How deaf is she?

A friend sent me a link to a video called “Are You Deaf Enough, by Jessica Killgren-Fozard, which was posted by Ai-Media. Here is the link to the video:

https://www.facebook.com/aimediaAUS/videos/10155585533079220/

In the video, Ms. Kellgren-Fozard talks about how it feels when people ask her how deaf she is. How much can she hear? Why doesn’t she “sound deaf”? The questions and her response reminded me of how I feel when people ask about my daughter Rhia.

How much can she hear? What does she hear? Can she hear me at all? When did she lose her hearing? She looks like she hears me, are you sure she can’t hear my voice? Why doesn’t she wear hearing aids? Have you considered cochlear implants? 

The answers are: I don’t know. I don’t live in Rhia’s skin and I don’t have her ears. There is no way I can know what she does and doesn’t hear. All I can do is guess, just as the doctors and the audiologist have guessed. We think she hears sound, but it’s garbled, like trying to understand a foreign language under water. She doesn’t hear high pitched sounds. How do I know? Because when the smoke detectors go off she doesn’t even flinch. She looks like she hears you because she used to hear so understands that you are speaking to her and she is clever enough to make excellent guesses about what you are probably saying. But that too is my guess. Maybe she can hear you sometimes, but it fades in and out. She tried hearing aids but hated them. A cochlear requires major surgery and she hates that too, so she learned sign language. Any other questions?

The questions are all about what she can and can’t do. People listen to the answers, nod, attempt to communicate with her for about a minute, then move on. Once they have proven to themselves that Rhia can’t hear, they stop trying to talk to her.

Occasionally I am asked, “How should I talk to her?” What a wonderful question! Instead of wanting to know how Rhia adapts, a person will ask how they can adapt to her. I see people try to communicate with her and include her in an activity. It’s not easy and I don’t blame people when they eventually give up. But the ones who really try to connect with Rhia are rewarded with her bright smile. If they know even a little sign language, Rhia beams and says “They know my language!” All it takes is getting close, making sure she’s looking at you and then signing, “It’s good to see you.”

I know when people ask me about Rhia’s hearing they aren’t trying to be rude or cruel; they really want to understand and learn. And most of the time I don’t mind answering. But if you’re going to ask the hard questions, be sure to follow up with a question about communication. How does Rhia like to be included? What is her favorite thing to do? Can you help me sign a question? Does Rhia understand what is happening? How can I help her understand? Would Rhia like a cookie? How do I sign “cookie”?

The more you focus on who Rhia is and learn how to communicate with her, the more you will discover she is a vibrant, funny, kind hearted young woman who loves to sing and go for walks on sunny days. She’s also deaf.

If you like Trump I won’t be your friend anymore, and other extremist ideas.

Polarization doesn’t just effect politics, it also effects friendships.

Recently I’ve seen a lot of chatter on Facebook and Twitter about unfriending/unfollowing people who like Donald Trump. Many people I know have said “A fan of Trump is no friend of mine.” This disturbs me.

I dislike Trump. I would love it if he would stop opening his mouth and saying ridiculous things that make people worship him. And I’m fearful of the hatred his words have fueled. Targeting an entire religion and ethnic group with mistrust and fear is dangerous. Anyone remember WW2? It’s a cliche to compare people to Hitler, but there is a frightening historical similarity between the United States of today and Germany of the 1930’s. People are looking for a savior, someone to “make America great again.” It was the same in Germany in 1929.

Donald Trump and his followers scare me. However, I will not turn my back on a friend or acquaintance who admires him. I will not feed the polarization that threatens my country. Instead, I will try to understand why my friend likes Trump. I will try to engage in conversation, keep communication open, reach out and combat fear and stigma one connection at a time.

“But if you talk to that person, aren’t you supporting them, and in so doing, supporting Trump?” you ask.

No. I do not like, trust, admire or even consider Donald Trump a human being. He represents everything I loath in my country: ignorant wealth. But if I refuse to engage with someone who thinks Donald Trump is the greatest thing since frozen orange juice, how am I different from any extremist in America? Extremists cling to their own world view and hate what they don’t understand. I refuse to hate people.

Even Donald Trump.