Barriers and Solutions Defined

There are many barriers to hearing and understanding clearly when one has hearing impairment.   And, depending upon what type loss the individual has determines the type of barriers experienced.   I fully recommend that you read my ebook,  Understanding the Two Types of Loss:  1.  Conductive Loss and 2.  Sensori-neural loss better known as nerve loss.   This will help to understand why some people have more difficulty than others.

 In this article we are going to talk about the 2 main barriers then we’ll talk about the solutions to those barriers.   As you can see below, there are just about as many internal barriers as there are external barriers.   That means you’ve got a lot more control than you may have thought you had.  And, you need to learn how to “make” things work for you in both areas.   You can do that.   You must learn to get people in your corner without cornering them.  

 1.           Internal Barriers

2.           External Barriers

 1.  Internal Barriers

              a.   Attitude about self

              b.   Attitude about others

              c.   Attitude about the problem

              d.  Communication skills

                             1.  Assertiveness vs. Aggressiveness

              e.  Knowledge of the type of loss one has

              f.   Knowledge of resources available

              g.  Knowledge of language barriers

                             1.  Homophenous words

                             2.  Invisible words

                             3.  Accents

                             4.  Mumblers

              h.  Eyesight

              i.    Knowledge of communication aids available

              j.   Knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages…the limits

              k.  Knowledge of the stages one goes through upon learning s/he has hearing loss

(d – k will all be covered in separate ebooks as they are more extensive)

 Let’s begin with the first 3: Attitude About Self, Others and the Problem:

 How you feel about yourself…shows to others.   It shows in your eye contact or lack of it, your facial expression,  the way you move your lips when you speak, your body language, the words you use when you speak and your actions.  It all tells on you.   And, others will treat you the way you treat yourself.  That is the level you have established for them even though you may not know that.  Oh, but you can change it all…just like that!  You need to take control of those things.

 If you don’t like the way you are treated then you need to change the way you think about yourself and others, the words you use when you speak, develop eye contact when speaking and everything else will correct itself.  That’s it!  It works.  

 Your body follows your thoughts and the words you use when you speak.  In short, your brain is the leader and your body is a follower.   You have to convince yourself that you are worthy in spite of your disability. 

 Back in 1993, one of my Speechreading students brought in a beautiful thought that really demonstrates exactly what I had been discussing with the class.  When I was teaching, my goal was to get all the students involved in the learning and communication process; and, I’d have a different student each class time share a “Thought for the Day” at the beginning of every class.   The following is what one student brought in and shared:

 A Philosophy for Living

 Thoughts.….keep your thoughts Positive because your thoughts become your words.

Words….keep your words Positive because your words become your actions.

Actions…keep your actions Positive because your actions become your habits.

Habits….keep your habits Positive because your habits become your values.

Values….keep your values Positive because your values become your destiny

                                                                                                                   -author unknown

 I have seen variations of the above several times since then.   I have a variation framed and it hangs in my dining room and was given to me by a dear friend.  I’d love to know who penned this valuable piece as it defines how important our positive thoughts, our positive words, our positive actions, our positive habits and our positive values are.  

 The above applies to how you feel about yourself, others and your attitude about the problem.  No matter what the problem is.   And, we all have problems.  They are of a different nature perhaps, but they are problems nonetheless.    The problem is not the problem, itself, but how we deal with that problem; how we talk about it, the words we use when talking about it, our body language we express and our facial expression we use.    Additionally, how we talk about others, the words we use defines our thoughts.

 It’s just as easy and certainly more pleasant to use positive words when speaking.   Think Solutions at all times about all problems because there are solutions to everything…no matter what the problem is.   Your body will feel so good and you will feel that difference.  Step up to the plate and think Positive solutions at all times.   You will find people will be more responsive to you, more supportive and may even assist in the solutions that are more favorable to you.  It works.  That’s your first Step in helping yourself.  

 And, you have to show that you have done everything possible to help yourself before you have any right to ask for support.  For example:   If you have hearing loss and you don’t wear and aid/s, you cannot expect others to speak louder for you.   It makes their voice hoarse.   They may do it for you once in awhile but they will soon back up and just stay away.   Get a hearing aid and wear it even if you have nerve loss.   You have to do your part.   Learn as much as you can about your loss and share it with others.   Soon you’ll have a lot of friends and a lot of support that is deserving.   There is a lot more to learn about this and we will talk more about it in detail later.   However, this is a good place to begin helping yourself.  

              1.   Change the way you think…think positive;  think twice before you use a word and if                                     it’s a negative thought…rephrase;

              2.   Change the words you use from negative to positve; and,

              3.   Think solution at all times…positive solutions.

 I want to tell you a story about a normal hearing student who registered in my class: GED Preparation.   On the first day of class I took roll call then proceeded to test students to determine their level of need in the 5 subjects I was teaching.   Once the need was determined I then programmed them.   So all the students were working on a different level of need.  

 The following student had a negative attitude about math and she hated math so much it showed on her face, her body language, her words, her actions….it was all there for all to see.  Looking past all the negativity, I could see that she was a lovely black girl and if I remember correctly she was about 22 years of age.   She was married and had a child or two.  She wanted to get her GED so she could go on to college.  This is her story. 

 This one young lady arrived in my class and stood at the corner of my desk telling everyone who would listen that she hated math.   She used the word “hated” so extensively that I knew there was no room within her, for her to “learn” math.  She expressed it so strongly she actually had fear in her eyes.  

 When it was her turn to sit down with me I just reached out and took her hand and said, “You don’t  have to take math”.   Her eyes got wide and excited and she said, “You mean I don’t have to take math to get my GED?”    And, I calmly said, “I didn’t say that.  What I’m saying is if you hate math as much as you say you do, you won’t learn math….so why take it?”    She sat back, and said, “Then, how do I get my GED?”    And, I said, “Well, then you have to take math and you have to pass the GED math test.” 

 Her big beautiful eyes sort of rolled back in her head then she took her forefinger and made a circle around her ear.  Then she said, “What do I do?”    I looked her right in the eye  and I said, “Do you really want to know?”   And, she firmly said, “Yes”.   I said, “Ok.   You have to change your attitude about how you feel about math.”   She actually leaned back in her chair and slumped her shoulders and said, “Mrs. Barras I am who I am so how can I change my attitude about something I hate?”   And, she ranted on and on about it!   I just let her rant…then I responded with, “No, you are who you want to be and you can change the way you think about math and once you do then you will be able to not only enjoy math but you can pass the GED test.”    She thought about that for a moment then she asked me how she could change her attitude with a doubtful expression on her face.   

 That was exactly what I wanted to hear her say.   And, I said, “I’m going to give you some homework to do.   When you go to the bathroom I want you to get 2 things done.   1.  What you went in there to do and 2.   I want you to say over and over and over again the following:   I love math.  I really love math!  I want you to say it out loud where you can hear yourself.   I want you to look in the mirror and say it with passion over and over and over again until you believe yourself that you truly do love math.  When you love math enough come back and let me know  when you’re ready to register in math, and I’ll be here for you.    But, for the now, we will only get involved in the other 4 subjects you need.    She looked at me like I had lost my mind but she got up and went to her seat, sat quietly and followed up on the other subjects I had programmed for her.  I just knew she was going to be a successful student. 

 When the class ended she was the last one out the door…then she sort of backed up and leaned her upper body backwards, looked at me and said slowly, with a laugh, “Mrs. Barras do you really think that’s going to work?”    And I responded with, “Absolutely it will work!    But you have to do your homework!”

 She came to class every day promptly and studied her other subjects and did well.   Three months went by and  one day she skipped through the door and up to my desk and pulled up the chair and was swinging it back and forth while she said sort of in a singsong way, “Mrs. Barras, I think I’m ready for math.”   And, I said, “Great! Now, I’m going to give you an evaluation test just to determine what you already know.  And, she quickly said, “I don’t know anything!”  I continued with my talk to her as if I didn’t hear that and I said,  “If you cannot do a problem just skip right past it…ignore it…put a big x in it if you want to…but don’t do anything you don’t know how to do.   Solve all the problems you understand only.”

 She completed the evaluation and scored 17% on a 5th grade math test.   She started crying and I told her no… no… no… this is good!   This is what I needed to know!   Now I know what you know and we will concentrate now on what you don’t know and build to where you need to go in math.   And, you’re going to pass that GED test!  I’m not going to bore you with what you know.   I gave her a tissue to wipe her eyes.   Then I introduced her to my special math program I created for specifically for students who have missed something way back when.  My job was to simply to find out what the student missed and fill in the puzzle pieces.  It’s as easy as that!

 I told her she had to transfer the problems to her own paper and not to write on the original paper.   The reason for that is she needed to learn organization skills.  And, I wanted her to get her muscles involved.   I believe in muscle memory.   When you get your muscles involved when you’re learning something…you never forget it.   Additionally, She had to show me how she got to the answer and it had to be neat.  I asked her to circle her answers.  If she couldn’t do the problem she was to come to my desk and I would go through each problem with her step by step until she could do it on her own.  Then I had her do one more page just to lock it in her memory bank then she moved on to the next lesson.  

 After about 8 weeks she was ready to test and she scored 97% on her math test!   So I sent her out to go take her GED math test by the independent tester.   It took about 2-3 weeks for her to get the results back but when she got those results she came flying through my quiet classroom door and disturbed the entire class …..screaming,  “I passed the GED Math test!” and up to the front of the room to my desk she came.   She grabbed me and started dancing so I turned that into a positive lesson for other students who were struggling with the same  issues.   I explained to the class that this is how one feels when they accomplish something they never dreamed they could do!   Then she stood at the corner of my desk talking to the students about how proud she was for hanging in there.  She ended her talk by saying, “I’m so happy because now I can help my little boy when he comes home and needs help with his math.”   And, I said, “That’s wonderful.   But tell me something.   What are you going to tell your son if he says, Mom I hate math?”   And, she gleefully said, “I’m going to tell him to change his attitude and to go to the bathroom and get 2 things done…….”

 At the end of school I gave a $250 scholarship to the student who had come the farthest.  The purpose was to purchase books for college the following September.   Before I introduced the student I told the following story.

 “You know the bumble bee is not supposed to fly.   That’s because his wings are too small and his body is way too big.   And, according aerodynamics testing it’s impossible for him to fly.   But the bumble bee who is ignorant of that fact….went ahead a flew anyway!”

 And, the student who will receive this award reminds me of a bumblebee because she didn’t know she could do math but with the right attitude….she did it anyway!  It’s amazing what a positive attitude can do for you!

 That is what happens when one changes their attitude.  It works!

 2.  External Barriers

              a.  People who don’t …

                             -move their lips …articulate

                             -wear reflective glasses

                             -use facial expression

                             -use body language

                             -use eye contact

              b.  Poor lighting

              c.  Background noises

              d.  Echo’s in buildings or certain rooms

              e.  Large gatherings where one needs to “make” conversation

              f.   More than 3 in the group discussion

              g.  Large gathering where one is in the “listening” position such as at church or seminars

                   board meetings

So, what do we do in these situations where we think we don’t have any control over?   The interesting thing is….we have control over all of it but we have to know how to do it.   One thing we need to stop doing is blaming others and using excuses/reasons for why we are not understanding.  We have to learn how to get people in our corner without cornering them. 

 I hear so many people say anyone of the following and many other excuses/reasons why they are not hearing/understanding well.   And, those who use these statements sometimes put a lot of anger in the statement.  I’m talking about people who have had their hearing and then lost it later in life.    These are people who know what they are missing.  They have always been in the position to help others and now they feel like they are in the position of being helped and they don’t like the way it feels.    This is a different group with a different set of problems than those who were born hearing impaired.   Those who were born deaf have developmental problems and unfortunately most don’t wear hearing aids so they do not know what they are missing and most don’t think there is anything wrong with them.   They like their quiet world and don’t want to be considered handicapped in any way.  That doesn’t mean they don’t hear sound….most don’t hear words which is a different thing altogether.     Here we go….

 “I can hear good for my age and if others would stop mumbling I’d hear just fine!”  

“I hear just fine but other people mumble” 

“I could hear better if there was no background noise”.

“No one seems to be articulating anymore!”

“I cannot understand my grandchildren because they have not been taught to speak clearly!”

“I don’t need a hearing aid.  Others need to speak up.  They don’t do that anymore!”

“I don’t like to be in a group because the conversation escapes me…they all talk way too fast!”

“Everyone speaks so softly.  I wish they’d speak up!”

In all the above statements, and there are many more variation of saying the same thing, the speaker is blaming either other people or other things for not being able to hear/understand.

The most important thing to do is to ACCEPT the fact you have hearing loss.  You do this in steps starting with those closer to you and YOU are the closest and the first place to begin.  First you have to admit it to yourself, then to others in your direct family, then to your extended family, then to your friends and associates and to anyone you need to tell if you don’t understand and that includes anyone who you think mumbles, or whoever you don’t understand!   Once you can do that…then you will come full circle back to yourself, then you can take a deep breath and accept it as it is and do everything possible to help yourself.  

 Admittedly, it’s very difficult to admit there is something wrong with self.   But it’s easy to put the blame on someone else or something else.  It provides a temporary fix.   But it doesn’t work.  It’s difficult because there is a lot of inner turmoil going around in one’s head.   It hits the self esteem button head on.  The truth is once you reach acceptance and own the problem, the turmoil will go away completely.  But that takes time.  The hearing loss will still be there but it’s more manageable now.   It is how you solve the problem that counts.  

So why is it, that people with hearing loss have a difficult time admitting they have this loss?   The answer to that has been said many time by my thousands of Speechreading students who passed through my classroom door over 30 years.  I’ve heard them all but the one that is said the most is the following: 

  “I have observed how others treat those with hearing loss and I don’t like what I see.   Therefore, I will never admit I have hearing loss ever to anyone.”   That statement was strong enough but the following 2 statements hit me the hardest and both were said by a senior citizen who lived in a Senior Citizen Complex. 

 “I overheard one of my best friends say that there are 2 kinds of people I don’t ever want to travel with.  One is someone who is crippled in any way and the second is anyone who has hearing impairment.  They are both a pain in the backside.  I sat down because my body became numb when I heard her say that, and I cried for a month and couldn’t look at my friend again and, she’ll never know why.”

 Hearing impairment is invisible.   No one knows you have it and if they do they forget about it fast.  Those who have visible disabilities get more attention and empathy.  Those in wheelchairs and/or have blindness have a problem getting from point A to point B and once they get where they are going, everything is fine.  But those with hearing impairment have no problems getting where they are going but once they arrive especially where there is conversation going on or in an educational setting…..the problem begins.”

 The interesting thing is Helen Keller had both problems:  Deafness and Blindness.   One of her statements was the following:  “Of both my disabilities I find deafness to be the worst. Good eyesight provides the ability to see things and people but hearing provides one the ability to communicate with others.   If there is no communication …there is nothing.”

 And the next one….

“I finally went to see an Audiologist and when he recommended I wear a hearing aid, my self esteem slithered to my feet and it’s been there ever since.”

 On the first day of each of my Speechreading classes I gave out homework.   Some students came with their normal hearing spouse and others came alone.  Students were of all ages and I had equal males to females.   My goal was to have couples especially if one had normal hearing and the other had hearing loss.  Why?   Because it takes a partner to get through this faster.   Someone who cares enough, has the perseverance and provides support when needed.  For those who were married and came alone, I recommended they bring their spouse.   For those who were single I recommended they bring a family member and/or someone they had a close relationship with.

 The homework provided was for each of those with hearing loss, write a 1-2 page summary titled: “What it’s Like to Live With Hearing Impairment”.   And for those who had normal hearing, write a 1-2 page summary titled:  “What it’s Like to Live With Someone Who Has Hearing Impairment”.   I asked them to pour their heart out….stick to reality…the way it is and don’t share the paper with your spouse who comes with you…not yet. 

 There was so much pain from both sides and even long time marriages were headed for divorce and/or separation and the only reason given on both sides was….hearing loss.    Several students who were climbing the corporate ladder lived in fear of their boss or others in the office finding out he/she had hearing impairment and being bypassed.   Some were terrified of attending the next board meeting and coming away without the information discussed or the boss calling him/her in for not contributing to the conversation in a productive manner.   Others dreaded the family holiday get together and not hearing/understanding everything being said, missing out on the chit chat, the jokes, the fun and feeling empty after it’s all over.


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