I have a hearing loss. It is a disability.
There, I said it. Did you hear me?
If you are a farmer, maybe not. It is no secret agricultural workers are exposed to a laundry list of deafening noises. It’s not just machinery either — from bellowing livestock to hammering that steel something or other into position, we endure a lot of racket.
The end result can be a mish mash of problems. Beyond the inability to hear clearly, the other common ailments include tinnitus (ringing) and hyperacusis (pain associated with loud noises). Unlike other disabilities, hearing issues aren’t outwardly visible and therefore, are not always fully considered.
There’s much to write about this topic, but for now, let this just stand as a public service announcement about holidays and other events that thrust us into noisy places.
It is not uncommon for those struggling with hearing issues to retreat. Going out to eat in restaurants or attending a simple family meal can be an exhaustive chore. Sounds such as the squeal of a child or the raucous boom of fireworks that should be, or once were, joyous can be agonizing. Sadly, my husband’s whistle-while-he-works habit used to be endearing, but now is very painful to my sensitive ears.
My own hearing went haywire three years ago on Thanksgiving Day. The journey to resolve those issues is far from over, but I have learned some ways to cope. The biggie has been realizing I need to be proactive about my disability. In other words, don’t suffer in silence alone.
Shari Eberts, a New York-based blogger, advocates for those with hearing difficulties through her website: Living With Hearing Loss (here). “Communication practices apply to the person with the loss and those who live and work around them,” said Eberts.
Trust me, this message may take repeated reminders because loved ones don’t always “hear” or absorb it. Remember, this is mostly an invisible disability. Here’s how the conversation typically goes at our house:
Husband: “I told you that.”
Me: “Where was I when you said it and where was I?”
Husband: “I was in the office and you were in the kitchen.”
Me: “Well there you go …”
Unless you are facing me and in the same room, the telling is a waste of breath. No, I don’t need you to speak loud and slow, but I need face-to-face communication. Many with hearing loss are the same. Reality is, people often tell you something as they are doing other things. The hearing impaired need others to stop and purposefully communicate and that doesn’t mean with your back turned or looking into a computer screen.
Hearing aids and other devices are part of the treatment puzzle, but they only go so far. So, I encourage you to speak up if those long hours in the combine or auger cart this fall have dulled the senses.
Below are a few practical things that might help as you gather through the holiday and meeting season.
- In a dinner setting, ask to be seated in the center of the table or near the person you most want to converse with.
- Ask if background music can be lowered. In the same light, candlelight is lovely, but it makes it hard to lip read if that’s how you fill conversational gaps.
- Hearing fatigue is a real thing. It may be necessary to remove yourself from the dinner din to let the brain rest and regroup.
- Back of the room seating may be great if you want to sleep through a meeting, but not if you want to pick up important details. Sit where you can hear and not just where it is convenient to make an escape.
- Small recorders or phone recorders can be helpful for review purposes if it is important to get every last word during a meeting.
- Be patient and realistic. Group conversations at large gatherings can be frustrating. You may need to pull individuals aside to a quiet spot for more intimate discussions.
- Some locations make hearing more difficult. Taller ceilings or metal buildings are tough for me, for example.
- Let others know you are having a difficult time hearing and simply tell them your needs. They can only help if they know.
Finally, I’d encourage you not to use your hearing challenge as an excuse to simply dodge commitments you think you don’t want to do. If you approach hearing loss as part of your normal life, others will adapt and help. Learning to live with a hearing loss means speaking up so others can hear and understand your needs.
We would like to hear from farmers or farm families who have dealt with hearing loss to help with future stories. Please write and tell us of your journey so we can help others.
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN