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

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Far From the Tree with Hearing Loss Peeps by Nancy M. Williams

Nancy Williams breaks the stereotypical myth that people with hearing loss or deafness can't enjoy music. She shares her passion for music and encourages us to not set limits when it comes to following our passion. Thank you, Nancy, for taking time to guest post and sharing what's on your heart.

Far From the Tree with Hearing Loss Peeps 

By Nancy M. Williams 

I’m going down to Missouri this summer to be with my people. 

St. Louis, Missouri, to be exact, during the last week of June.  This summer will mark my four-year anniversary of going public with my hearing loss. One way I will celebrate my newfound openness is to attend the Hearing Loss Association of America’s (HLAA) convention to be held in St. Louis 

This year I won’t be presenting.  (In 2014, I deeply enjoyed delivering my workshop on Claiming Your Passion…Despite Hearing Loss, and I look forward to presenting again in the future.) I’m attending the convention with an entirely different focus: to savor that unparalleled feeling of being in a room filled with people who also have hearing loss, who also wear hearing aids and cochlear implants, who also look down at people’s lips during conversation to speech-read, who also need the CART screen to catch all the words.  This year I’m going to the convention to hang out with my peeps. 

Social scientists have long advocated that people with a different way of experiencing the world, whether emotionally or physically, feel a sense of communion and validation when they spend time with others who have the same perspective. In his brilliant book, Far From the Tree, Andrew Solomon describes a series of what he calls horizontal communities, groups with similar elemental characteristics, such as people with autism, people who are gay, and of course, people who are deaf. These horizontal groups cut across established and familiar communities of extended family, neighborhoods, or college friends. Take that apple who has fallen far from the tree of her upbringing: it is there, in the horizontal community, that she feels she has finally come home. 

Far From the Tree’s chapter on deafness—I loved the way Andrew Solomon describes people speaking in sign language, “some move their hands and faces precisely, some extravagantly, some playfully, and some with great solemnity”is worth the price of the book alone. Although I currently have a moderate to severe hearing loss, as opposed to being profoundly deaf, and although I don’t eschew the company of people with so-called normal audiograms, I found that this chapter gave shape to feelings I experienced at the 2014 HLAA convention.  I felt calmness, certainty with my purpose in life, even lightness within.  

When I spend time with the hearing loss community, I can be myself down to my core. Here at last is a group of people who understands how it feels to miss words. Here is a group of people willing to repeat the punch line and enunciate their speechHere is a group who sees me first as a pianist, writer, mother and wife, and secondarily as a person with hearing loss. 

When I’m at the 2015 HLAA convention, of course I will miss my husband and our two beloved children. Yet I can’t wait to feel the excitement of the opening night, attend the workshops to learn more about the latest hearing aid technology, and hang out with my new friends I hope to see you there. 

Nancy M. Williams is a leading hearing loss advocate who speaks throughout North America. She is the founding editor of Grand Piano Passion™, an online magazine that explores living and making music with hearing loss. She is also a Board Member of the Hearing Health Foundation, who is researching a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus. Follow her on Twitter at @nmwilliamshear or learn more about booking her as a speaker at nancymwilliams.com 



  1. Thank you for your open and honest thoughts on hearing loss. My family is at the beginning of the journey with my nephew (who lives with me) who is hard of hearing. What you mentioned about people who experience the world differently feeling a sense of communion is so important to me. I want my nephew to feel acceptance in spite of his hearing loss, but also not be ashamed of his condition in any way. I know that he will never have a "normal" life, but at the same time, who does have that? I want the best for him, and hope that he lives life full of gratitude and joy instead of embarrassment, anger or regret. Any advice you have would be fantastic! Thank you. http://www.myhearingassociates.com/hearing-aid-services-parker

    1. I will pass you rmessage on to Nancy, the author of this piece, Caroline.

  2. Caroline, for some reason, blogspot didn't let Nancy publish her response to you. She sent me an email with these words from her:

    Caroline, Thanks for writing about your nephew. I think you are right that there's no such thing as a normal life--I find that my hearing loss has been amongst my most painful struggles but also one of my most surprising blessings. I also think he's very lucky to have someone like you caring for and loving him. The best advice I can give is that he try to be as open as he can about his situation and to also ask for accommodations as often as he can. I certainly wish I had done that earlier. I wanted to share with you some articles I've written that will give a more complete answer to your question:
    1) This one is about how despite being a hearing loss advocate I still find myself trying to fake through conversations when I can't hear:
    2) And here's one about how those of us with hearing loss can be amazing listeners even as we struggle to hear:

    I'm wishing for the best for you and your nephew.


    Nancy M. Williams
    Speaker, Marketer, Writer, Pianist, Hearing Health Advocate
    Founding Editor and Publisher, GRAND PIANO PASSION
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    Hearing: Facebook Twitter