Guest post by Lola J. Lee Beno
Beep. Beep. I search through my purse for that pack of #675 hearing aid batteries which I had recently bought at Target. Beep. Beep. I remove my right hearing aid to replace the battery. I do not have to worry about the left hearing aid as the battery is fresh.
We pull into the church parking lot and I enter the church. I make sure to grab the church bulletin and the 3-ring binder service book. As I take the seat next to my friend, I quickly scan the bulletin to check the troparions and other service notes. I am grateful for the bulletin notes because it helps me to follow the service. I try to find my place in the service book. I see the deacon and feel relief because now I know it is one of the litanies being prayed.
Then comes the sermon, which my hard-of-hearing friend strains to hear because the priest’s voice is so soft and he keeps missing several words. And so my friend will not be able to interpret the sermon into ASL. But I am glad that people who go to churches in Russia, where there is an active outreach to the deaf community, do not have to worry about this.
Types of hearing loss
There are many types of hearing loss, from stone deaf, where absolutely no sound can be heard at all, even with hearing aids or cochlear implants, to hard-of-hearing, where one is not able to hear well due to factors such as ringing noise or constant exposure to loud noise.
I need to point out, though, that not all people experience hearing loss the same way I do. Hearing loss can occur at all stages in life, not just at birth. Some people may experience a very mild loss that results in an inability to process low frequency noise, thus making it difficult to hear deep voices. Others may experience tinnitus, where one hears a buzzing sound all the time. Some forms of hearing loss result in speech being garbled.
A researcher, Arthur Boochroyd, created several audio clips to help people understand what it sounds like. Some of these clips can be accessed at The Real Sounds of Hearing Loss.
Misconceptions about hearing loss
Regardless of the degree of hearing loss, the main issue that people with all kinds of hearing loss is communication. It is really frustrating for us not to be able to participate in a group conversation where people are talking over each other. Going to a restaurant with a loved one can be trying when the light is dimmed and instrumental music is playing in the background. And people don’t always get how hard it is to not be able to appreciate an amusing family story when you’re told that it will be explained to you later, and that explanation never, ever happens.
Sign language and lipreading
There are also misconceptions that people have about deaf/hard-of-hearing people. One misconception is that all deaf people know how to sign. Yes, some do know ASL (which really is a distinct language, American Sign Language, which developed in the United States). But many deaf people, especially those who lost their hearing late in life, don’t. And no, ASL is not an universal sign language. I could go to England and not be able to understand people there who use British Sign Language (thank you, British educators who refused to let Thomas Gallaudet learn their teaching methods).
Which brings one to lipreading. No, lipreading is not a skill everyone can just pick up. And even the best lipreader can only understand up to 35% of the spoken word, at the most; the rest is just guesswork. It also works best in an one-on-one situation. Facial hair can be a real impediment, especially if the hard-of-hearing individual has problems processing deep voice sounds. I myself have a hard time lipreading at a distance of more than 150 feet. So if I find myself at the back of the church, well, then, it is what it is. And for heaven’s sake – please don’t shout at me. That doesn’t help me one bit.
Captions and Transcripts
Being able to watch videos and live programs with captions has been a huge advantage for those with hearing loss. But it is frustrating to encounter videos and podcasts without captions. There are so many podcasts that I’d love to check out when I look at the Ancient Faith Ministries website, but I cannot do so because most of these are audio only and not a lot of transcripts are available.
When I go to YouTube to look for vlogs about Orthodoxy, I hope for good auto captions where the audio is clear enough that the machine processing is able to translate speech to text without much garbage. Yes, it is possible to take these text, clean it up and then upload to replace the auto captions. However, not everybody knows about this. For Vimeo, it is a lot harder because there is no access to the auto caption software for those who do not have the funds needed to hire a professional captioning company.
I have more to say on this subject, and suggestions. And, do you have any questions? I’ll be waiting for your comments!
About the author
Lola J. Lee Beno is a handicraft creator who loves to knit, sew, and spin, when not dabbling around with technology. She loves to read, and could probably win trivia games. Come warm weather she can be found tending her garden, after reminding her husband to prepare the grounds. Much of her productions can be found on Instagram. .
Disability and special needs: To welcome people with disabilities, churches need to overcome barriers of the heart.
The Logos for my Nonverbal Son: What happens when the seed of the Logos is watered in a boy who cannot speak, a boy who doesn’t understand that language is a possibility?
It’s Not Just About the Building: Welcoming people with disabilities into the life of your parish is about more than ramps and handrails.
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I’m not deaf, but hard of hearing with hearing aids. I started losing my hearing when I was about 38 but it was a few years before I realized that I had unconsciously started reading lips. The tinnitus I’d had for many years but it got worse. Even with hearing aids I need to be able to see faces. I lost the top register so I guess at beginning consonants a lot. If something is unfamiliar, or sung, or the subject is changed, I get lost. I appreciate having the words to the changeable parts of services so I can understand what is being chanted or sung. Coffee hour can be a nightmare and as a clergy wife one has certain obligations. Fortunately I don’t have any shame about my hearing and freely explain that I have difficulties and may need things to be repeated. I mostly manage to communicate by email or text with parishioners because phone conversations are so difficult.
I sometimes wonder just how far the hearing loss will progress, and whether I ought to start learning ASL. Because there are no translators in church (I’ve never actually seen one) it doesn’t seem like it would be much help at church. But I’m grateful for what I have now.
Like Matushka, I am not deaf but am losing my hearing. According to hearing tests I miss 25% or so of what people say to me. I believe hearing aides are in my not to distant future.
Recently I had to have a medical procedure. A doctor was reviewing my vitals and, trying to be funny, mouthed my weight so no one else would hear it. Early the nurses had taken my eye glasses and jewelry in the procedure prep. I said to the doc, “I can’t see you so i can’t hear you. I’m losing my hearing.” He responded, “Oh, so you read lips?” It surprised me because I hadn’t really thought about it but I guess I do. If I can’t see your mouth, I don’t understand you.
I no longer attend movies because I miss so much of the dialogue. Phone conversations are starting to get difficult. Closed caption is always on when I watch programs and movies on the TV, iPad or computer.