Until I was 14 I had perfectly normal hearing. That October, it was 1993, I had a minor cold (really more like “sick of school”) and that led to a stuffy feeling and a very loud ringing in my ears. I went back to school after the weekend and things sounded very odd… a stuffy, underwater, echoy, type sound. And quiet sounds weren’t audible at all.
I’ll skip describing the doctor visits and hospital time and steroids and stuff for now and say that I ended up with a moderate to severe bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. The ENT didn’t want me to have amplification because he was afraid it might damage my hearing more, so we held off until late December to get hearing aids. I had tutors teach me at home for those weeks before I got hearing aids. I loved that
My audiologist was wonderful, we would talk for a long time after finishing testing since I usually saw her at the end of the day. My speech discrimination was very high for my hearing loss. My hearing aids worked well until the next August when my loss dropped suddenly to a moderate to profound level. I figured something was wrong with my hearing aids, but nope. I think that happening now would affect me more than it did then. I just got stronger hearing aids.
In high school I had my class mates take notes for me, and apart from a few troublesome teachers things weren’t much different. I sat in the front of the class. I got good grades and graduated 4th out of 140 or so.
In 10th grade (or was it 11th?) I decided I wanted to study mechanical engineering so I could be a rollercoaster designer. I went to visit an open house at NTID at RIT in Rochester, NY. All day long I had to tell people they needed to speak to me as I didn’t know sign language. They were all happy to do that and made it effortless to communicate. It was such an amazing trip! I was ready to enroll that day but had years of high school left to finish. I did a week-long summer program at NTID in 1996 going into my senior year. That was my first immersion in deaf culture. It was interesting to say the least.
To sum up, I’ve had experiences with deaf culture, especially in college, but for the most part my friends are hearing and I depend on lipreading. I work as an engineer, but not designing rollercoasters. Most people who know me say that they forget that I’m deaf, or they don’t believe that I am really. Or you know, their great aunt wears a hearing aid, so they’re used to it. And that’s fine.
On the other side, I’ve found that when people are told ahead of time that I’m deaf they will overcompensate, either by trying to sign, or by raising their voices way too loud. What should they do? Well, mostly just make sure they’re facing me when they talk, and if my answer doesn’t make sense I probably guessed wrong at what you said, just repeat it for me. And don’t expect me to be able to follow a group conversation with ease unless I’m leading it. 🙂