Alone in the
Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School
I was the middle child out of five.Like Father, Like Daughter?
I grew up in New England, the middle of five widely spaced children, to parents who were both from immigrant families. My mother knew my father had a hearing loss when she married him, as did his father, grandfather, and one of his uncles. They all functioned just like ordinary people. So when Miss Voight called her to express concern about me, my mother was not surprised. She promptly took me to the Greenwich Hospital Speech and Hearing Clinic, and soon I had my first hearing aid at age five. The audiologist surmised that the loss had been gradual because my language development was normal and I was already (the tests showed) an expert lipreader.
From then on, my mother would remind me, “Gina, you have to tell people that you can’t hear them.” But at a very young age, I came to dread telling other people. As an adult, I recognized, on my own, a very important reason for this dread. Telling them did not solve the problem. Telling them didn’t change the fact that I could not hear them. And in reality, it wasn’t that I couldn’t “hear” them.
During my elementary years, I had a 50-dB hearing loss. I could hear people’s voices, but my speech discrimination was such that unless we were in a quiet environment and by a stroke of luck or the grace of God they spoke clearly, everything sounded like a bunch of noisy gibberish. The kids at Cos Cob School and on Mead Avenue, with very rare exception, didn’t know what to do in order for me to be able to decipher their cacophony. Even the adults didn’t know.