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What Do Hearing and Vision Loss Have in Common

Updated: Mar 18, 2019

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I decided to join a drumming class! So much fun – and hearing loss isn’t a big issue as it’s all about rhythm – not melody.


There’s a young woman in the class who is blind in one eye and legally blind in the other eye. (Blind means no vision and legally blind means 20/200 or less). Her name is Dana. We usually sit next to each other. I’ve been watching her, and am fascinated by the differences and similarities between us. She can’t see the teacher demonstrating drumming patterns while I can. She, on the other hand, can hear all the cross conversations, which are tough for me.


The more time I spend with Dana, the more impressed I am. Yes – she’s a wonderful person but what impresses me so is that her vision impairment doesn’t seem to hold her back. She lives alone, she’s a successful massage therapist and is in a committed relationship with a man who happens to be sighted. She uses a white cane to get around on foot. For longer distances, she depends on friends to give her rides, on New Jersey’s not-the-best public transportation systems, and Access Link.


There are a few ways in which our differing physical needs seem to align pretty well. For example, both of us need well-lit areas. She needs them just to see in the first place. For me, a well-lit room makes it easier to understand people’s speech because I can see their faces and so lip-read better. If the lighting is poor, or it’s crowded Dana finds it challenging to get around and has to focus sharply on what she’s doing. For me, when the hearing situation is challenging, like when it’s noisy and there’s lots of cross-talk, I too have to focus really hard on what others are saying. In other words, we both have to engage the muscle power of our brain.


The other day, Dana made me laugh when she told me people often say to her, “Oh, Dana! you can’t be blind. You’re too pretty!” How many times have people said to me, “Oh, Patsie! You don’t have a hearing loss! You’re too young!” (This was when I was younger).


All too often, Dana says that when she goes to a public venue, and lets them know she’s blind, they give her a wheel chair. Hello? There are also a few mongrels out there who even ask her if she can have sex. Let us leave that one there. Anything like this ever happened to you?


But as many of you know, if you’ve been reading my blogs, I have had a lot of challenges coming to terms with my hearing loss, which I tried to hide, or fake away for decades. Well, Dana has faced the same sort of challenges. For a good part of her life she didn’t want to have anything to do with other people with vision loss, as if “vision loss” was a dirty word. That struck a particular bell for me, as it’s only in the last seven years I sought out other people with hearing loss. Before that, I avoided people with hearing loss, hid my own, and refused to join organizations where I might find support.


Both of us admit to the burden of feeling less-than. We both struggle, or at least have struggled, with feeling like we’re not whole, complete people. We both found it a long and difficult road to come to terms with our disabilities. We were both, at least to some extent, willing to let these disabilities define our lives, and in the process make those lives less meaningful, less entertaining, less joyful. What a waste!


In Dana’s case, even today, if she sets out to learn something new or challenging, like our drumming class, some members of her family still discourage her, saying she won’t be able to master it. So many of my friends and colleagues with hearing loss get the same discouraging remarks from their relatives and friends.


It’s been enlightening to see the similarities Dana and I share, despite the differences in our abilities and our ages. It’s encouraging to see someone at her young age who has learned how to advocate for herself. Good for you, Dana!


But I’ll end on a slightly disappointing note, and one that I’ve talked about before. Dana’s major disability aid are her glasses! Eyeglasses are fashion statements. Hearing aids are emphatically not. Let’s haul in a few eyeglass designers – and a few cool vision-impaired folks like Dana – and give them a crack at making hearing aids cool too!

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