My Turn: Hearing-impaired people need friends and some patience

Terri Goldstein is a retired educator, who is now a collage artist.
(From Terri Goldstein)

Imagine yourself in a country where nobody speaks your language. It becomes a necessity to rely on your other senses and hone your powers of observation. You welcome the times when you can “fill in the blanks” and get the gist of a conversation. Each situation is stressful: Will you be a participant or an observer?

This is the life of a hearing-impaired person.

We are not deaf, and, therefore, most of us do not read lips, sign or wear hearing devices 100% of the time. We try to preserve whatever hearing we have left. We walk softly on the fine line between the hearing and deaf communities.

Even our friends are selected carefully. We cultivate friendships based on who is sensitive to our needs. They are the people who are willing to speak a little louder and more distinctly. They are the people who are willing to repeat themselves if they see from your expression that you didn’t hear all that was said. They don’t wait for you to apologize or “phase out” of a difficult-to-hear conversation. They make sure that you never feel ashamed because of your disability.


Each day is a series of plans — how to seat yourself and others so that you have the best hearing advantage, where to go for business meetings and social events to avoid loud, busy places, etc. However, sometimes it is difficult to control the situation.

Envision going to the theater or movies only to find the audience laughing with delight when you have no idea why. Maybe you smile or chuckle to camouflage your discomfort, hoping that this will not recur throughout the movie. These facilities usually offer headsets, which enable you to amplify the volume. Unfortunately, many are not well maintained and cause a static-like sound. It is always a pleasure — and a surprise — when we can enjoy a movie without struggling.

We sometimes avoid talking on the phone, knowing that we may need you to repeat yourself several times. You can understand why some of us choose to communicate by email or text!

We arrive at speaker functions and seminars at least 30 minutes early, so that we can get a much needed front-row seat.

Even in the health club, we wear our hearing aids to help follow the class routines. We certainly don’t want to be caught doing push-ups when the rest of the group is doing sit-ups.

In spite of our disability, many of us continue to be social and take part in group activities. There is always the fear of asking a question that has already been asked and answered. We understand that you may find it funny, but please know that it is mortifying to us.

On occasion, we may try to monopolize the conversation in order to control what is being said. Even with all the accommodations we give ourselves, all too often we mix up or miss words. We go home feeling embarrassed and wonder why we subject ourselves to group functions.

This is not meant to be a sad commentary. Please do not pity us and certainly don’t avoid us. We are very functional and grateful for the hearing ability we still have. We simply need “a little help from our friends.”


Goldstein is a retired educator who is now a collage artist in Newport Coast. She can be reached at