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?