Hearing loss is one of those “disabilities” that is the most difficult to recognise. You wouldn’t always easily be able to spot a deaf person in a crowd. The obvious downside of that is that we don’t always get shown the consideration and sensitivity BEFORE we are approached and recognised, as shown to those with more visible disabilities. I’ve heard “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you’re deaf” more times than I can count. It gets real awkward from there. I’ll always understand when it happens, but some people are so ashamed and just don’t know how to recover.
Okay, I started this post a bit heavier than what I intended. This was meant to be a celebratory post. I have finally received my new bionic ears in April. Every few years I have to upgrade my hearing processor because, you know … technology. My previous ears went out of fashion. After many months of battling with medical aid to cover the exorbitant amount, my audiologist finally asked the most important question, “what colour?”
The question sounds fairly simple. Normally I would’ve chosen black because I didn’t want to be easily identified as a deaf person. I didn’t want to people to see a hearing processor and then have second thoughts about approaching me. I wanted to fit in and let my disability be a surprise. I’d rejoice at some unintentional insensitivity. But ever since our 2016 Deaf Awareness Campaign I have changed the way I look at my disability. My hearing loss is part of who I am and I have absolutely no reason to hide it. What better way to spread deaf awareness than fearlessly and unapologetically becoming a living embodiment of the cause? So I chose grey.
In order to enjoy all the features of my new ears, I now travel around with a bag. The thought of travelling around with a bag to hear is hilarious to me. In addition to that, I have to charge 4 devices every few days. Not being able to charge the devices or forgetting to charge them, especially the batteries, affects my livelihood. So Eskom better not fail me. One of the devices is a remote with which I can control my hearing. Let me say this again. One of my senses is controlled with a REMOTE. This sounds daunting, but I haven’t shared with you the greatest part yet.
The upgrade has given me the opportunity to enjoy some benefits that hearing persons don’t give a second thought. The new processor can be equipped to be water resistant! Ruth and I decided to test out that feature at the beach in Jeffreys Bay. In order to make sure the whole processor doesn’t wash away in the water, I had to use the two “safety harnesses”. One goes around the ear and the other needs to be attached anywhere close to the ear. I ended up putting Ruth’s hair accessory around my neck because I had nothing else. I was a grown man about to enter the water with what looks like a choker. Even though I was assured it’s absolutely safe to use underwater, my mind just wouldn’t let me go in. I have spent 17 years staying away from water by all means. I always believed I’ll be electrocuted, and now I’m about to go into a whole ocean. I eventually went in and the first wave swept the processor from my ear. You can imagine our shock when we realized it’s not behind my ear. Luckily the choker and the safety harness did its job. I’m about to own a choker and look fabulous in the sea from here onwards.
I finally know what it’s like to listen to music in the shower, and then tiptoe out mid-shower to skip a track because it ain’t fire. I can now dance in the rain if I want to, maar ek’s nie mal nie. These are things I’ve made peace with never experiencing again. But most importantly, I can hear more now. I’m hearing so much more now I’m left wondering, “How little was I then hearing before?” I say “more” and not “better” yet because I am still trying to make sense of the new sounds I hear. I can’t identify the new sounds I hear at night. I was okay with not hearing much at night because if something should’ve happened, I didn’t want to hear it coming. I preferred it be a surprise and I’d be like “Is it time, Jesus?” Now I overthink every new thing I hear and panic. My blood pressure already high as it is.
I’ll forever be grateful for the “second chance” technology has given me. Although I can hear more and can enjoy these benefits, it is far from what I and every person with hearing loss desires. What we desire is ACCESS. Not every deaf person wants a Cochlear implant or hearing aid, for their own personal reasons. What every deaf person does want is EQUALITY.