Welcome to the Hard of Hearing Page on Deaf Culture Online
What's a hard of hearing page doing on Deaf Culture Online, you ask?
Oh, plenty. We’re long overdue for web pages like this.
The hard of hearing population is huge. Most surveys will tell you there’s something like 30 million deaf and hard of hearing
people in the United States. According to the
Gallaudet Research Institute,
it’s estimated that only about 360,000 to 517,000 of this 30 million are culturally Deaf. That leaves a humongous 29.5 million out there who aren’t quite hearing and aren’t quite Deaf (capital “D” emphasized).
Somehow, in spite of the staggering numbers, this significantly large population is often overlooked.
In contrast, the Deaf community is relatively small but its cultural impact is phenomenal. Do a Google search on “Deaf” or “ASL”
and you’ll find a plethora of websites, blogs, and general information on what it means to be Deaf. You’ll find community events,
artists, entertainers, poets, literature, Deaf studies curriculums, and much more.
Meanwhile, I Googled “hard of hearing” and had to sift through websites that focused mostly on rehabilitation, advocacy, assistive
devices, strategies for communicating with the hearing world, and a mostly pathological approach towards hearing loss. Not to
disparage any of the above, mind you, but it kind of makes life seem so stressful.
That said, how about if we forget about the ears for a moment and focus on what it means to be hard of hearing? More
specifically, what about feelings, attitudes, perspectives, and personal lives?
All of the aforementioned rehabilitation stuff is well-intentioned and in fact helpful in many aspects. At the same time, a caveat:
sometimes it may actually reinforce a negative mind-set.
Many hard of hearing people, for one reason or the other, have this internalized belief that it is entirely their responsibility to
communicate effectively with the hearing world at large. If there's a communication breakdown, they can often be found kicking themselves in the rear.
It shouldn't be that way. There’s nothing wrong with telling the world who you are and expecting
others to meet you halfway. There’s nothing to apologize for. In fact, more awareness is called for.
And that, my dear friends, is why this topic is on Deaf Culture Online.
What makes me the so-called expert on this subject?
I’m not an expert. I won’t claim to be. But what I can tell you is that I spent all of my childhood growing up hard of hearing.
Gradually I went deaf (and later, culturally Deaf). This left me with a mind-boggling frame of reference.
I can tell you firsthand that way back when, it seemed like the world placed the burden of communication entirely
on my shoulders. Nobody helped. If I got frustrated, the response would be along the lines of you should sit up front, you
should wear your hearing aids, you should pay attention and other maddening “you shoulds.” There were also people who erroneously assumed that because I could speak clearly, I must also be able to hear clearly. It drove me up the wall.
Things changed after I went deaf. Many people suddenly respected my Deaf identity (most of the time). The appropriate
accommodations were provided whenever needed. Nice, but… where was all of this understanding before, when it was
needed the most?
Now that we’ve established I might actually be on to something here, let’s continue with this important topic.
Is there a Hard of Hearing Culture?
Although there are indeed powerful organizations such as the
Hearing Loss Association of America,
there’s no bona fide hard of hearing culture. Here’s a close
(and sometimes tongue-in-cheek) look at why this is so:
• There’s no HHSL, or Hard of Hearing Sign Language. This is a group of invisible people. There are many
hard of hearing people you wouldn’t even know are hard of hearing unless they personally told you.
• There’s never been a Hard of Hearing President Now protest at Gallaudet University.
• Some hard of hearing people blend in so well – or appear to blend in so well --with mainstream society that few people
take them seriously when they ask for support or assistance.
• There are numerous ASL and Deaf Studies classes nationwide but Hard of Hearing Studies classes are nowhere to be
found. (Pathological studies of hearing loss don’t count. I’m talking about a state of being, not a medical profile of the inner ear.)
• The hard of hearing population is remarkably diverse. Degree of hearing loss, age of onset, communication preferences,
the use of assistive devices, knowledge of sign language, interaction with other deaf and hard of hearing people, and
personal philosophy of what it means to be deaf or hard of hearing are all factors that greatly vary. (Ironically, you could
argue that the same factors exist to a certain degree in the Deaf world. But the Deaf world has as a common thread – ASL
and Deaf culture –that effectively unites its entire community).
The famous Deaf President Now protest at Gallaudet in 1988 seems to have catapulted the Deaf community into a new age of
awareness. ASL and Deaf Studies have since exploded in popularity. Sometimes, the needs of the hard of hearing fall by the
wayside. In a nutshell, ASL is “sexy” and assistive listening devices aren’t.
It needs to be emphasized that any group—deaf, culturally Deaf, late-deafened, or the hard of hearing—deserves the recognition,
validation, and empowerment that allows them to live their lives on their own terms.
This brings us to a man out there by the name of
Dr. Samuel Trychin
who’s doing a heck of a job in the empowerment department.
It was at a keynote presentation by Dr. Trychin where suddenly everything made sense. It was smack in the middle of his
discourse when I leaned over to a friend and said holy smokes—I’m a recovering HOH! Such was the power of Dr.
Trychin’s words that I was moved to write an article titled
Ooh, My Back.
It was right then and there that I realized the hard of hearing experience I went through many years ago still
has an impact on me today.
I was also inspired to compile a team of thirty-seven writers and publish a book titled On the Fence: The Hidden World of
the Hard of Hearing. With the writers' permission, a few of their stories may soon be reprinted on this website (the book itself will be available after
November 2006). For now, take a sneak peek and enjoy the
Introduction to On the Fence.
Please do keep in mind that thirty-seven writers isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. It’s not even a snowflake on an iceberg. The
only reasonably good advice I can give is to recognize each individual for who they choose to be.
There’s just so much to say about this subject that one little web page can’t possibly cover it all. But we can at least acknowledge a number of excellent resources and add more as we go along.
Two of the resources that I’m going to recommend right off the bat are
Hearing Loss Association of America
Hearing Loss Web.
More resources will be added pending further feedback and suggestions from the deaf/HOH community.
In the meantime, there’s one more valuable resource I’d like to mention. We all know that millions of hard of hearing people are
scattered all over the globe and it’s impossible for all of them to join an organization such as HLAA. Time, location,
and other logistics can often make it difficult.
But if you are reading these words right now, you’re obviously on the Internet – and there’s a fantastic Internet support group
known as the
If you’re looking for validation and support, it’s available
right now – just a mouse click away. Enjoy!
Exit Hard of Hearing Page and Return to Deaf Culture Online Home Page