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  • Writer's picturePat Dobbs

Travels with Hearing Loss; Florence, Italy

Last fall, my cousin, who was honored by an invitation to exhibit her artwork at the prestigious Florence Biennale, asked me to join her.

Although I had never been to Florence, I hesitated, as I knew I would face challenging hearing situations. But it was Florence, Italy – one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I had to go. I just had to use my hearing loss toolbox with grace and patience.

When booking my flight I already knew I had to check the category for hearing disabilities. Of course when I arrived at the airport, no one identified me as a person with hearing loss – why would they? It’s invisible. But that’s OK cause if I couldn’t hear someone, I would always go to my #1 rule from my tookbox: identify myself as a person with hearing loss, asking for help.

I do this with a smile and a thank you because I’m always conscious I’m a hearing loss ambassador, as we all are. And as such, I’m in a position to educate people about hearing loss and explain what they can do so I will be able to hear them because I WANT to hear them.

Checking in at the airport is easier than it used to be because so much is done on-line. (I agree, sometimes that can be a mixed blessing!).

When I got to my gate, I identified myself as a person with hearing loss and explained I couldn’t hear the PA system announcing the boarding information and to please tell me if there was a change. To further guarantee that I kept aware of announcements, I asked the person sitting next to me in the gate area to be my “ears”.

Once on the plane, I told the flight attendants I have a hearing loss and can’t hear the PA system. If there was any critical information, to please let me know. Identifying myself is important as they know that passenger Pat Dobbs at seat 10C has a hearing loss but it’s hard for them to identify who I am and what my needs are.

When I’m flying, I look for foreign movies as I know they will have subtitles, or else I look for movies with captions. If you have an assistive listening device that fits into the movie jack, that’s even better (I always forget to take mine).

When I arrived in Florence, it was time to communicate and am faced with the prospect of having a hearing loss and not speaking Italian. Yikes! Luckily, many people spoke English, often with a heavy accent. If I couldn’t understand them, I simply went to my tookbox #1 and explained it was hard for me because I have a hearing loss. (I never wanted them to think it was because their English wasn’t good as I’m grateful that they speak English).

I also used improvised sign language, which is fun! It’s a wonderful way to communicate and has helped me many times.

I took several tours and asked the guides to wear my assistive listening mike that connects to the processor of my implants through blue tooth. Most of the time they spoke clearly and slowly.

The splendor of the churches is unimaginable but one church in particular blew me away: they had a video with captions and signing. Haha – of course the captions were in Italian so I couldn’t understand them. Unfortunately, I don’t sign in English or Italian. 📷

I spent a lot of time looking at the artwork at the Biennale. That is where I saw the jewelry that reacts to sound and alerts deaf people someone is talking to them. You can see pictures of these devices from one of my earlier blogs here.

I wanted to attend the lectures the Biennale offered but knew I wouldn’t be able to hear in their large auditorium without accommodations. After investigating on site, I found they had none – they didn’t even know what I was talking about. I was disappointed and realized I should have contacted the organizers beforehand and made arrangements for hearing access. This is in my toolbox but unfortunately I forgot to do it.

That experience has made me realize that although the ADA in the US is not perfect, it is a big step in the right direction of providing accommodations for us. It is important we protect the ADA. (Please read this article on how Congress is looking to dismantle the ADA.)

The flight home was the icing on the cake. There were two brothers in the row in front of me that not only had cochlear implants but the exact same model as mine – Cochlear N6. It’s a small and beautiful world./>📷 What tools from your toolbox do you use?


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