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Cochlear Implants, hearing loss and more! I carry an interesting perspective: someone who had normal hearing growing up, lost it all slowly as an adult, then regained it with cochlear implants. So I'm deaf, but I can hear - a true miracle. If you'd like to know more about me and my bilateral cochlear implant experiences right away, my two books have a wealth of information - see the links below. Check out the list of upcoming events too - perhaps one day we'll get to meet!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cochlear Implant Realities - even in elevators

This week I attended the New Jersey Governor's Conference for Women, held in the Atlantic City Convention Center.  It was my third time attending this event, and I looked forward to it. The focus of this conference is to empower, with a full schedule of networking receptions, workshops and inspirational speakers.  With my bilateral cochlear implants, I'm much better equipped to "work a room" at the networking receptions - something impossible to do if you can't flit from one person to the next seamlessly and confidently.  I could also function quite well at the workshops, but used an assistive listening device at the huge plenary sessions in the cavernous convention hall with 1000 other women.

One of the workshops really struck a chord with me - "Creating Your Personal Elevator Pitch" - a how-to of making a good first impression in 30 to 60 seconds.  As the panel presenters gave their helpful tips, it dawned on me that all of them were making a big assumption - being able to hear.  I'm not shy at these events, so I jumped at the chance to explain to the packed room that "elevator speeches" had particular relevance for me.  I wrote about talking to people in elevators in my first book, Hear Again.  When my hearing was at the profound level, whenever I entered an elevator, I would hope that people wouldn't talk to me, simply because I wouldn't be able to understand them and respond.  I would actually avert my eyes away from the people in the elevator, as I tried to avoid communication - and embarrassment.  My cochlear implants changed that - with my first one bringing me back to communicating with people, and then my bilateral CIs, allowing me to connect to the people around me.  No "better side" anymore, and that, too, is empowering.

I felt obligated to bring my personal perspectives to the attention of that roomful of hearing people.  I'm sure they all probably take their normal hearing for granted, but perhaps I opened their eyes a bit.  I also described my books and advocacy - and got a round of applause.  As usual, someone came over to me after the session, asking for help in coping with her own hearing loss - a perfect example of networking and empowering.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cochlear Implants Meet Motor Vehicles Bureaucracy

It would seem that a simple trip to the Motor Vehicles Bureau to renew a driver's license should be no big deal. With totally normal hearing, that would certainly be the case.  Just bring the proper forms, stand on this line and that line, take a photo, get the license and be on one's way.  With a hearing loss - no matter what the level or mode of communication - it is not quite that simple.  My recent experience - a trip to the Motor Vehicles Bureau to renew my driver's license - is a case in point.

Of course, now that I have bilateral cochlear implants, I'm much better equipped to handle a situation like this - certainly better than before. I could go there with some degree of confidence, but it was still a minefield of unknowns.

The adventure began with the renewal form.  In New Jersey, there's a box that asks if you have any physical condition, and a place to explain.  I had heard from other people that New Jersey was requiring some sort of letter from a hearing professional certifying that a person had a hearing loss, so that it could be indicated on the driver's license.  Hearing is not a requirement to drive, but I pondered whether I should check off "YES" to a physical condition. There was nothing about needing a letter - just that YES/NO question.  I checked off YES, and put "hearing loss" as the explanation.  I wanted to be totally honest, since the form required my signature attesting to its accuracy. And with that YES began the great unknown.  What would they do with that information?

My mind raced to previous experiences - like in New York many years ago, where they actually gave me a rudimentary hearing test right on the spot!  Or when I tried to get hearing loss indicated on my New Jersey license, but the woman looked at me and said I was hearing her fine. (I was lipreading most of what she said.)  So with that as background, and having that YES box checked, I was no longer like the hearing people standing on line with me.  I was not having the simple experience they were having.

I clutched my papers as I inched towards the reception desk.  When it was my turn, I watched the agent carefully as he went through my paperwork. This was the first challenge because these people look down at the papers, and talk to you at the same time - so no lipreading.  And I understood him - so there was no indication of hearing loss there.  He looked at my Passport, my Debit Card, my Driver's License. And then the Renewal License application card with that YES box checked - the longest moment of all.  No comment at all about it - just proceed to the next desk.  A sigh of relief, but on to the next trial.

At the next desk - again they checked all the papers - again they looked down as they spoke to me - again I understood what they were saying.  And again, they didn't do anything special about that YES box checked off.  Just follow the red line to the next station.  Another sigh of relief.

The next station was really a test of directionality - and I was hoping my bilateral cochlear implants were up to the task.  There were six agents with the line feeding from the middle - so three were to the left and three were to the right.  I would need to know which agent was calling out "NEXT".  I wasn't sure if I could do that - but sure enough, I heard something to my left, and saw a woman waving her hand to come over.  Again, they talked while looking down at the papers.  Did I want to keep the picture from my previous license - YES. How was I going to pay?  Swipe the credit card when I'm ready.  I followed all the instructions - and she handed me my new driver's license.   I did it!!

I looked at the back and it said "No Restrictions."  So, for all the doubt and worry, I came through fine.  I don't know what would have happened if I weren't able to hear well enough to get through this process without raising awareness about my hearing loss.  That's the unknown here.  But the reality still is that something as simple as renewing a driver's license is just not simple for anyone with a hearing loss - even if they can hear.