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Clear voices

Posted Jan 20 2010 10:37am

voicesI have been getting to know a lady called Amanda with a cochlear implant and seeing how she copes. She has a blog about her cochlear implant, Journey Through Advanced Bionic Cochlear Implant UK, but it’s so much better to hear about the CI experience at first hand.

I have been amazed as she is just like a hearing person.  Before her CI, she was just like me, profoundly deaf and lipreading what she could. She has had her CI for one year. What has been interesting to see is how she interacts with hearing people and I … um… don’t.

I worry about talking to hearing people because I know it is likely I won’t be able to understand them. Plus, they might not be able to understand me. So when I go to social events or have to network for work, I am petrified.  Lipreading is soooo hard. Most people mumble, talk with food in their mouth, look away when talking, maybe they have a moustache or beard, there is too much distracting background noise, the list goes on and on. When networking, I don’t know what to do, how to behave, or what to say, because I have never heard other people network a crowd.  Why doesn’t someone teach deaf people how to do this? It’s not a skill that I can just pick up by observing other people, I have to be told how to do it.

We went to the SWPP exhibition in Hammersmith.  Amanda is a wedding photographer and offers a unique service producing captioned wedding videos. Amanda was networking with the exhibitors, networking with a capital N. She made it look so easy. She had no trouble hearing people and she was firing responses right back at them. Afterwards, she said it was so funny, I was stood there like a rabbit caught in the headlights, watching them, back and forth, back and forth. I didn’t have a clue most of the time what was being said.

The same thing happened in a pub. We went to a large brewery-run pub and I had my hearing dog with me. The bar staff said I couldn’t bring my dog in. I explained he is a hearing dog and just like a guide dog, he is allowed everywhere. She kept saying they have food and don’t allow dogs. I couldn’t really understand her as she had a foreign accent, so Amanda did the talking. The bar staff kept going to speak to the manager and she said we could go elsewhere or sit outside. Outside? In the freezing cold, snow and ice on the pavements, and it was dark …. why should I want to?? I said you are discriminating against me, because you are telling me I can’t have my hearing dog with me, and I need my dog for my disability. She said she isn’t discriminating against me. I don’t know how she worked that one out. In the end the manager came out. I couldn’t understand him either so Amanda did the talking. In the end he apologised and said he had looked up hearing dogs on the internet and it is okay to have him in the pub. He said, however, that the bar staff was only doing her job. Oh really…..  ! It is up to them to know the law and that there are 7 different kinds of assistance dogs and they are all allowed into places with food, as long as they have their coat on. I tried to explain but both the bar staff and manager kept talking over me and talking to Amanda. Amanda said my voice is too quiet and they couldn’t hear me, so they wouldn’t respond to that but prefer to respond to her, as she could speak more clearly and loudly than I did. I always forget that you need to raise your voice in noisy places as I can’t tell if someone can hear me or not, I can’t tell if my voice is too quiet or too loud.

So how we project ourselves and how we respond to other people talking, really affects the communication between a hearing and deaf person. The hearing person needs patience and understanding of the difficulty and communication tactics, they need deaf awareness; and the deaf person needs understanding of what is difficult for the hearing person and how to project their voice, they need hearing awareness. Not enough training going around, is there!

The CI will really help to bridge this communication gap as I have seen with Amanda. With the CI, there is still difficulty for a lot of people with discriminating voices in noisy environments. Advanced Bionics, who I have chosen for my CI, have a new software programme coming out in the UK in March, called ClearVoice. This automatically analyzes and adapts to different situations, separating noisy sounds from speech. Just what I need!  I tried listening to a ClearVoice demo with my hearing aids and I could tell the difference even through my crappy hearing aids. I’m really excited and can’t wait to try it out for real. Whoo wooo wooo!

Fancy trying it out for yourself?  ClearVoice demonstration – look for the blue box on the right of the screen after the jump.

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