HLM Cover Feature: HLAA Chapters

13 07 2017

Hearing Loss Magazine is published bimonthly by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). The July/August 2017 issue focuses on HLAA Chapters:

On the Cover by Dave Hutcheson

We really are on this journey together. Joan Kleinrock, HLAA’s very first national chapter coordinator, said it best, “Picture a wagon wheel from the Old West, with the hub of the wheel being the national office and the spokes of the wheel the local chapters. The wheel will not turn without the hub and spokes working together—supporting each other.”

Joan’s analogy couldn’t be more relevant. Every day, we embark on a journey to spread knowledge, provide resources and raise awareness of hearing loss. Our continued work and shared efforts get the wheels turning, and with each new accomplishment, both locally and nationally, we gain momentum toward reaching our final destination and goal.

For this issue’s cover we invited a few chapters near the national office in Bethesda, Maryland to join HLAA National Chapter Coordinator Erin Mirante on a little journey of our own. The sun was shining on the warm late spring day so we put the top down and got rolling. We asked our fellow travelers Russ Misheloff, Rachel Stevens and Veronica Davila Steele to share a few thoughts about their chapter’s journey. Now, won’t you join us?

Learn more about the Hearing Loss Association of America at hearingloss.org.

On the cover: (l to r, front seat) Russ Misheloff (D.C. Chapter), and HLAA National
Coordinator Erin Mirante; (l to r, back seat) Rachel Stevens (D.C. Chapter) and
Veronica Davila Steele (Prince George’s County Chapter), with her hearing dog Somalia
(“Sammie”).

Cover photo © Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

HLM JulyAug 2017 Cover





Cover shoot: Hearing Loss Magazine

10 05 2017

Photo © Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

I photographed Don Doherty at the Iwo Jima memorial in March for his cover feature of the May/June 2017 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine. I design and photograph for this bimonthly publication of the Hearing Loss Association of American (HLAA).

Doherty is a retired Marine Corps combat Veteran (1965-1987) who lost his hearing in Vietnam. He has worn hearing aids since June 1970. He has worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs for more than 20 years, and is currently the Education Specialist for the National Chaplain Training Center which serves in excess of 1,100 Department of Veterans Affairs Chaplains at more than 153 Veterans Affairs Medical Centers nationwide. His specialties include education, chemical dependency, mental health, post-traumatic stress and compassion fatigue. Doherty is the incoming chairperson of the HLAA Board of Trustees.

Join the Hearing Loss Association of America!
Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, and the award-winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.

_____________________________________

Don Doherty’s Service Career Didn’t End with the Marine Corps—It Really Just Got Started

by David Hutcheson, editor, Hearing Loss Magazine

Merriam-Webster defines service as “contribution to the welfare of others.” Emphasis on others. Don Doherty epitomizes this definition. His military service career spanned 22 years. He lost his hearing from exposure to the dangerously loud environment of war when he served as a combat infantryman in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967. After Vietnam, his hearing loss forced him into more administrative roles within the Marine Corps. He used that time to educate himself and learn the skills that would carry him through life, most notably skills as an educator and counselor— skills that allowed him to continue serving. But in both his military and civilian careers—and even now, in retirement—he is the living embodiment of what it means to serve others.

Read more about Don’s service to others through his military and civilian careers in the accompanying article. Although, his “paying career” is really just the tip of the iceberg; he has been a strong advocate and supporter of people with hearing loss for many years. But his passion and dedication to serve others goes far beyond that. Don has many years of experience working with different boards and organizations in Virginia. He is the former American Academy of Medical Administrators state director for Virginia and West Virginia; a two-term commandant, senior state vice-commandant, and state judge advocate for the Marine Corps League.

While working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA; he retired in 2016 after 25 years there), Don spent many years working on behalf of people struggling with chemical dependency. But that wasn’t enough for him. He served as chair of the Virginia State Standards of Practice Committee; a member of the Board of Directors for the Virginia Council on Alcoholism; and is also a former member of the Virginia Attorney General’s Task Force to Combat Illegal Drug Use.

In 1997 Don received the Four Chaplains Legion of Honor Award. This prestigious award recognizes people “whose lives model the giving spirit and unconditional service to community, nation, and humanity.” Past recipients include Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, and luminaries such as Bob Hope, John Glenn and Mickey Rooney. Don is in good company.

And this doesn’t include his work on behalf of people with hearing loss. Don’s long-time involvement with HLAA includes roles as president of the Virginia Beach Chapter; Virginia State Chapter coordinator; and member of the Board of Trustees. His work continues outside of HLAA; he is a member of Hamilton CapTel’s Heroes with Hearing Loss program and is a certified peer mentor through Gallaudet University’s Peer Mentorship program. Now, at the end of June, we look forward to Don stepping into his newest role as chairperson of the Board of Trustees. A lifetime of service continues.

Photos © Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

HLM MayJune 2017 Cover Small

For This Marine, It’s Service Above Self

DON Return to statesAt the close of HLAA2017 Convention, Don Doherty will assume the role of chairperson of the HLAA Board of Trustees as Meg Wallhagen’s term comes to an end. Don has been involved with HLAA for more than 20 years through the Virginia Beach Chapter, and has served on the HLAA Board of Trustees for three years, most recently in the role of vice chairperson. We thought Hearing Loss Magazine readers would enjoy getting to know Don better as he transitions into his new role. A retired (but lifelong!) Marine, the theme that runs throughout Don’s inspirational journey is service, first to his country, and then to others.

by Don Doherty

Greetings HLAA members! I would first like to say it is my honor and privilege to represent you—our members, our friends and supporters—as chairperson of the HLAA Board of Trustees. I truly believe we belong to the greatest organization in the world dedicated to helping people with hearing loss.

HLAA helps members communicate more effectively through information, education, support and advocacy. I know firsthand the struggles that many individuals with hearing loss go through, but I also know the success that lies on the other side of that. You see, I have a hearing loss as well—a bilateral, sensorineural, profound hearing loss. I have worn at least one hearing aid since 1970. I thought it would be of interest to share some of the highlights of my journey that have brought me to where I am today.

Service to Country Begins in Vietnam
I grew up in the small borough of Woodlynne, just outside Camden, New Jersey. After I graduated from high school I realized I needed a new start in life. Coming from a patriotic family in which all of my uncles served in World War II, I decided to join the Marine Corps. On January 29, 1965 I became the first family member of my generation to serve as a Marine.

After basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina I was assigned to the infantry. My first assignment brought me to Camp Pendleton, California where I joined the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, First Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force. We were formed into a Battalion Landing Team and went by ship to the 1st Marine Brigade at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

By this time, the 7th Marines had already landed atChu Lai, Vietnam and we knew we were soon to follow. Leaving Hawaii in 1966 we went to the Philippines for jungle training and were soon steaming by ship off the coast of Vietnam.

Our Battalion made the first assault on the Rung Sat Special Zone, a 300-square-mile swampy area about 22 miles south of Saigon. An Army Times article at the time referred to it as “a special kind of hell.” The Rung Sat Special Zone was a Viet Cong (VC) stronghold and it was our job as infantrymen to find the well-hidden enemy hideouts and drive them out of an area they knew well, but that we knew nothing about.

That operation was difficult and dangerous. But on that one and many to follow, the common denominator was noise—loud noise. Whether it’s from rifle fire (up to 155 dB), machine guns (159 dB), grenades at 50 feet (164 dB), recoilless rifles (190 dB), artillery (178 dB), or jets (140-150 dB), the military combat (and even training) environment is one of hazardous noise exposure zones.

I didn’t know it at the time, but each time I fired my weapon I was damaging my hearing. You might ask, “Why didn’t you wear earplugs?” Wearing earplugs meant we couldn’t hear the enemy, especially when it was dark. The fact is that hearing conservation wasn’t a major focus during the war. Today there are earplugs that block the sound of high-level blasts from even reaching your ears, but back in Vietnam earplugs were just not an option for infantrymen.

Getting My First Hearing Aid
After completing my tour in Vietnam I was stationed at the Marine Barracks in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I knew I had some problems with hearing but I was in denial that it was affecting my job as a Marine.

One day my command learned that I couldn’t hear as well as other Marines, particularly low voices or whispers, and especially at night. I will never forget the colonel who called me into his office and read me the riot act for not being able to hear. He loudly stated I had no business being in the Marine Corps if I couldn’t hear. I was devastated. I loved being a Marine and I was good at it. I was a staff sergeant (E-6) at the time, and the fact that I attained a staff noncommissioned officer rank in only five and a half years was a sign of my competitive nature and desire to succeed.

I decided to re-enlist after Vietnam. I wanted to be a career Marine. I made a commitment that I would do everything in my power to show the Corps that I could succeed.

In June 1970 I was medically evacuated by air from Puerto Rico, and after many stops ended up at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital in Pennsylvania. I was assigned to a ward with about eight other sailors and Marines. Within a few days we were sent for a hearing assessment examination. A medical doctor took my history and did an ear exam. From there I was sent to an audiologist and had an audiogram, which confirmed my hearing loss. They also took an impression of my ear for the mold I would wear. The next day I was told I was going to have a behind-the-ear hearing aid ordered.

While waiting for the hearing aid I got a bodypack amplification device. It looked like a 4×6 inch fanny pack with a tube going up into a device with a hook which attached to your ear. It had one knob on the top that you could use to adjust the volume. When I first heard the sound from this device it was almost painful. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear all that noise.

I didn’t know it at the time but I was in an aural rehabilitation program. It was modeled after similar successful programs following World War II. I was given training in a variety of areas. We had education classes on how we hear, types of hearing loss and how hearing aids could help for some of that loss. We also had classes on basic lipreading and how to cope in noisy environments.

In our groups we talked about “bluffing,” where we pretended to hear something, like a joke, and laughed just because we saw others laughing. One interesting exercise I remember was listening to a Bill Cosby comedy act (on a 33 rpm record) with the group. We listened to several of the humorous stories on the recording—but nobody laughed. Then the facilitator gave us a script to read which contained the words. The record was played again and I remember laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes. The lesson I learned from that exercise was that I needed help to understand what was being said, and that bluffing was not the answer.

When we started the program with our new devices we would take short walks down the hall, and eventually progressed to venturing outside the hospital onto the noisier city streets where we learned to find meaning behind the background noise.

My hearing aid arrived in about 10 days, and we all gladly ditched the bulky bodypacks. We went back to the audiologist to have our new hearing aids fitted and adjusted, and then had another audiogram and went through speech testing again. From this point we wore our hearing aids everywhere and discussed any problems we would be having in a group setting. Some minor adjustments might have been made but this was the aid we would keep. We were issued only one hearing aid—mine was for my left ear.

Finding Success as a Career Marine, Even with Hearing Loss
I spent a month in aural rehabilitation and then had to go through a Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) to determine whether or not I would be discharged from the Marine Corps. My medical doctor recommended discharge but I appealed to the PEB and was allowed to stay on active duty with the provision that I would have to be retrained into a different military occupational specialty that did not involve exposure to loud noise. This meant I had to leave the infantry.

I retrained into the administrative field. I did everything in my power to be the best administrator I could be, but I was always fearful there would be an instance when I couldn’t hear well and it would lead to discharge. I persevered and was able to adapt to many different “hearing” situations and environments (such as heat, wind and rain).

I started taking college courses and advanced in rank. I served in many duty stations in the U.S. and Far East. I studied hearing loss on my own time and learned many of the skills I still hold today, particularly as a counselor and educator. For the last five years of my military career I served as a counselor helping Marines overcome problems associated with drugs and alcohol.

I retired from the Marine Corps as a Master Sergeant in 1987. I was able to complete my associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees all before I left active duty. On my first visit to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after retirement I was issued a second hearing aid, for my right ear.

I don’t think my military story is unique. Today, one in three service members who served in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan has a hearing loss. Hearing loss and tinnitus are the top two disabilities that veterans receive compensation for through the VA.

Sadly, many members of the military with hearing loss are afraid to bring it up or seek help for fear that they won’t be as competitive, won’t get promoted, or will be seen as a liability. Even outside the military I wondered whether I should wear my hearing aids during job interviews or just show that I could do the job better by wearing my hearing aids after being hired.

DON Red ShirtA Long Career of Service to Others
My experience and education opened the door to a civilian career in chemical dependency. My first job following active duty was as a clinical director for an adolescent and family treatment center in Dallas, Texas. Within six months I was the administrator of the facility. I was transferred to Chesapeake, Virginia where I facilitated the construction and operation of a new program. But when insurance rules changed in the early 90s, large nonprofit programs could no longer afford to stay in business as the costs became too high to operate. I was laid off just before our parent corporation shut down operations for the whole nine-facility organization.

From there I worked as an assistant director for a homeless shelter and as a trainer for a marketing company. In both of these jobs I was still was very conscious of my hearing loss and developed many new strategies to make sure I was in the right seat or could see the person I was speaking with. My greatest difficulty was hearing the telephone and understanding what was said. The stress of working with a hearing loss can be considerable. Psychologically, I would isolate and tend to avoid large groups, especially in areas with loud background noise. I still had a lot to learn about hearing loss.

In 1991 I began working for the VA in Hampton, Virginia. For my first two years I was in a long-term spinal cord injury unit. I was then transferred to mental health where I worked on the conversion of a 30-day inpatient alcohol treatment program to an outpatient system that was able to treat all forms of drug and alcohol abuse.

In May 2000 I accepted a position as an education specialist at the National Chaplain Training Center at the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center. We provided training for approximately 1,000 chaplains at 153 VA medical centers throughout the country. I loved the chaplains and staff I worked with, and especially appreciated the many chaplains who visited our live-in school and attended our many course offerings. In June 2016 I retired from the VA after 25 years of service.

The Psychology of Hearing Loss
The psychological impact of hearing loss is much like the grieving process. In college, I remember reading about the stages of grief or loss. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist who, in her book On Death and Dying, first talked about the five stages of grief a person might go through when faced with a terminal illness or following the death of a loved one. These five stages are also applicable to someone with hearing loss.

Stage 1—Denial. Someone in denial might not be willing to accept the facts or reality of the situation. People with hearing loss sometimes stay in denial for years before
seeking help.

Stage 2—Anger. This can be anger directed at themselves or others for suffering the loss. A person with hearing loss might get angry at a spouse, friend or even a doctor or audiologist who is trying to help.

Stage 3—Bargaining. In this stage a person could try to make a deal or compromise. I remember telling my wife soon after I received a hearing aid that I’ll wear it at work because I have to, but I didn’t want to wear it at home in the evening.

Stage 4—Depression. The signs of this depression could be sadness, regret, uncertainty or even fear. Those of us with hearing loss may tend to isolate to avoid these feelings.

Stage 5—Acceptance. The final step in the grieving process is acceptance. For people with hearing loss this means you finally and fully know that you need your hearing aid or cochlear implant to communicate, and you accept this new reality in your life.

Not everyone goes through these stages in order, and you can even regress, but the important thing to recognize is that acceptance of your hearing loss is a process, and takes some time to accept.

Hearing loss is stressful for the one who has it, but it can be especially stressful for family members. I remember in my marriage all communication stopped when the lights went out. Whatever had to be said had to be said when the lights or hearing aids were on. I used a large clock radio with the volume set as high as possible to ensure I would wake up. It worked for me, but my wife never did get used to waking up that way. Parties and social functions were limited, as were crowded restaurants.

Wearing a hearing aid is tiring; it is a daily struggle to hear and understand. A family makes many mistakes in the communication process that could be avoided with the right information. It’s not that we weren’t listening to the audiologist; it was more that we didn’t know which questions to ask.

A Lifetime of Service Continues—Now Through HLAA
This knowledge gap is what led me to the Hearing Loss Association of America. Following my retirement from the Marine Corps, my civilian job required a lot of traveling. I stayed at many hotels across the country, and invariably the hotel was ill-equipped to deal with a guest who had a hearing loss. Wake-up calls didn’t work because I couldn’t hear the phone without my hearing aids, clock radio alarms weren’t loud enough, and even one of the hotel staff beating on my door didn’t faze me.

To make sure I would get up, I took to sitting in a chair next to the clock radio or alarm with both hearing aids on catching what bits and pieces of sleep I could. It was this problem that led me to my first SHHH (Self Help for Hard of Hearing, which is what HLAA was known as then) chapter meeting in the 90s. I had seen a newspaper ad for the local Virginia Beach Chapter and decided to check it out.

The meeting had a speaker on hearing aids, but the real value for me was the question and answer session that followed. I explained my problem and that’s when I first learned about a vibrating alarm clock. I was overjoyed. I would have never guessed that such a device even existed. It was encouraging to be in a room where everyone had a hearing loss and where most people wore hearing aids. I also learned about captioned telephones, which could help me both on the job and at home.

That first meeting was another life lesson; there were technologies out there that could help me. I knew then I needed to make time to attend meetings and get as much information and education as I could about what products were available and which ones seemed to work better than others. Even then HLAA was leading the way in supporting people with hearing loss as well as being a consumer advocate.

Rising Through the Ranks Again— Just Not in the Marines
As I attended monthly chapter meetings I realized what a valuable and supportive forum they were. I began to take a more active role, assumed positions of leadership, and did everything I could to bring the message of help and hope to as many people with hearing loss as possible. I enrolled in an HLAA Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT) training session and leadership training for chapter leaders.

I have been the HLAA Virginia Beach Chapter president for many years. We have an energetic and vibrant chapter and have helped many people over the years. We were also one of the pioneer chapters that supported and advocated for open captioning of Broadway shows at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, Virginia. We work with the Norfolk Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities and Access Virginia, a captioning advocacy group.

Chapter members attend performances as a group and are so overjoyed just to see a Broadway show and understand what is being said. The Virginia Beach Chapter also supports people with visual impairment in receiving verbal information about what is happening on stage. We also take trips to the movies and use the new captioned glasses. But mostly, we support each other and have fun doing so.

I have been on the HLAA Board of Trustees for more than three years. I have served on many committees, and most recently as the vice chairperson. Two years ago I proudly accepted the HLAA Keystone Award for my unending work on behalf of people with hearing loss.

I am now proudly stepping up as chairperson of the Board, where I will be able to continue my service to HLAA.

These are exciting times for people with hearing loss. There are many developments and changes on the horizon, and these changes are all for the benefit of you, HLAA members. We will continue to lead the way as the voice of the consumer and to effect change. Our current focus is on implementing the recommendations of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS), and most recently, pushing for the passage of the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017.

As chairperson of your Board of Trustees I will continue the good work of HLAA Founder Rocky Stone and my predecessor, Meg Wallhagen. I am dedicated to helping our organization grow and prosper. The Board of Trustees is comprised of a diverse, highly-educated and motivated group of professionals who work tirelessly behind the scenes to support the HLAA staff and our members in every way we can. We do not take this responsibility lightly. There are still too many people with hearing loss who want and need help, but don’t know about us, the critical work we do or the support we can provide. I am also making a personal commitment to working with, and for, our nation’s veterans to ensure that everyone who has served our country knows that we are here for them. I hope to see you in Salt Lake City in June. Semper Fi.

Don Doherty, M.A., Ed.S., is the incoming chairperson of the HLAA Board of Trustees and lives in Moyock, North Carolina. He can be reached at chairperson@hearingloss.org as of the end of June.





Seen & Heard: Jan Connolly

10 05 2017

Jan Connolly is our Seen & Heard profile in the May/June 2017 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, published bimonthly by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). I met and photographed Jan at HLAA Convention 2016 in Washington, D.C. last June. Jan is a member of the HLAA Houston Chapter.

Join the Hearing Loss Association of America!
Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, and the award winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

S&H Jan Connolly

Jan Connolly

Houston, TX / Born March 17 in Rockledge, FL

DO YOU BELONG TO A CHAPTER? I am currently the secretary for the HLAA Houston Chapter. Being involved in a chapter enables me to help others who are working to cope with their hearing loss.

HOW DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT HLAA? I attended the Walk4Hearing in 2014. I picked up a brochure at the Houston Chapter table and went to the next meeting. The rest, as they say, is history.

THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING A MEMBER OF HLAA IS…knowing that I am not alone—we have all been affected by hearing loss in some way.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT HLAA CONVENTIONS?
Besides having access to massive amounts of information, I get to meet new friends and catch up with others who don’t live in Houston.

MY HEARING LOSS… I was born with some hearing loss. It progressed as I aged and worsened due to excessive ear infections and surgeries. I began wearing hearing aids right out of high school, which was too late—I really needed them much sooner. I received my first implant (BAHA—bone-anchored hearing aid) in 2008 and my second in 2009.

FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MEMORY…One of my favorite childhood memories was when I went to an Auburn game with my father. It was just the two of us and I enjoyed the one-on-one time.

THE BEST GIFT I EVER RECEIVED… was my dog, Pepper.

MY FAVORITE LAZY DAY IS… in the backyard playing around with my dogs—Darsey, Raleigh, and Rori Shae.

IN MY FRIDGE YOU’LL FIND… a lot of water and fruit.

THE BEST ROAD TRIP EVER WAS… when I went to Alaska with my mom. We encountered so much wildlife. It was amazing!

SOMEONE REALLY NEEDS TO DESIGN A BETTER… BAHA. I have to wear a body aid and it falls off my hip all the time. (Hint, hint…)

MY FAVORITE THING TO WEAR IS… my Houston Texans gear, but my favorite item that I do not wear out of the house would be my father’s shirt. I’ve slept in it most every night since his passing in 2008.

I LOSE ALL TRACK OF TIME WHEN I’M…  playing an instrument.

THE HARDEST THING I’VE EVER DONE WAS… say goodbye to my father when he passed away.

I LOVE THE SOUNDS OF… a baby’s giggle, birds singing, and the sound of my flute and all kinds of music.

I MOST DEFINITELY AM NOT… shy.

HOBBIES? Photography, scrapbooking, writing, playing my instruments, sewing, baking, and playing with my dogs

MUSICALLY INCLINED? Yes, I play the flute, piccolo, guitar, drums, piano, ukulele, mandolin, and I own a saxophone and a clarinet.

PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED THAT I… really can’t hear when I am not connected to my “ears.”

I WISH I HAD A TALENT FOR… singing.

I HAVE A WEAKNESS FOR… cheesecake.

I WOULD LOVE TO MEET… Luke Bryan and Keith Urban.

MY FRIENDS WOULD SAY I AM… outgoing, considerate, and fun.

GET ANYTHING GOOD IN THE MAIL LATELY? Yes, my Texans season tickets and Hearing Loss Magazine!

THE BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD… My BAHAs and my Roger Pen. Without them I would not be able to function in this wonderful noisy world.

MY THREE FAVORITE POSSESSIONS ARE… a napkin my grandfather signed that said he’d come to my high school graduation (he did), my father’s shirt, and my autographed footballs.

EVERY MEET ANYONE FAMOUS? Rob Lowe, Charlton Heston, Linda Evans, Clint Black, JJ Watt (from the Houston Texans) and numerous other Texans players.

MY LONG-TERM GOAL IS… to work with people with hearing loss and help to empower them to empower themselves.

IF I RULED THE WORLD… What? You mean I don’t? LOL.

MY GREAT ACCOMPLISHMENT… I have been a teacher (of the hearing) for twenty-six years.

Hearing Loss Magazine is full of valuable information. It is the only magazine I actually read cover to cover. I would like to see more information on the activities and work of local chapters, such as in advocacy.”
 





HLM Cover Feature: Larry Herbert, Cynthia Moynihan (LaRue, too!) and Lily Vaughn

10 01 2017

Larry Herbert, Cynthia Moynihan (with LaRue) and Lily Vaughn grace the January/February 2017 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, published bimonthly by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). I photographed the trio at HLAA Convention 2016 in Washington, D.C. this past June. This issue focuses on the HLAA Walk4Hearing.

Join the Hearing Loss Association of America!
Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. Student annual dues are $20, individual annual dues are $35, and family/couple annual dues are $45. Fees outside the U.S. are slightly higher. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, and the award-winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

cover-small





Seen & Heard: David A. Bitters, Sr.

16 12 2016

Dave A. Bitters, Sr. was our Seen & Heard profile in the November/December 2016 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, published bimonthly by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). I met and photographed him at HLAA Convention 2016 in Washington, D.C. this past June. Dave started the HLAA Midlands Chapter in Columbia, SC.

Join the Hearing Loss Association of America!
Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. Student annual dues are $20, individual annual dues are $35, and family/couple annual dues are $45. Fees outside the U.S. are slightly higher. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, and the award-winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

sh-dave-bitters

DAVID A. BITTERS SR. / Columbia, South Carolina / Born 1957 in Pittsburgh, PA

DO YOU BELONG TO A CHAPTER? Yes, HLAA Midlands Chapter in Columbia, South Carolina.

HOW DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT HLAA? I knew about HLAA and joined this past January, but there was no local chapter or even one in the state. With the help of the Lexington, South Carolina Sertoma Club I was able to start the Midlands Chapter. Being a chapter founder and president has allowed me to develop skills that I never envisioned. Sharing my knowledge with others and helping them find support is a feeling I cannot describe.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT HLAA CONVENTIONS? I like the State/Chapter Development Workshops and learning about how other chapters are run. As a first-time attendee, I found it overwhelming, but in a good way. All the information I received has motivated me even more to work and improve our town.

MY HEARING LOSS… was diagnosed when I was three years old. It was caused by a high fever from the measles. I got my first hearing aid in first grade and a cochlear implant when I was 45.

FUNNY HEARING LOSS MOMENT…  I found that my new puppy had chewed up my [cochlear implant] processor and I was completely deaf for three days.

MY FAVORITE LAZY DAY IS… watching three football games back-to-back-to-back.

MY BEST ROAD TRIP EVER WAS… Route 66 to the Grand Canyon.

MY FAVORITE THING TO WEAR IS… anything with the Pittsburgh Steelers colors and logo.

THE HARDEST THING I’VE EVER DONE WAS… going to a deaf college.

IN MY SPARE TIME, I… golf, listen to music and watch sports, live or on TV.

MUSICALLY INCLINED? I used to play the trumpet. Now, you would beg me not to try.

FIVE PLACES I HAVE LIVED… Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Rochester, Binghamton,
and Poughkeepsie, New York; Columbia, South Carolina

I COLLECT… Pittsburgh sports memorabilia and small Hallmark train engines.

I HAVE THE UNCANNY ABILITY TO… work out problems with computers and personal
devices, and not get lost when traveling.

MY FAVORITE SEASON IS… fall, for the colors of leaves and football.

MY LITTLE KNOWN TALENT IS… coaching baseball.

I SIMPLY CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT… football and baseball.

I AM… funny, friendly, and knowledgeable.

IF I RULED THE WORLD… the U.S. would have one political party where everyone works for a common goal. I hate the bickering, nothing gets done!

MY MOST-LOVED POSSESSIONS ARE… my dog and my cochlear implant.

I REALLY SHOULD START… painting my man cave.

I MOST DEFINITELY AM NOT… a house painter.

MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS ARE… having a son, a good job, and surviving a hearing loss and now being able to help others on that journey.

I HAVE A WEAKNESS FOR… peanut butter.

FAVORITE COLOR? Black and gold

PETS? A dog, she’s a daddy’s girl

MY LONG-TERM GOAL IS… to get the state of South Carolina in compliance and work together to understand the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people in emergency situations.

HOW DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED?  For helping to make a difference on earth and putting a smile on people’s faces.

A LITTLE BIT MORE… I was mainstreamed in a hearing school and then attended a deaf college. I am one of only two deaf people who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Photo Finishing Management—ever! I worked at IBM for 20 years. I received my first cochlear implant on my last job assignment and was laid off after it had been activated for just one month.

My current projects include starting the HLAA Midlands Chapter, and I also teach ASL three times a year to different senior groups. I volunteer teaching several topics related to computer technology in security and digital photography, and offer a computer help desk once a week in a senior center.

I currently teach a deaf sensitivity class twice a week at a local sheriff’s department. I work with fire departments to provide smoke alarms free of charge to people with hearing loss. I have designed a visor card for people with hearing loss in the state and for police officers.

 





HLM Cover Feature: Emma Faye Rudkin

3 11 2016

Late last year my friend James Williams texted me to tell me about Emma Faye Rudkin, who was the newly-crowned Miss San Antonio 2015 and has hearing loss. James interviewed veteran Shilo Harris and I photographed him at his home outside San Antonio for our July/August 2016 issue, which focused on veterans with hearing loss. You can read James’ interview with Shilo here.

He knows I’m always on the lookout to feature people with hearing loss for Hearing Loss Magazine. I design and photograph for this bimonthly publication of the Hearing Loss Association of American (HLAA). The November/December 2016 issue focuses on young adults with hearing loss.

James saw her featured on a local news channel and told me about her. I contacted Kathy Rudkin, Emma’s mother, and set up a photo shoot this past April when I would be visiting my family in San Antonio. Emma wrote the cover feature and I photographed her on a beautiful spring day in her hometown of Boerne, Texas. It was such a treat getting to know Emma and Kathy.

In the middle of production of this issue, we learned that Emma was crowned Miss San Antonio again for 2017. Congratulations, Emma!

Special thanks to James Williams for keeping his eyes (and ears!) open for new stories for the magazine.

Join the Hearing Loss Association of America!
Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, and the award-winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.

emma-cover-for-blog

emma-opening-spread-for-blog

Hearing Loss Can Be a Beautiful Thing

by Emma Faye Rudkin

I was very young when I lost the majority of my hearing. I became sick and developed a high fever associated with an infection, which resulted in my hearing loss. Even though there were signs, my parents had never been around anyone who had a hearing loss so they didn’t connect the dots right away. It wasn’t until I was three years old that they decided to have me tested and I was diagnosed.

As I said there were signs. For instance, in ballet I would dance in a corner by myself. I was also behind in speech and reading comprehension. Instead of saying “puppy dogs,” I would say things like “happy dogs.” Finally, a preschool teacher suggested I get a hearing test, and everything clicked. My mother describes the whole experience as “out-of-body.” But there were no resources for hearing loss in our small town, so she and my dad
were on their own.

A year after my diagnosis, my hearing declined even further, suddenly and significantly, to a profound level. Doctors said I would eventually go completely deaf, that I needed to go to a school for deaf children and learn sign language, and that I would never function “normally” in the hearing world.

My parents would not accept that. In fact, they chose a very different route for me, one that was essentially the opposite of what doctors suggested. I was immediately placed in intensive speech therapy, fitted for hearing aids, and enrolled in the most challenging private school in our area.

When I was young I did not want to wear my hearing aids and would always take them out. My parents talk about those early days as a struggle to get me to keep them in. But eventually it became a part of my everyday life and normal morning routine.

I knew only one other girl in our town with hearing loss. She wore hearing aids and was an oralist (communicated through speechreading) like I was. As I grew older, I became profoundly deaf. Nonetheless, it was never an option in my house to use my hearing loss as any sort of crutch. If I was having a really hard day and feeling left out or alone, my mama would always say, “Today, you are allowed one pity party, but tomorrow you are going to pick yourself up and carry on.”

Hearing loss has made me who I am but does not define me, so I never looked at the world as “hearing” but as a place full of the same opportunities and life to live as everybody else.

Today, speechreading is my main means of communication. My brain is constantly in overdrive trying to understand what is being said or why we’re laughing. I’m a great pretender. There are many sounds and letters I don’t hear, like F, G, H, K and S, but my hearing aids are programmed to fill in some of the sounds I miss. In a classroom or large group setting I try to arrange for the speaker to wear an FM assistive listening device, which transfers sound directly into my hearing aids. However, technology is man-made and cannot substitute for the God-given sense of hearing I just don’t have.

Dealing With the Insecurities
When I was young I didn’t see myself as different. But as I grew older the differences started to become more apparent and were pointed out by those around me. One of my major insecurities growing up was my hearing aids. They were the only visible sign of my hidden disability, and it separated me from my peers. The wind blowing was the bane of my existence in middle school because that meant people could catch a glimpse of my aids when my hair blew. Having to wear my hair up almost kept me from trying out for the cheer team.

When I was a freshman in high school, the language requirement was to take Spanish. It took me 10 years to properly speak the English language, and now I had to learn Spanish! It was a devastating yet eye-opening year of growth for me.

I felt embarrassed and humiliated much of the year because of the many times I was called to stand up in front of my classmates and speak the language I could not hear. The teacher did not understand how profound my hearing loss was and would play audiotapes in Spanish expecting me to repeat what was being said. On one test in particular, I failed the oral part of the exam. With tears streaming down my face I explained to the teacher how horribly unfair this was. She looked at me and said, “I thought you didn’t want to be labeled as different.” That was the final straw. I was not going to allow myself to be treated that way.

Taking the “Dis” out of “Disability”
There is a misconception that people with hearing loss require special treatment. The only “special treatment” I need is for someone to face me and speak clearly, and I can do the rest.

The most common experience I have is people yelling at me or over-enunciating, which only makes it harder to communicate. I always tell people to talk to me like anybody else because exaggerating makes me feel inadequate or that I am not capable of carrying on a conversation. As long as the person speaking is facing me and talking at a normal pace and volume, we are going to be fast friends.

I might need some modifications and accommodations to communicate, but that doesn’t mean my brain isn’t working. This is the most hurtful misconception of all: when people think I cannot talk or think for myself. People will communicate with me through a friend or family member, thinking what they said will be translated back to me. When people talk to me as if I am mentally impaired or incapable of speaking for myself, my typical response is, “My ears don’t work, but my brain works just fine.”

I used to truly believe I was disabled, but now I know my lack of hearing is my means to help others be free of that label. What I once believed was a disability has become my greatest ability. I know most people don’t know much about deafness and hearing loss and perhaps are curious to learn more. So now I take people’s questions and curiosity as an opportunity to share my story and dispel those misconceptions.

At the end of that freshman year in high school, I went before the school administration with a formal petition to offer American Sign Language (ASL) to any student who had a hearing loss.

The following year, my “foreign language” was ASL. I had to submit a proposal explaining how I would meet the four required language credits through ASL. My proposal was accepted, and I was allowed to take the classes through an online college. Not only was I able to learn ASL, but I got college credit for the classes as well! That experience is how
I learned about Deaf culture. Understanding my deafness was true freedom. I am part of the hearing world but I have a profound hearing loss which makes me deaf, and I know my purpose is to bridge the two worlds to close the gap.

The Faith That Sees You Through
I had become the great pretender of being “OK.” I would bluff and try to be part of conversations but I was in my own little world without anyone knowing the hurt I was experiencing.

Even though I was raised in a Christian home and went to a Christian school, I went into a darkness and had great anger toward God. I couldn’t understand that if God was supposed to love me, why couldn’t He make me normal?

If He was the big God of miracles, why couldn’t He heal me?

I wanted so desperately to be normal and to fit in. I became angry, depressed, horribly insecure and so lonely I could hardly stand it.

I knew I needed to change, for this life of sadness was not worth living. At 14, I signed myself up for a local Christian camp. Something clicked at camp and I started to undergo a transformation. It was the beginning of a beautiful journey.

When I got home from camp I wanted to find answers and try to begin healing. Inspired from what I learned at camp, I felt that healing for me would come from my faith in God.

I discovered two Bible passages that proved to be a turning point for me. The first one is Psalm 46:1 which says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” This shows God has a greater purpose for us than our hardships in this world, way beyond our human reasoning.

The second is James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” My life is a constant struggle, but I wouldn’t be the person I am without these hardships.

Young Life
During the summer before my junior year I became involved with Young Life, a non-denominational Christian ministry that reaches out to middle school, high school and college-age kids in all 50 states and more than 90 countries around the world. Young Life stood out to me because they did not beat the Bible over your head or force doctrines and beliefs on you. They just gradually warmed people’s hearts to understand.

Young Life takes the pure roots of Christianity and makes it uncomplicated again. There are no religious rules imposed upon people, just the unadorned belief that can take someone who feels helpless and hopeless and turn them into a beautiful, transformed creation.

Young Life has taught me how to live life to the fullest. Through it I have come to understand that I am not alone in my personal struggles; that everyone has a battle to fight. Young Life has had a tremendous impact on my life. It changed the way I look at people and has really molded me into who I am today.

From Young Life to New Life
I have become a new person since those dark days in high school. The relationship with my hearing aids changed because of the life-altering experience at the Young Life camp when I was 16 years old. I learned who I really am and that I could use my hearing loss story to proclaim freedom for others.

One of the first things I did after this massive shift within was wear my hair up. Before that I would keep my hair down by my face so no one could see my hearing aids and make comments. It was a debilitating period in my life. But what the world thought of me no longer mattered and my insecurities started to slowly vanish. I started seeing my hearing loss as part of who I am and as the most beautiful thing about me.

My hearing aids have become a badge of honor to tell others what I’ve been through and what hearing loss is about. I now educate others instead of shutting down. Hurtful comments come because people are ignorant and naïve, so I take the opportunity to help them understand.

Joy can never escape me now. I discovered a new way of living and have an entirely new outlook. What others saw as broken—my ears—is what has allowed me to become my true self.

I think this applies to everyone. What is thought to be beyond repair can be redeemed and restored. Hardship can be turned into good. Our disabilities, whatever holds us back, can be transformed into our greatest ability.

In the early stages of my life I felt my hearing loss was the most tragic thing that could ever happen to me. Looking back, I now see the bigger picture. Not only is my hearing
loss not tragic, it is my greatest blessing. As I said, having profound hearing loss has made me who I am, but it does not define me. My label is not the “deaf girl” or someone with a “disability,” just wonderfully made Emma.

If you have a hearing aid or cochlear implant, you are wearing your story. People can be inconsiderate and make comments, but it is only because they don’t understand. However, the choice is yours whether or not to accept that as your identity. You can educate and correct mistreatment. Always be ready to forgive those who hurt you, because that frees you from resentment and the hold that people have on you.

Miss San Antonio
In 2010 I began to intensely study piano and music theory. I started playing the guitar and ukulele, took singing lessons, and eventually started performing in my community. In 2015, I added the kick drum to my list of instruments.

Developing my musical ability was in preparation to compete in the pageant circuit. I wanted to use that to establish a national platform for the deaf and those with hearing loss. In February 2015, I won the title of Miss San Antonio. I am proud to be the first Miss San Antonio who is deaf. I was honored to win individual awards for Overall Talent, Overall Interview and Miss Congeniality. In July 2015, I competed in the Miss Texas Scholarship Pageant.

I placed in the top 10 and also received the Inspiration Award, Quality of Life Award, Academic Interview Award and Spirit of Texas (Congeniality).

I chose this particular pageant circuit of the Miss America organization for a reason. I truly believe in the Miss Texas and Miss America organizations and all they stand for. They empower women and provide scholarships for women to achieve their dreams and make a difference.

Winning the Miss San Antonio pageant has allowed me to travel extensively and make many appearances. I have spoken on television, met some very important people in our city and speak at conferences on a regular basis. My platform is “Aid the Silent: Turning a Disability into an Ability.” The Miss Texas organization has been an invaluable partner. They helped jumpstart my cause and have allowed me to bring my message to larger and wider audiences than I could have on my own.

I have grown as a person in unexpected ways. My role has required me to face the insecurities of my past head-on about my appearance and speaking. The beautiful part is that I am living in the redemption of my story. The things I used to let prohibit me from fully living are now propelling me into success. I am extremely honored to be part of such
a great organization.

Aid the Silent—My Miss San Antonio Platform
In January 2015 I started my own nonprofit, Aid the Silent. It has been a dream of mine for years to be able to give back to the community, especially the deaf and hard of hearing communities. Aid the Silent is dedicated to raising funds to provide children and teens who have a hearing loss with the resources and tools they need to find personal success.

Growing up I had access to many resources in order to succeed and not be held back by what was seen as a disability. I was inspired to start Aid the Silent after coming across statistics about hearing loss and deafness. Studies have shown a correlation between education level and people who are deaf or have a hearing loss. In addition, those individuals face severe underemployment.

I am currently enrolled in the University of Texas San Antonio Honors College majoring in Communications. In addition to being a full-time student and overseeing Aid the Silent, I make appearances at dozens of companies, schools and events each month speaking to both children and adults and telling my story.

I am also a Young Life staff member, and in the summer of 2016 I started the first Deaf Young Life to reach teens who have a hearing loss. For the inaugural Deaf Young Life event we took four middle school students who are deaf—with captioners and interpreters—to a Young Life camp. It was a huge success! I am now continuing my outreach and building relationships with students in the San Antonio area who have a hearing loss, and looking forward to holding our first Deaf Young Life club meeting in January 2017. HLM

For more information about Emma and her work visit AidTheSilent.com or EmmaFayeRudkin.com.

Editor’s Note: Emma was crowned Miss San Antonio 2017 in September.





HLM Cover Feature: Gael Hannan

3 09 2016

Writer, actor, hearing loss advocate and public speaker Gael Hannan is our cover feature for the September/October 2016 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine! I design and photograph for this bimonthly publication of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). Gael is such a lively spirit and wickedly funny. It was so much fun photographing her at HLAA Convention 2016 in Washington, D.C. this past June. (She mentioned she doesn’t live very far from enchanting Butchart Gardens in beautiful Vancouver—one of my favorite places to photograph. She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m campaigning to be her new best friend!)

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

WEB Gael Cover

Hearing Loss Isn’t Funny 

by Gael Hannan

Keep your sense of humor. Experts say this is the trick to living well with hearing loss.

But—what if you don’t have one?

Well then, they say, you can learn to laugh at yourself.

What if you don’t know HOW, or CAN’T, or don’t WANT to? What if hearing loss has amputated your funny bone?

WEB Gael TOCHearing loss just isn’t funny. Quite the opposite; it drains us physically, emotionally and often financially. It’s not easy to guffaw at malfunctioning hearing aids, confused conversations and irritated relationships. Giggles don’t bubble from our lips when we make a comment that makes other people stop talking and give us the “you’ve got two heads” look—which of course means the discussion has moved on to something else while we’re stuck in five minutes ago. (I wish someone would announce a new topic—“And now we shall talk about politics.”)

Even people who are natural rays of smiling sunshine find it challenging to deal with a life-changing hearing loss. How many people, reeling from a 20 decibel drop in hearing, would say, “Gosh, isn’t that just my luck? Say, did you hear the one about the guy who couldn’t hear his wife…”

How was I supposed to laugh when a goofy mutt woke me up to show off his breakfast: my hearing aid, with bits of it still clinging to the doggy-curls of his chin? How to cough up a chuckle at embarrassing mishears such as accepting a date, only to find the man had asked something quite different? Or when I delivered one of my famous non-sequiturs: “Mom, can you help me with an essay?” “That’s great, say hi to him for me.” (Below: Gael and “Hearing Husband” Doug)

WEB Gael HusbandAlmost every hearing loss joke is a variation on one or two basics—which the average person with hearing loss will hear about a thousand times in their lifetime. The first goes something like this: “What day is it?” “Thursday.” “Me too, let’s get a drink.” And I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve asked, “Would you mind speaking up, I have hearing loss,” and the answer shoots back, “Pardon?”

We’re expected to laugh at all this?

Yes. Because it helps. (This is a good time to note that people with hearing loss are very good at laughing in group conversations. We laugh when others laugh and stop laughing when they do. Admittedly, that’s not quite the same thing as a real sense of humor, and our bluffing usually just gets us into more trouble. Just saying that we do know
how to laugh…)

Growing up in a small family—my parents, one sister and me—it was easy to understand dinner conversations because the kitchen table wasn’t big; anyone’s lips were only two dinner plates away. Even so, I would respond goofily to something I thought I heard, which amused everybody but me. We laughed a lot, en famille, because my father said the Lord loves a cheerful idiot and he felt we all qualified.

WEB Gael Hubby SonBut everything is funny, according to Will Rogers, when they happen to someone else. I can see the hearing people (especially the show-off types who claim they can hear a pin drop two counties over) almost implode as they try to suppress a smile or laugh at something we misheard. But later, when we’re out of earshot—which is usually not too far away—they tell these stories about us. Our communication faux pas and verbal boo-boos make us the friendly butt of funny stories: “I told Gael we were worried about our son’s shyness, and she said thank heavens no one in her family has sinus trouble.” Har-de-har-har. (Right: A pea between two pods—Doug, Gael and their son, Joel)

But hey, sometimes I laugh while the Hearing Husband doesn’t. He and I were living in a condo, waiting to move into our first house. He went to the lobby for some long-forgotten reason, and I closed the door after him and went back to watching a movie, which was loud. At some point, I might have vaguely wondered why he wasn’t back, but I was engrossed in the movie. At a momentary break in the noise, the phone rang beside me.

“Hello?”
“IT’S ME!”
“Oh hi, honey. Where are you?”
“In the LOBBY using the entrance phone!”
“But what…OMG…did I lock you out?”
“YES…YOU…DID! I’ve been back and forth between the apartment, pounding on the door, and back down here, and calling up for a whole bloody half hour!”

C’mon, don’t you agree this was funny? I mean, it’s not like I locked him outside in a snowstorm in his underpants! The Hearing Husband is also not amused with the consequences when I don’t hear the water running. Our two-year-old somehow flipped on a sink tap without me seeing or hearing it, and the resulting flood knocked out our phone line and electric garage door opener for 24 hours. And we’re just starting to laugh about the recent flood in our camper when I didn’t quite turn the tap all the way off before going to bed. Mopping up at 4:30 in the morning definitely ain’t funny and it didn’t help that the cat had refused to wade to his litterbox and “went” on the sofa.

Parenting with hearing loss can be challenging. I was engaged in an up-the-stairs shouting match with my teenage son; would he please get a move on and pack his darn hockey bag! I felt a tap on the shoulder; he was behind me, hysterical at watching me yell and gesture up the stairs to an empty bedroom, while he’d been answering me from the basement—where he was packing his darn hockey bag. I hate getting caught out like that.

WEB Podium GaelAbove: Gael gave convention-goers some humorous communication
tips at the Opening Session of HLAA Convention 2016 in June.

After a lifetime of hearing loss, this stuff still happens. Even with a commitment to good communication, hearing aids, and soon, a cochlear implant, I still have occasional bad hearing days when I seem to ask for repeats with every breath I take. On these days, I could swear that somebody had just passed a law that all citizens must speak as unclearly as possible with Gael Hannan for 24 hours. On these days, I’m a self-centered, walking pity party. But the next day, I can usually manage a whimpering smile at my day of bad hearing, and a couple of days later, maybe a weak ha-ha. Eventually, the embarrassment and frustration fade to black, leaving the funny bits intact. (Okay, Digby the dog did look hysterical with hundreds of dollars’ worth of hearing aid hanging from his hairy face.)

In most cases, our hearing loss is permanent; we get to keep it—forever and ever, amen—and if we don’t find a way to laugh, all we’ve got left is frustration and tears.
The late comedian Bob Hope once said, “I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.”

WEB Canadian Group

Above: Gael with her fellow Canadian HLAA members before the banquet

It is absolutely possible to hone the hearing loss sense of humor, even if you think you don’t have one. The first step is understanding that you’re not the only one going through this; you share it with millions of people around the world. The next step is to connect with some of these people, either in person or on social media. Through HLAA and other consumer groups, you can share your heartbreaking and hilarious stories that turn out to be universal—only the names, dates and locations are different.

Hearing aid feedback when someone leans in close for a kiss? We’ve been there, done that. Spent a sleepless night in a hotel, staring at the alarm clock and clutching the Shake-Awake for fear of missing your flight? Yup, us too.

Had to figure out if your man really just said—at 5 a.m. when you weren’t quite awake—“Let’s get married” when you didn’t have your hearing aids in? Okay, maybe that only
happened to me (but lucky for him, I’m an ace speechreader).

Allan Klein, author of The Healing Power of Humor, wrote, “You may not be able to change a situation, but with humor you can change your attitude about it.” When hearing loss causes its inevitable daily communication breakdowns—some tiny, some big—we do what we can to get through them.

No, hearing loss isn’t funny—until you find the power to tell the joke on yourself. If you can’t, allow me to quote the famous t-shirt: “If you can’t laugh at yourself, I’ll be
happy to do it for you.”

We can laugh at our hearing loss. Just give us some time.

_____________________________________________________

Gael Hannan’s The Way I Hear It

WEB Gael Book CoverIn The Way I Hear It, Gael Hannan explodes one myth after another in a witty and insightful journey into life with hearing loss—at every age. Part memoir, part survival guide, The Way I Hear It is an insider account of the frustrations of communicating with hearing loss: pillow talk and other relationships, raising a child, in the classroom and on the job, hearing technology and the everyday things we like to do. Gael offers advice on how to bridge the gap between consumer and professional in order to get the best possible hearing health care, as well as tips for effective communication, poetic reflections and humorous, poignant stories from the people she has met in her advocacy work throughout North America. This is a book for people with hearing loss—but also for their families, friends and the professionals who serve them.

The Way I Hear It is available for ordering from FriesenPress and other online retailers in hard or soft cover, or as an e-book. E-book also available from iTunes, Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Google Play.

Check out her website at www.gaelhannan.com.

HLAA Member Gael Hannan is a writer, actor and public speaker who grew up with a progressive hearing loss that is now severe-to-profound. She is a past director on the national board of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association and created The Hearing Foundation of Canada’s award-winning Sound Sense hearing awareness program for Canadian elementary students. As a passionate advocate for people with hearing loss, she writes a weekly column for HearingHealthMatters.org and delivers insightful, entertaining workshops across the continent for people with hearing loss, hearing health professionals, and the general public.