” Wordsmith was shocked I heard what my husband said while in the pantry. But I explained that I knew he was looking for the powered sugar because he ALWAYS has powdered sugar on his peaches. What I actually heard him say was, “Blah blaah blah-blah blah-blah?” To everyone else, including my husband, it seemed like I heard what he said. But I didn’t. These kinds of things become so automatic that it fools family members into thinking we can hear. Some people would suggest not to answer unless you actually hear what is said, but it’s an automatic response. Unless we stop and think ‘did i really hear that’ each and every time we respond to family members after they mumble something without looking at us, we’re reinforcing their belief that we can ‘hear when we really want to.’

  14. Rob G– I do agree with you that most people will eventually get to the point of understanding our limitations if we explain over and over and over and over. . . Family and friends do seem to be the most challenging though.

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