When I Stopped 'Faking' Being a Hearing Person

I have a borderline moderate/severe hearing loss with only one visible ear. As a woman with the social acceptance of having long hair, I have kept both my ear “stump” and hearing aid covered when I want to. Early intervention during the oralism push for the hard of hearing in education meant that I developed good compensatory auditory skills as a result of learning to use my residual physical auditory capabilities as much as possible. This has made me pretty good at faking being a hearing person.

A lot of times people forget I cannot hear — even those close to me. I even forget. Because of my auditory skills when I do hear something, at times I only hear part of it and fill in the rest. Sometimes I guess right and no one is the wiser. Conversely, at times I guess wrong and give an awkward answer to a question or contributing statement. I know they asked a question, but I didn’t hear all the words. I just used what I did hear and background knowledge of content and language to guess at what was said. That’s why sometimes my responses don’t make sense.

I spent years doing this and fooling everyone — even myself — into thinking I could hear more than I did. This is why it never occurred to me that anything I heard (or didn’t hear) wasn’t the same for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I did realize there were awkward moments between me and other conversationalists where they became confused or annoyed by something I said or did, and I was equally confused or embarrassed over what I said or did wrong. This led to years of unpredictable, intermittent anxiety in conversations. I just accepted it as my “normal” and never thought what could be done about it.

However, as a graduate student I was evaluated to receive services related to my hearing loss. As part of my evaluation I was given a questionnaire. One of the questions asked if I could hear everything on TV easily. My immediate reaction was to say yes, of course. But then out of curiosity I tried an experiment. I turned on the closed captioning feature on the TV for the first time and watched two movies…

I was pleased; I had heard most of both movies correctly. However, there were some key parts where I looked at the captioning carefully because I didn’t quite make out the dialogue or background in and of themselves. Had I exerted more effort and used my acquired background knowledge and vocabulary of the subject to fill in what I didn’t hear, likely it would still made sense — I was adept at that — it just wasn’t what I actually heard. From that point, I watched TV with the closed captioning on — something that had never occurred to me before.

My family was a bit disconcerted at first when I started using it, given I had never done so before. They assumed I could hear TV all this time at the sound level they used and didn’t quite understand this change to “dependency.” But they grew to tolerate it. By the time I met my husband, I had already been using it for a few years. So he accepted it as the way I would always watch TV, though he also had to get used to the printed words running across the screen during his favorite programs.

I have been faking it for years. Pretending I could hear in a crowd. Pretending I could hear when a motorcycle whizzed by. Pretending I could hear when someone lowered their voice. I thought I was supposed to hear. I thought my hearing aid was enough. I bought into the idea that hearing was the ultimate end goal — the basic force behind oralism philosophy.

I’m not physically equipped to be hearing, and I won’t pretend I am anymore. I am even less equipped physically or philosophically to be Deaf. My only choice really is to enjoy a happy medium. I hear what I am meant to hear. For the rest, I’ll unabashedly use the supports offered — like closed captioning. What a relief!

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Thinkstock photo by Chiwatphotos.



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