Thursday, July 28, 2011

A bit of a break

Do I even remember how to blog anymore? It has been so long... whoa dang.

This is pretty much what I have been doing lately:

work work work work sleep work work work pretend to pack work work work NEPHEW!!!
work work work work a little more eat half a bag of taco-flavored Doritos in one sitting work work
work work work weddings galore work work work work zzzz......

You get the idea. But - knock on wood - the crazy part is has passed, so hopefully I will be back to blogging more soon!

Also, I am moving next month (nowhere crazy, not far from where I am now) and can I just say that so far, I think my new landlady is AMAZING? Why, you ask? I will tell you why. I told her I would need a fire alarm with a strobe light so that I can be alerted by the flashing light; I can't rely on my hearing aids to let me know if there's an emergency. Now, experience has taught me that when I ask for accommodations, I should do the research myself and provide the other party (landlord, boss, university official, etc) with the information they need to obtain those accommodations. So I told the landlady that I had heard that I could get a fire alarm for free from the fire department but that I had never experienced that myself. I said I would  research it and see if I could find out how to get one for free.

Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuut... she emailed me before I had a chance to look into it and said that her friend was engaged to a firefighter and she would ask him about it. And friends, next thing I know, they've ordered the device for me and not only is it a flashing fire alarm, but it comes with an infrared sensor that can go on my bedside table and a vibrating alarm that can be put under the mattress! She went all out!

It was really nice to have this one thing be something that I didn't have to think about. I'm really grateful that she was willing to meet the need and didn't expect me to do all the heavy lifting. Advocating for oneself is hard - and necessary - work, but it's nice when someone eases the burden a little.

Have you experienced someone advocating for you? What kind of accommodations do you use at home?

Happy weekend!

Monday, July 11, 2011

How to deal with hearing loss on the job

One of the workshops that I went to during the HLAA convention last month was called, "The Art of Telling: How to Tell Your Date/Boss/Friend That You Have Hearing Loss." The gist of the presentation was that it's important to not shy away from revealing your hearing loss because it helps you facilitate communication, which is foundational to any relationship.

When I have more time, I hope to blog more about this particular workshop because it was fantastic, but for now, I wanted to talk about how to deal with your hearing loss at work. The speaker made some excellent points, including:

1) Those of us with hearing loss should focus on our assets rather than be distracted by what we can't do.
2) If we are comfortable with our hearing loss, others will be comfortable with it as well.
3) It's our responsibility to tell our employers what we need in the workplace.

Here's what that means in my head:

1) When you're in an interview, never portray your hearing loss in negative terms. Don't give any indication that it will hold your back or hinder your ability to do your job well. Your hearing loss will only limit you if you let it. While it's true that your hearing loss may make you unavailable for certain types of jobs (for instance, I will probably never be a receptionist because that's just too much with the phones or a server in a restaurant because I would not be able to hear everyone's orders in a bustling environment), there are so many more that you are well-equipped for. If you're organized or detail-oriented or have an aptitude for technology, say so. If you need to work on your time-management skills or find it difficult to relate to customers, tell your prospective employer that you're working on them. Focus on your job-related strengths and be honest about your weaknesses - but just know that hearing loss is not one of those weaknesses! If you think your hearing loss will be a problem on the job, your prospective employer will think so, too... and probably won't make an offer.

2) When I was interviewing for my current position, I had a phone interview with the manager of the department. I was using a CapTel phone and, for those not familiar with the technology, there is a two or three second delay while the captions catch up. Because of that, I made the decision to tell the manager about my hearing loss and explain briefly how the phone worked. Then I moved on with the conversation. It was important to me that I was honest with him about who I was so that there were no surprises when we met in person. I didn't spend too much time on the subject of hearing loss because I wanted to show him that it would not affect my success on the job and I wanted to have plenty of time to share about my time on the campus newspaper, my English degree and the leadership roles I'd taken on in college, things that had far more to do with the position than what kind of phone I was going to need to do the job. I didn't make my hearing loss an issue and as a result, neither did they.

3) Generally speaking, if you need any kind of accommodations on the job, it's your responsibility to identify what you need in order to do your job well and then ask for it. I don't remember if my needing a Captel phone came up in my interview or not, but it was a point of discussion within the first few days of working there. I had to explain how the CapTel was different than a TTY and why a CapTel was a better fit, not just for me, but for the position (in this case, my clients needed to be able to call me directly so a TTY was not a viable option). Employers need to be educated about hearing loss just like anyone else. Be patient, explain (nicely!) what you need  and work with them to find solutions. Advocating for yourself at work by knowing what kind of accommodations you need and asking nicely for them will also help fulfill the other two points - it will show your boss(es) and co-workers that you are comfortable with your hearing loss and that you're not allowing it to deter you from doing your job well.

What else would you add? What issues come up when you're looking for a job? How do you deal with hearing loss in the workplace after you've landed the job?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

To cochlear or not to cochlear

I always figured I would get a cochlear implant... someday. I don't have any special reasoning behind this other than that it just always felt like the natural order of things. I've been operating under the assumption that eventually, I'll lose all my hearing (I've lost most, but not all) and would need a cochlear implant... someday. I never had any time frame for this mysterious someday... it just wasn't right now so I didn't concern myself with the particulars.

But now, I find myself drawn to the topic with surprising frequency. In two short years, I'll be 30. I don't know why, but getting a cochlear implant always seemed like a very 30s thing to do. Old enough to be sure that it's what I want and young enough to appreciate the benefits, bounce back from the surgery quickly and (knock on wood) handle the rehabilitation process with more ease (in theory, anyway... everyone responds to surgery differently, I know. I'm just sayin'... generally speaking, there are benefits to having this kind of procedure while I'm in my spring chicken stage of life).

I'm not sure I could pinpoint any one reason why I think getting one is a good idea. I'm concerned I might want one for the wrong reasons. I'm tempted to think it will make me "more hearing," and thus help me to fit in. But hearing aids and cochlear implants aren't like glasses. When I put my glasses on, my vision is, for all intents and purposes, back to normal. Being deaf or hard of hearing isn't like that, though. Hearing aids, cochlear implants and assistive listening devices can help fill in some of the gaps, but they do not "cure" hearing loss.

I know this, but still I wonder... would music sound sweeter with a cochlear implant? Could I learn to recognize speech without always having to look at someone? Would having a cochlear implant help me be more aware of my auditory surroundings?

On the other hand, I am doing well with my hearing aids. Why rock the boat? Also, getting a cochlear implant is permanent; if for some reason the implantation or activation was unsuccessful or if I decided I just didn't like it, then my understanding is that I couldn't just go back to wearing hearing aids. Finally, I know my hearing aids, how to care for them and what the world sounds like with them. A cochlear implant seems so foreign and I suspect that's where most of my hesitation comes from - a fear of the unknown. 

So I'd really like to hear from others who have a cochlear implant. What prompted you to get one? How do you feel about the results? And if you are deaf or hard of hearing but do not have a cochlear implant - why not? Do you wear hearing aids or use any other assistive listening devices?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I want to help because I want to belong

During my first semester of living on campus, I was the last person to join the suite. There were a total of six girls sharing one bathroom and no kitchen (I'll let you use your imagination to determine how that worked out. I'll give you a hint: not well). The small suite actually had three bedrooms, with two roommates per room. The chore list rotated among each set of roommates and even though I had only been there for a couple of days, I was eager to pitch in. But my new roommate wouldn't hear of it. "Oh no!" she insisted. "You just got here, so it's not fair to ask you to clean up our messes. I'll take care of it."

I couldn't explain to her why her well-meaning brush-off bothered me. I didn't know why I, a devout disciple of disarray, was suddenly verrrry concerned with emptying the trash can. I just knew I was frustrated and I vented my feelings to one of our suite-mates, who basically said, "Well, I told her [my roommate] to let you help her clean so you would feel included!" I still don't know how someone who had only known me a few days was able to tell me something about myself that even I didn't know about, but I'm glad she did. I learned something important that day - inclusion takes on many different forms.

As someone who is hard of hearing, when I complain about not being included, I usually mean that I'm frustrated with being left out of a conversation. I am always trying to position myself strategically so that I can see who is talking. I map out the best place to sit in a room and am learning to do a better job of asking people to clarify when I don't understand something or if I'm not confident I heard them correctly. I ask people to look at me when they talk and occasionally, I've had to had some difficult conversations with friends and roommates when I've been discouraged over being left out. Being able to participate by speaking up and feeling a sense of belonging by being heard are important and, I would guess, often taken for granted by those who can hear. People who are deaf/hard of hearing and people who are hearing need to be aware of this and both parties should take responsibility to ensure inclusive communication for all.

However, what I learned in college, and what I'm still learning today, is that including others and taking steps to include yourself is just half of the equation. I want to be included so that I can participate. I want to be a part of what is going in, to be in the middle of the action, to feel like I belong. I won't always be able to be part of conversations, so I look for other ways to include myself. One of the ways I do that is to help others. I may not be able to catch every piece of the chatter around the dinner table, but I can help clear the dishes and feel like I contributed something to the evening. I can't always keep up with a group of friends, but I can pitch in by watching their kids or helping them move. I may not be able to hear, but there are a lot of things that I can do. Being hard of hearing doesn't render me useless - there is still a lot that I can and want to contribute. So sometimes, when I ask someone, "Can I help you with anything?" what I might really mean is, "Is there anything I can do so that I can feel like I'm part of the group?" (That's not to say that I want someone to just make up a task to make me feel better about myself - I would rather do something that is either genuinely helpful or nothing at all.)

You don't have to be hard of hearing to understand the desire to fit in or to belong. Can you think of a time when you wanted to participate but felt like you couldn't?

And if you are hard of hearing (or know someone who is), do you find yourself offering to help so that you can feel like you are part of the group? Or is that just me?

Monday, July 4, 2011

My Song (and a crash course in BSL)

When I was in college, I had to read a short story whose title I've forgotten already. It was about an old lady who lived in an antebellum mansion and was obsessed with the past and the Civil War (at least I think it was the Civil War. I may be making that up) even though it was after the turn of the century. During the class discussion over the story, I learned a new word - anachronism. The main character was so closely associated with the time period that she was obsessed with that it made her seem out of place in her current setting. She didn't "belong" in the present.

Taking some liberties with the definition, this video reminds me of the same theme. Not really fitting in any one particular world, but trying to find a way to carry on regardless. Anyway, step away from that King of Queens episode that you've seen 729 times and watch this instead.

It's okay if you cried, I did, too. Well, I would have if my eyes weren't fighting a losing battle to stay open. Even though the film was made in Britain and used BSL (British Sign Language... yes, each country has its own sign language), I could relate to Ellen's struggle to fit in. And now I want to brush up on my BSL alphabet! 

Have you ever felt like you didn't quite fit in? How did you respond?