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Understanding the Terms regarding Hearing Impairment

Understanding the Terms

Let’s begin by defining terms.  We all need to understand what each of these terms mean.  Then we’ll talk about family and /or friends much needed support as the first step in assisting in acceptance of self and the disability. 


The ability to read words on the lips of a speaker.   Everyone reads lips naturally.  That’s why we look at our speaker when s/he is speaking.  Most don’t know they are reading lips because if they have normal hearing they depend mostly on listening.  It’s only when they start losing hearing that one starts noticing lips more. 


The ability to understand what is being said by watching the lips, facial expression, body language, gestures and having command of a broad vocabulary.  That is the key and the difference.

While everyone may lipread, not everyone speechreads.  It’s two different skills.  Admittedly, one begins with lipreading like one begins in kindergarten.  It’s a starting point and it comes natural just by observing the speaker.  It takes a lot more effort, study, expertise, knowledge and the ability to laugh at oneself to accomplish the skill of speechreading.  And, it takes something else:  A positive attitude and the ability to get people in your corner without cornering them as well as ongoing family and close friends  who provide valuable support as needed.   Generally speaking, how well one accomplishes speechreading also depends greatly upon how well the speaker moves his/her lips.  We cannot speechread lips that don’t move.   That’s why most deaf or profoundly hearing impaired children don’t watch cartoons, that is, before they learn to read the captions.   


Those who are born without hearing and/ or having a profound loss of the nerve type prior to learning the language at the tender age of around 2 or 3.   That age varies with the child.   Very few children are born with total deafness.  Most have some hearing that can be amplified if they chose to wear an aid/s to bring them into the world of sound.   Many turn to Sign Language only and prefer the quiet world without the aid/s.  Just as many believe there is nothing wrong with them that they are whole as they are and resent being considered handicapped; and many also believe that they just speak a different language and that it should be accepted as it is. 

While some choose to have or the parent chooses for a young child to have the Cochlear Implant early in life there are just as many deaf who believe the Cochlear Implant should be banned and that they should be accepted just as they are.   That’s just part of the controversy involved in what is best for the deaf child.   I’m not going to discuss much about this topic, Cochlear Implant, because I believe that should be left to the M.D. to present as s/he has the research results on this matter.  

I can discuss my personal experiences of some of my students who had this Cochlear Implant and also my girlfriend who has a grandchild born with a profound nerve loss.   But that is a discussion on its own and I will cover it at a later date in another email as it is a broad topic and new things are happening in the field of technology that may change everything as we know it today.  

Challenges of those who are Deaf:

The challenge is derived from having to fit into a way of life which they have little auditory knowledge and experience.  To achieve normal development with abnormal hearing ability  may be a tremendous challenge because the problems are developmental. 

Hearing Impairment or Hearing Loss…both terms are used:

Having lost hearing after learning the language.  It could be early in life, teens, and anytime thereafter.   It is no longer considered age related.   Mostly people lose their hearing as a result of environmental noises.  Loud rock music stole the hearing of many of the rock stars as well as those who loved their music.   The 60’s & 70’s produced the largest group of people with hearing loss than ever before in history….they are the baby boomers.   Additionally, more teenagers are now being fitted to aid/s as a result of all the music they listen that is pumped directly into their ear drums and cochlear with ear pieces they wear constantly.   We know from research that 8 hours of listening to loud noises can create nerve impairment which is the worse type of hearing loss one can have and the most difficult to overcome.

Challenges of those who have Hearing Impairment of the Nerve Type (Sensori Neural Loss):

The challenges arise in that they no longer understand  what is being said in small groups and certainly the larger the group the more difficulty in understanding.   As a result they feel they are being left out of a world they were once a vital part of and their lifestyle is fading into the distance.  Whereas most were always in the position of helping others they feel now they are in the position to be helped and they are very uncomfortable.   The result creates a deep feeling of isolation within a group and if they don’t have the proper support it can become a psychotraumatic concern and even may have suicidal tendencies.  

So Let’s Define the Difference Between the Two:

The natural habitat of those who are deaf is a world without sound, whereas, the natural habitat of those with hearing impairment is the wonderful world of sound.   One does not miss what one never had.   Those with hearing impairment know what they are missing and they don’t like the way it feels.  If left alone for too long without support it may send them into a downward spiral.

Those who are deaf don’t care who know they can’t hear.   In fact, they are “out of the closet” and into total acceptance with the disability  almost from day one.   The fact they are so comfortable with living with the disability or living in the soundless world is the first step in acceptance of self and in removing the stigma attached.  

Those with hearing impairment live in fear of anyone finding out.  They not only cannot admit to others, they can’t admit it to themselves.   They live in a world of denial sometimes for many years.  They actually mourn the loss much like they mourn for the loss of a loved one.  It is like losing a piece of yourself because they miss the chit chat, the jokes, the fun, the laughter and knowing what is being said around them.  Be sure to read the ebook, “The 7 Stages of Overcoming Hearing Impairment.”   This ebook will help those who have hearing impairment work themselves through to acceptance and helps those who are normal hearing understand what his/her family member and/or friend is going through and why it’s so painful.

Men and women who have hearing impairment and climbing the ladder cringe at the thought of their boss or associates finding out s/he has hearing impairment.  It sets them apart from life as they once knew it, it puts them in a bad position in board meetings and when they are nervous they understand even less than if they could just relax.  They get left out of the loop.  They can’t hear the questions or statements made from the back of the room nor the answers from the front of the room.  They miss out on all the fun stuff going on around them during break  and over coffee.  They are afraid to give input or to respond for fear of giving an inappropriate response that puts them in a bad position.  They are afraid of being treated less than and being left out of conversations as well as power lunches and /or the 5 pm cocktail party scene.  This creates a feeling of isolation and loneliness in a room of several people they may have worked with for many years.

Why do those with Hearing Impairment feel such fear and embarrassment?   I can answer that question easily.   They have observed how others with normal hearing treat those who have hearing impairment and they don’t like what they see.   This, in itself, prevents those with hearing impairment from accepting the disability openly.   Some remain “in the closet” for many years before they can even admit it to themselves.  They don’t want to be treated differently.   As a teacher and professor who worked with adults with hearing impairment of the nerve type for 30 years, that was the most frequent response given when asked that question.  

I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to decide who you believe has the most challenging lifestyle between the two.   So what can we do to provide support for those with hearing impairment?  Let’s move on to the next section.


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