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Day by Day:
The Chronicles of a Hard of Hearing Reporter|
You Are One of Millions
The more I wrote columns related to hearing loss, the more letters I received. People wanted information, answers, and, most of all, people wanted out of their lonely, muffled world. Receiving these letters humbled me and gave a voice to readers. This also showed me I was doing what I was meant to do—write about what I know to reach out to others. I was learning about many lives different from mine other than our shared hearing loss. SNP’s copydesk secretary, Dorothy Stoyer, told me I received more letters than many other people. I’d see her short, curly-haired figure walking slowly toward my desk, smiling. Since she was metaphorically tied to her desk, having to answer phones and faxes, I knew the news was good as long as she smiled. She loved handing letters to me and saying, “Here’s another one, Liz.” Dorothy worked daily to help me succeed as a reporter by listening to my phone messages, taking detailed messages for me, and cueing me into the internal nuances of the newsroom. Her glee over the positive letters was a boost to my self-confidence.
Even though I am naturally gregarious, I had not yet found my niche as a whole person; I knew I had to break loose of my closed world, despite the onset of my deafness. My bluffing was not working well anymore, and with the support of friends like Dorothy, I became more true to myself. It would be impossible to count the times I floundered, answered questions incorrectly, and led conversations so I would know the topic. I felt as through I was constantly blushing from embarrassment throughout most of my adult life as a result of these mistakes. Through this personal pain, I learned how to advocate for myself and got better at explaining my hearing loss to others. The words flowing from my lips gradually became more natural; I began to understand myself more clearly as a deaf person.
Comments from hearing people who “just don’t get it” can be painful. “Turn your hearing aids up,” or one of my least favorite, “Oh, never mind.” My knowledge of hearing loss continued to grow as my hearing spiraled down. I learned how lonely hearing loss can be even though my husband and grown children were patient.
I began learning sign language in my forties. My teachers were all born Deaf and several were raised in hearing families who did not learn sign language and primarily used speaking as the main mode of communication. The children born Deaf were taught to speak, which is considered oralism in Deaf Culture, and were discouraged from using signs. This was shown in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. One of my teachers, Lori, told our class that even though she was born deaf to hearing parents, she was not allowed to use gestures to communicate. She was forced to function as an oral, deaf person until she was 16. I could see the pain on her face and later realized that she must have come to terms with this difficult part of her childhood as an adult because she did not elaborate further on this. I never discussed this with Lori, but I do know she was active in the first demonstration at Gallaudet University for the “Deaf President Now” rallies and she was proud of it. Maybe she moved on as an adult brushing the dust off her sandals as she walked away from her hearing family who forced oralism as her form of communication. If she reads my book, I hope I hear from her and learn the answer.