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To the Man Who Tried to Shush Me Because I'm Hard-of-Hearing

To the Man Who Tried to Shush Me,

I don’t know how much you heard and understood when I complained to my partner about you and how you tried to quiet me down. The way you waved your hand and said “talk quieter,” though to me, it sounded as though you said, “trk qrter.” I saw the way your ugly lips moved and your hand gesture, and that was how I knew what you were trying to say. You didn’t give a damn that I was trying to watch my diction, or how often I have to watch my diction to accommodate everyone like you.

Projection is how I understand my diction in full instead of slipping back into old habits pre-speech therapy. In crowded restaurants, such as the one we were in, my speech becomes harder to hear even inside my own head. It becomes a strain to “trk qrter,” as hearing people like you demand, yet you never consider how much strain goes into fulfilling your entitled wish. Yes, I say entitled, because of how much we as hard-of-hearing people strain ourselves to accommodate you.

We go into speech therapy to become what you consider “well spoken,” lest we risk ridicule and exclusion. Conversations with you involve listening to sentences filled with hole punches, and all the while, every word is dulled with sandpaper. If there’s more noise in the background, it’s like listening to your Swiss cheese sandpaper voice in a fog. To appear more “acceptable” in your view, we inference and scramble for context to clarify words, all while making our speech “acceptable” enough so we’re not called “stupid” or “r*tarded.”

Hearing aids cannot solve these problems, as you might think, because inferencing is counted as “hearing” in a hearing test. The list of words used for the test is narrow, and after a lifetime of testing, it’s easy to understand that “sssbll” means “baseball.” Tests of pure tones mean you are searching for the tiniest beep, and are expected to strain in the process. Even the littlest blip counts as “hearing,” no matter how much strain is involved to get it. The test is black and white, where either you hear nothing or you’re “fine.” There is no room for the struggle that comes with Swiss cheese sandpaper in a fog.

Even if hearing aids and a test with more shades of gray could fix the problem, the lack of insurance coverage puts new hearing aids out of reach. While my model is functional enough for me to participate in everyday life, it’s 11 years old and heavily outdated. The new ones start at $1500, if someone is lucky, and can easily go up to $3000. Did I mention too that hearing aids aren’t covered by health insurance because they’re considered “elective”? The insurance companies ask, “why can’t you get surgery or a cochlear implant?” I’ve had 10 surgeries to fit into your hearing world, and my loss comes from severe scarring of the eardrum from infections and a cholesteatoma. A cochlear implant won’t help me accommodate you.

I thought about telling you all of this in the restaurant, but I was so fuming that I didn’t yet have the words to tell you everything I’ve said now. All I could do what vent my rage with my partner, and not give a damn whether or not you understood what I said. By the time you left, I had enough of straining to hear. That’s why, when you said “fnk u fr lryng ur viz,” I responded with a frustrated face. I hoped you would project for a clearer tone, and I wouldn’t have to pick apart your voice. Such was not the case as your lips moved repeatedly with the same tones, but I was too tired to read them anymore. Tired not just from straining to hear in conversation, but tired from the everyday contradiction. How our speech must be “just right” to fit into your world, and we must fatigue ourselves the moment our compensation becomes your inconvenience.

Someday, you will know this world too, as hearing loss is inevitable with age. You will feel the struggle to speak and keep up in conversation. Hearing tests will fail you too, and you will be left either in debt or isolation. What you gave me today will come back in the form of another man trying to shush you, and the forced role of accommodator. It’s a lot easier to tell you over a computer, where I don’t have to strain to hear or worry about audible speech. Should I see you again, I’ll put this letter in your hands, as well as anyone who acts like you. Perhaps then, you will understand, and see how my strain will become yours.

With the utmost fatigue,

Christina

Getty image by Sladic.

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