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Living life with hearing loss isn't easy; please take it from someone who knows firsthand.
by kenn on 3/27/2006 12:17:00 PM

Source: Jen McGregor /

So many stories lately about iPods and deafness and how stars such as Ted Nugent and Phil Collins are suffering from hearing loss and rapper Foxy Brown is deaf.

While the articles sound a warning, they don't tell the story of what it's like to live the life of a hearing-impaired person, day to day, in a competitive work force. They don't tell how hearing impairment affects your career choices, along with your friendships and relationships.

I am hearing impaired. Now 33, I have worn hearing aids since I was 30. Though my hearing loss was not noise-induced, it frustrates me that so many people are willfully risking their hearing and not taking precautions to preserve it.

When I was in my mid-20s, after being sick with bronchitis, my family and I started noticing signs of my hearing loss.

I couldn't hear the phone ring when outdoors. I had to keep asking people to speak up and repeat things. People complained I talked loudly; some said I was practically screaming when I spoke. When answering a telephone, I had to boost the volume so loud that others could hear what the caller was saying -- from across the room.

When I mentioned this to my doctor, he just said it was ear wax and to buy an ear wax kit. I complained about my hearing difficulty for four years.

Once, when crossing the border from the United States into Canada, I could not hear the border guard's questions. My friends had to answer for me. My car was flagged because I was a "nontalking driver." The car was searched thoroughly with dogs, and we were taken inside and interviewed. All this for a couple of hours in Windsor at the casino.

When interviewing for a new job, I would have to tell the interviewers that I had hearing difficulty and needed them to speak louder. Of course, landing a job wasn't easy.

Finally I found a position doing data entry. Most of my co-workers went out of their way to avoid speaking with me, as they found it too aggravating to have to repeat themselves or speak extra loud. I was left out of conversations. I felt lonely and like a total outcast. I actually referred to myself as "The Deaf Freak."

It was embarrassing when someone in a neighboring cubicle would crack a joke and, out of 12 people, I was the only one not laughing.

Being the butt of jokes wasn't funny, either. And the people who cupped their hands around their mouths and yelled things like "DID YOU HEAR THAT, JENNY!?" or "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?" just heightened the embarrassment.

With health insurance again, I got a new doctor, one who listened to me. He referred me to a specialist, who examined my ears and conducted tests.

The tests could not find a cause for my hearing loss, but did determine it wasn't noise-induced. When I attended concerts, I almost always wore ear plugs.

Whatever the cause, I am almost half-deaf.

At a cost of $2,600, I was fitted for hearing aids. When I received them, it was amazing!

I heard sounds I had not heard in years: someone who speaks quietly; the sound of rain on the roof; birds chirping.

I opened a can of pop, poured it over ice and heard it fizz. I had to do that three times that first day, I could not get over the sound of it.

Before hearing aids, the only way I could tell the furnace was on was to place my foot over the vents. Now I could HEAR it running.

It's important for people to realize that hearing aids do not give you normal hearing. It is still easy to confuse a lot of sounds. When talking to someone, I still have to face the person directly, so I can use their lips and body language to assist me in making sure I am hearing the right words. Also, when there is a variety of noises in the area, I cannot tune out background noise for the conversation I am trying to follow.

This makes it very difficult in the workplace. A lot of office jobs, especially those involving telephone use, are difficult for anyone with a hearing impairment.

While seeking employment, you need to be honest with an employer about your impairment and make note of it on the job application.

And make sure to mention it at the beginning of an interview.

Wearing hearing aids is a lot like wearing glasses: You have to be careful and take care of them. Every night, you have to clean them. There are wax filters to change. Batteries to replace each week. And the big thing: You can't get them wet!

If you've ever experienced ringing in your ears after a concert or other loud event, you have already damaged your hearing. Keep it up, and someday you may be wearing hearing aids. Once you have damaged your hearing, there is no reversing the damage. It is permanent. Forever.

To experience a degree of hearing impairment, wear earplugs all day. While you are grocery shopping, talking on the phone, working out at the gym. Even for a day at your job.

Then ask yourself if you should turn down the volume on the radio, invest in earplugs for concerts, and turn the volume down on that iPod.

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