Thursday, May 31, 2012

What's your sign?

Julia has hearing loss. Four years ago, when she was first diagnosed, I sometimes used the term "hearing impaired." I was quickly notified by an adult blogger with hearing loss that no one wants to be "impaired." It has a negative connotation.

So I deliberately adopted "hard of hearing" and "hearing loss" as the descriptors around our house. Julia would tell you she has a hard time hearing without her hearing aids.

Some families facing the same level of moderate to severe hearing loss use the word "deaf". I never put much thought into the semantics of it all.

Then we took a family trip to Niagara Falls. Our hotel was on the 49th floor. The view was incredible and worthwhile even with a ridiculously long elevator ride to the ground floor swimming pool.

After an evening swim, Julia was dripping wet and without her hearing aids in the elevator. We know a few signs and Julia can hear loud speech at close range. We get along pretty well at the pool and while waiting to dry off.

A middle aged man got in the elevator and began to make friendly small talk with Julia. It was obvious that she'd just been swimming. He was trying to ask her if she liked the water slide. She did not respond.

"She's deaf," my husband explained.

I nearly gasped. Immediately, I felt like screaming, "She is not. She is hard of hearing."

The man continued talking. Tim leaned over to repeat the questions so Julia could answer. I stood back, feeling strange about the bizarre knee-jerk reaction I'd just experienced.

"It was just easier to say 'deaf,'" Tim explained later when I revealed my innermost ravings on the topic. I agreed, all the while aware that I would have given the man an educational presentation occupying the entire length of the elevator ride.

There are still moments of debate and confused emotion even though it seems like we have everything figured out. We have a frequent conversation about when Julia lost her hearing.

"I think she could hear when she was born," I say. "I think she lost her hearing when she was 12-15 months old."
"Of course she could hear when she was born," Tim interjects. "She can hear now."

Then we talk about hearing "normally" and how a mild loss right at the time when she should have started talking could have delayed her speech. As if we need to clarify this to each other.

It's a reminder that for all we've figured out, there is so much more we have to learn. Perhaps more knowledge will melt away our remaining sensitivity. I can hope.