"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive." Anaïs Nin

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

When did that happen?

I had an appointment with my new doctor about my application for a Hearing Service Dog. Fabulous Husband was able to join me for the appointment, and the clinic actually provided an ASL interpreter for me. She was wonderful and so helpful and informative. I should have asked about these kinds of services a long time ago, but I didn't think my hearing was that bad or that help like this was even available. I was in for some interesting news.

The doctor asked at one point about how well I was functioning with my hearing aids. I was about to answer when Fabulous Husband spoke up and said he had a clearer perception of how they were, or rather, weren't helping me as much as I thought. I did not know that he had noticed I have been losing a lot of sounds lately. I thought I was doing better than I actually am.

It was like all those years ago when I went in to get my first pair of hearing aids when I had a moderate loss. When I put those first ones on and stepped outside, I heard birds for the first time in many, many years. BIRDS! When did I stop hearing them? The sounds just slowly fade away at an unnoticeable rate. The gentleman I was married to at the time noticed, however. He was the one who sent me to the doctor. I told him he just needed to speak up and stop mumbling all the time. That was about 30 years ago.

Fabulous Husband said that even with my hearing aids, I'm not hearing as well as I used to. I did notice that once in awhile things were more difficult to hear, due to allergies, I thought. I had no idea it's gotten to the degree it has. When the doctor mentioned I was his first "deaf patient" and referred to me as "deaf" a couple of times, I said I've been using the term "hearing impaired". He went on to explain that hearing impaired is clinical, but the degree of my loss and ability to function with this loss actually categorizes me as "latent deaf". He said "deaf" is accurate and to use this term. I was the last one to know.

I have a friend that I am able to discuss a lot of issues I have with hearing, or the lack there of, and she has a great sense of humor. We are able to laugh about the funny side of "not hearing well." She and I were having lunch one day when I described to her how I was nearly run over by people on bicycles in Harrisburg. First, they have no business on the sidewalks. Secondly, I don't hear them coming up behind me, yet when they pass by nearly missing me, I see them say, "What are you, deaf?" Apparently so.

I text to her the day that the doctor said I was deaf and she text back, "No *&^$%*! I hadn't noticed!"  I can see her smiling and writing that text even now.

I'm left at the end of the day with one nagging thought that is dogging me. When did I become deaf and how is it everyone noticed but me?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Could ASL be the Universal Language of the Future?

I've often heard the sentiment that music is the universal language. I've also heard that love is the universal language.  Language is a funny thing because even within each culture, we have many different dialects. Language can divide us, or bring us together. Communication is at the very core of each and every one of us as people. God designed us to be communicators, to be companions with Him and with each other.

I love watching young children discovering that everything has a word associated with it. You can see the excitement on their faces when they figure that out, and more so when they know that you understand exactly what they are talking about. It begins naturally with pointing to the object and gurgling. Mom or dad are usually quick to pick up on this and put a word to the object. Once the child figures out the sound mom and dad make each time they point to the object, they learn to associate the word they hear with that object.

It is the same with signing. The wonderful thing about signing is that children can do it more easily at an early age before they can speak. It only takes a few tries and they have the hang of it. Research is now showing us that children who learn to sign early in life learn to read sooner and develop verbal language skills more quickly than children who don't.

Many daycare centers and preschools have discovered that children who learn American Sign Language (ASL) together communicate more easily with one another. There are fewer tantrums, fewer miscommunications and more good manners between the children. They are not struggling to understand what each other is saying. They are all "speaking" the same language together, and they are getting along together better.

There is a wonderful program designed by Two Little Hands Production called "Signing Time". If you aren't familiar with it, check it out. They are on PBS early in the mornings. That was where I first discovered them when my son came along. Most libraries carry the series if you can't find it in your local tv listing.

Signing Time not only comes with English spoken and written, it also now comes with spoken and written Spanish, though the signs are still the same. The exciting thing about this program is that it is being taught to children around the world. Children in Japan, South America and other places are learning ASL through the Signing Time series, DVDs or Signing Time Academy instructors.

This presents an interesting question. Will there someday be a universal language? Could American Sign Language be the very language that breaks the communication barrier between the rest of the world. Could the children learning ASL today be the generation to even make that possible? American Sign Language is a recognized language. Many students now need a second language in order to graduate. ASL is accepted and credited to meet that requirement.

Today, children learning ASL in preschool and early elementary school may well find themselves in a sandbox at a park on the other side of the world with another child who has learned ASL. Just three little words are all they need to know to start a friendship. "Hi, Friend. Play?"

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Subtitles/Closed Caption Apps and Open Caption Cinemas

I love discovering new apps that help people continue to be involved with society. Many people will quit going to the theater when they no longer hear well. Why pay money to go see a movie you can't follow because you can't hear it? In some parts of the U. S., there are actually movie theaters that have captions, or English subtitles along the bottom of the screen. With the new smart phones, we now have some pretty smart apps. For a list of Movie theaters that show open captioned films and their times, check the link below. (A shout out to Dustin Conrad for directing me to this website).

I accidentally stumbled upon an app simply called "Subtitles". It has the subtitles for new and old movies. I love this! Go to the App Store on  your phone, search "Subtitles" and there it is. Download it and follow the directions. Of course, not every movie is subtitled, yet, but it's nice to know this is being worked on and people can once again go to the movies and be out around people. It's also FREE.

According to the description written about the app, "You'll be able to access the subtitles of the very latest cinema releases, as well as those for older movies." There are also 20 language translations available. Check out the link below and see for  yourself.

The Company is Daniel Walker    http://subtitles.structure6.com

Friday, June 24, 2011

It's Just Good Manners

I have a serious pet peeve when it comes to telephone manners. I never noticed this until I lost so much hearing I needed to use a relay system to make telephone calls. There are a couple of systems out there, each state has its own. Then there is the relay I use, the Cap Tel relay which users of Captioned Telephones use, or the mobile app for IPhone, Hamilton Cap Tel Relay Service.

The Cap Tel relay system is for people who use their own voice. My phone dials up the relay system and gets a Calling Agent for me who then calls the person I want to reach. When the person answers the phone, there is a pause on THEIR end of the phone while the Calling Agent types to me the phone has been answered, what was said, and whether it is male or female. This takes a few moments while they type the information to me and then I read the captions. The only problem I have is that people expect someone to start speaking right away, and when there is a pause, they hang up. When calling back, they get frustrated and short and sometimes don't answer after that.

I can no longer leave messages on answering machines, or automated answering systems, because the delay causes the systems to think no one is there. They only allow a few seconds, then automatically hang up on us. Ironically, the phone companies are the worst with their automated systems. They are totally inaccessible.

Because I use a Cap Tel system I can't access agencies that use TTY or TDD's only (text teletype or teletext device). The system is incompatible. Forget about locating a public pay TTY phone in PA. I've not found one yet. In Oregon, there were several pay phones around the city that had a tty phone under the standard pay phone.

I love my Cap Tel app. There are still problems I've not worked out as yet. I don't catch incoming calls, and I can't access my voice mail. I tell people who have my number not to leave a message. In fact, just text me and I'll call you. That way they know I'm calling and expect the delay while the Calling Agent sets up the call.

Next time your phone rings and no one speaks right away, don't assume it's a prank call or worse, a breather on the line. Be patient and see if it is a genuine call from someone who just has to use the phone a little differently from you. Someday, you may be the one depending on this kind of phone and calling service. Besides all that, it is just good manners to be patient with your callers and allow them the extra moment.

An Innovative Solution For Alzheimer Patients

While having coffee with a friend today, we got on the topic of Alzheimer's and how one German facility came up with a very innovative solution.

They were having trouble with their patients wandering off, a normal occurrence that comes with the territory. I don't know how they came up with this, but they parked a bus right in front of the facility. The patients would wander onto the bus and sit happily as it drove them around town and brought them back to the facility at the end of the ride. They would get off the bus and go right back inside of the facility on their own. Isn't that a wonderful idea? The patients got to get out a bit and go for a drive. Even though they came back where they started from, it didn't matter. They went somewhere, they were safe, they were happy, and they came back.

Of course, I'm sure it was a non-stop ride. Wouldn't it be nice to have something like that for our own Alzheimer's patients? As my friend Cathy suggested, "Maybe we should try to get into their reality instead of trying to force them back into ours". I think she's on to something.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Naturally Speaking

When I first started losing huge degrees of hearing, I  took initiative and enrolled in Signing Exact English classes at the local college (there were no ASL courses offered at that time). The classes were free, taught by a hearing teacher and a Deaf assistant teacher. As my hearing deteriorated, I also took speech reading classes. These classes were designed to teach a person how to read lips, facial expressions and body language. I still struggle with these visual cues.

Not everyone can learn to read lips. Interestingly, just about everyone can learn to sign. Babies naturally sign before they can speak. In fact, the muscles for speech don't develop for a few years. My son was signing to me before he was 8 months old. I knew if he was hungry or thirsty. I never had to struggle with what he was "saying" or trying to decipher the sounds his little voice was saying because his signing was clear. There was no question about what he needed, no struggling to figure out what was wrong. He knew what he needed and how to communicate with me with a real language, ASL. Anyone else who knew ASL could understand him as well.

We point to things and ask babies, "What's that", or we point and give it a name. Just by pointing, we are naturally signing. We wave, we gesture. It is communication. Children who learn to sign early in life develop better vocabularies and communication skills. When sign is used in conjunction with verbal cues, both sides of the brain fire up. Both languages together result in a person becoming bilingual. That's pretty cool.

We are born to sign, to communicate. It is language. We should be free to use the language we are naturally born with. I'd love to see more schools and day care centers teaching ASL. I'd love to see hospitals give new parents baby ASL books (such as the ones designed by Signing Time, Two Little Hands Productions), and I'd love to see children of all ages communicating naturally with one another in ASL with no barriers or prejudices between them. 

Communication builds relationships, and that's what life is all about. Signing is a natural way of communicating.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I'm sorry, could you repeat that, please?

I've struggled with learning to read lips as I continue to lose my hearing. However, lately, I'm finding I'm not reading lips as well either, and it's getting frustrating. Not just for me but for others. It's frustrating for people to have to keep repeating something I'm having difficulty hearing or trying to figure out.

My mother discovered my secret. She is using it now herself as she is losing her hearing due to the aging process. She is 83. She sees the look of frustration on the faces of those she is trying to communicate with. She told me one day, "I just nod my head along with them in the conversation when they look like they want a response. They get frustrated with me when they have to keep repeating something. Most of the time they repeat the entire conversation, when it is just one word not making sense, yet that one word makes all the difference."

Another problem is sarcasm. As we lose our hearing, we lose the ability to distinguish the tone of sarcasm. Without hearing the tone, we think you are saying the opposite of what you really mean. I had friends who did this all the time. After while, you just give up trying to communicate or follow along because they are saying one thing one moment that is the total opposite of what they are saying the next minute. Very confusing.  

Back to the nodding of the head. My mother and I have found that sometimes keeping the peace and being polite is to simply appear to understand what we don't. To do otherwise causes a person to feel uncomfortable and not want to talk to us anymore, or be at a loss as to how to communicate with us.

I will often ask someone to repeat, but if I have to have them repeat the same phrase or word over and over, I give up in frustration. Then, I just politely nod my head and they will continue with the conversation where they left off.

Often people will ask me if I can hear them. Well, yes. I hear something. But it's difficult to distinguish the sounds. It's difficult to have to explain this to everyone when they ask me that. It's not always a matter of hearing, it's a matter of interpreting what I see on the lips in conjunction with the few sounds I hear. Isn't that confusing? It's like playing Wheel of Fortune with every conversation I have. Ok, I've got a few letters, but look at all those blank squares. It's a constant fill in the blanks and trying to do that while following a conversation. It's difficult and exhausting.

At my son's school one day, I had asked one of the teachers her name. She answered, "Senior Pastor".  I kept asking her name each time I saw her. She continued to give me her title, not her name.  After while, I gave up and quit asking.

Half way through the school year, she sends a nice card to me. It is signed "Senora Kratzer".  Compare that to Senior Pastor and you can see how that can happen. This happens to me ...all....day.....long...

I constantly misinterpret sounds or words. I struggle through as best as I can. I've become very self-conscious  questioning what I'm hearing because I know that often what I think I am hearing or reading on the lips actually is not what is really being said. 

Did that make sense? Often what I think I am hearing or reading on the lips is actually NOT what is being said.

If you and I are talking sometime, and I answer a question oddly, chances are I didn't hear you correctly. It's ok to repeat the question if that happens. I won't know you were asking me something else if you don't. I'll probably apologize and say, "Oh, I saw you say something else".  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Non-verbal Communication Often Speaks Louder than Words

Often, when people start to lose their hearing, they isolate themselves and become alone. This affects them socially, and later in life it is harder to integrate into social gatherings, so they often don't go. If they do go, they struggle so much and feel so out of place, they seldom attempt to go next time. Their perception of the "real world" is going to be different because without sound, the world IS different.

Many people learn to read body language and facial expressions as they become deafened. The world is a conflicting place when dealing with people, because body language and facial expressions often don't fit the words being spoken. Often, body language projects the feelings a stranger has more proficiently than words can.

You should see the children at the school where I volunteer. They are so easy to read. You know when they are happy, sad, curious, or playful  because they are open little books. The school does a wonderful job providing an atmosphere of love and respect. The new children that start late in the middle of the year are welcomed and quickly accepted and thriving in no time at all. They know they are safe. They know they can trust you. They know you are there for them and that you want the best for them. They know they can be vulnerable with you. Open your arms, they run to you for a hug.

I've seen the countenance of lonely people change instantly when someone opens their body language toward them, not even conscious they're doing so. It's interesting to observe groups of people together. I've watched couples sit across the table from one another in restaurants hardly speak to each other, but the moment they get up and wander out the door, their bodies are nestled into one another affectionately. I've seen others talking intensely, uptight and uncomfortable with one another, and I've seen large groups where the elderly aren't participating in the conversations, just looking around or down at their plate. Often, I see them with hearing aids. They are not involved most likely because they can't follow what is going on around them, so they zone out. Then someone comes over and opens their arms toward them. What a difference comes over their countenance.

Body language. It speaks volumes.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Respecting Cultural and Educational Choices

I woke up this morning with a message and a video link someone left as a comment on one of my blog posts.  I am all for free speech, understand, however, just because we are allowed to share our views doesn't mean we should support mean spiritedness, discrimination, bigotry or hatred. I have serious issues when it comes to choices and respect.

Let me explain in a way to make this perfectly clear. Do you want respect? Respect others. Do you want your own culture respected? Respect the culture of others. Do you want the best for yourself? Then respect the best for others, even if you disagree.  Don't ignore someone or a group of people simply because you don't understand them. If they are part of your organization, welcome them, make them feel their presence is valued. 

Deaf schools. I wholly support schools that accommodate and meet students on their own level to provide the best education and atmosphere for a student to reach their full potential. 

It is not about MONEY. It is about people, communication, education, community, culture and relationships and doing what is best for one another. 

What Would You Do?

This is a very short video from "What Would You Do" when a Deaf person went to apply for a job. What is most shocking is the reaction of people who work in Human Resources.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why I Love This Adoption Story

Here is another adoption story, this one by Signing Time's Rachel Coleman. Here is the link for Laura's story:
Laura’s Story

I love adoption stories, such as Rachel and Laura's above. I was adopted by a wonderful woman when I was 11 months old. Back then, it was free to adopt a child through state agencies. There were a few things she had to do before she could come and get me, paperwork, background check, etc. Then she took a train from Oregon and went to Missouri to get me. I still remember a part of that train trip today, but that's for another blog another day.

I adopted Little Fellow in the State of Oregon before I met Fabulous Husband. Little Fellow's birth mother has told me on several occasions she knows that she was to give birth to him and that God's plan was for him to be raised by Fabulous Husband and me. This is not a surrogate situation. This was a young mother with enough love and care toward her birth child to want the best for him and to give him that by placing him in a situation she believed was best for everyone, not just herself. God bless her for her maturity at such a young age! Sometimes letting go is the greatest act of love of all.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Unexpected Gratitude

Fabulous Husband and I are raising a man. He is seven, and this coming week he will be leaving first grade to move up into second grade.

As parents, we have tried to instill graciousness and manners into the young fellow. It isn't easy. It seems we're always reminding him or nagging him to remember "please", "thank you" and "sorry", along with all the other words that help us become friends with others and develop relationships.

We had grilled chicken and corn on the cob for dinner tonight. These are Little Fellow's favorite. He was munching away happily when he looked across the table at Daddy and said, "Thank you for buying this food." There was a moment of shock and delight as Fabulous Husband and I looked at one another. We were delightedly surprised and pleased that this came from Little Fellow all on his own.

It was gratitude offered simply and straightforward from his heart. It made me feel good to see Little Fellow actually acknowledge that dad works hard to help provide for us. We thank God in prayer for our meal every day, but how often do we thank the person God used to provide that meal for us?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

It's Not A Death Sentence, Just A Deaf Sentence

I had a friend many years ago who lost his hearing when he fell down his back porch steps. He hit his head in the fall and his hearing was gone in an instant. He was only 5 years old.

I've been losing my hearing over the course of many, many years slowly, not even at a noticeable rate. We often play the "What if" game or "Would you rather be this, or be that". We tend to compare which is worse, and which we would rather have.

Life situations many times are not a matter of choice, they are thrust on us in unexpected ways. Then, there are times we are allowed glimpses of what is coming. Either way, we can either stop and just brace ourselves for the worst, or we can accept and prepare and find out what we can do with the situation. In other words, we can stop living altogether, or we can find out how to live with the unexpected situation the best way we possibly can.

I was asked this week by Sarah, whom I follow on Twitter, how I felt about the discovery that my hearing loss is no longer termed so much as "hearing impaired" but "deaf". In many ways it's a relief that I no longer have to play the "Can you hear this?" game as people ask if I can hear the little bell on the counter at the register in the store or the cell phone ringing, etc. They tend to ask Fabulous Husband, "Can Joyce hear this..that..and the other". We understand the curiosity, we're curious, too, but there are so many other things we could be discussing. By simply stating I'm deaf, the understanding that I can't hear those sounds is already there, and people will communicate more clearly and bypass the hearing test and questions and get on with discussing other interesting things.

So how do I feel about using the term "deaf" over "hearing impaired"? Life is the same, we continue to adjust and modify things where sound and communication are involved. We continue to learn, adapt and live. I am deaf. It's not a death sentence, just a deaf sentence.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Last Day

Today was bittersweet. It was my favorite day of the week because I spent it with the most precious students. However, it was the last day of Sign Language class for this school year. I won't see most of them until October when we start up our next levels of ASL classes together.

I have to brag on my First Grade class. Their teacher was telling me that when they went on their field trip last Thursday to a nature reserve, the students signed to one another the creatures they were seeing on the trail. They were so quiet on the walk, that they did not scare away the animals with verbal chatter. They were communicating quietly with one another with the signs they had learned in class. You should have seen their faces as they showed me in ASL all the creatures they saw, turtles, birds, snakes, bugs, butterflies, I can't remember what else. I'm so proud of them! From what I understand, they shared these signs with the guide who led them on their expedition through the park.

The Kindergarten class gave me beautiful flowers as a parting gift, and my First Graders wrote me notes I will save and treasure for years to come. Their gifts touch my heart deeply, their hugs of goodbye even more. I honestly told each class they were my favorite class. It's true, because the kids in each class are my favorite people.

I'm already looking forward to the next school year. I know it's going to be a good one, too.