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March 24, 2011

Ask the Attorney – April 2011

Filed under: Columns from Our Towne Magazine, General — Paul Czech & Associates @ 4:16 pm


I don’t think it’s possible to understand what it’s like to be disabled until you actually are disabled.  I’m not saying that you can’t be sympathetic.  I’m sure all of us are that in one way or another, even if it is simply based on the premise of being thankful that you are not the one who is afflicted.  But unless you lose the ability to use one or more of your senses or until you become physically incapable of moving the way most people in the world can, you can’t know how difficult it is to live with a handicap.

I am getting this experience first hand.  Since I became ill in January of this year, I have been unable to hear and I have been diagnosed as having a “profound hearing loss”.  That seems to be the politically correct way of saying I am deaf although I am uncertain as to why the term deaf is inappropriate and offensive.  Perhaps it is not and it is simply too narrow a term to be applied to the number of different types of hearing losses that can occur.  For instance, my particular loss resulted from an infection and, because of the way the loss came about, there are certain hearing loss remedies that cannot be applied to me.  Hearing aids will not work for me because the infection actually damaged a part of my ears that sends the sound signal to my auditory nerve and onto my brain.  Since the signal can no longer be sent, simple amplification of sound will not correct my hearing problem.  The only potential solution for me, so I am told, is to have implants surgically placed in my ears that will bypass the affected area and send a signal directly to my auditory nerve potentially allowing me to regain all or some of my hearing.  If my audiotory nerve had been damaged, the implant solution would not work for me either.  I have a very good friend who was born without one of her ears and with a profound hearing loss in the one she has as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome.  She manages to get by very well with a hearing aid supplemented by an amazing ability to read peoples lips as they speak.  Like I said, or sort of said, there are many different types of hearing losses and all of them are very different.

I have no such ability to read lips or sign language which is why I am all too aware of how isolated you can be when you are disabled.  My friends and colleagues, who have all been very supportive and completely understanding, are often, innocently, and unintentionally the worst offenders.  Everything starts out okay – everything is written down (yes…I’ve been killing lots of trees these days) or typed into a laptop and we manage to communicate quite nicely with each other.  And then they get tired of writing or typing and they start talking amongst themselves and, before you know it, twenty minutes has gone by and the only communication I’ve had are with the private thoughts rattling around in my own head and I get lost in my own world.  While my visitors are conversing about who knows what, I’m usually listening to music or figuring out what the next topic will be for this column.  It’s music mostly.  That great jukebox in my mind is always cycling through some music catalogue or another. I’ve found this to be the only way to get through long, tedious, claustrophobic bone scans and MRIs.  I pick a song and begin playing from beginning to end and, if I slip up on the lyrics or play some notes in the wrong order, I start from the beginning again.  It’s a great way to kill time during medical procedures but it proves to be rather antisocial when I’m sitting with a group of friends, family or colleagues.  Unfortunately, I am left no other choice when, instead of communicating with me, they talk amongst themselves and I am left completely in the dark.  And what if this hearing loss had been something I was born with instead of something that came upon me after I had already had a chance to develop a mental catalogue of memories, images, sounds and ideas?  I can not even begin to imagine the loneliness or the feeling of isolation that someone afflicted in that way has to live with.  Perhaps it’s not lonely at all but, instead, simply different.  If you’ve never heard sound then you don’t rely on it.

And then there’s the frustration.  I’m not talking about mine – I think I’ve already explained mine.  I’m talking about the frustration that I see in those around me.  I believe it comes from the fact that we, as non-disabled people, never really have to think about communicating with each other when all of our senses are intact.  However, when one of those senses is broken or missing, we have no idea as to how to adapt ourselves so that we can communicate with a disabled person appropriately.  For instance, I cannot tell you how many times someone finds out that I can not hear and, for some reason, I can see them opening their mouths wider, speaking louder, in an attempt to speak to make me hear them.  It’s a nervous reaction, really, that stems from not knowing what to do or how to communicate appropriately.  And hand gestures – I never know what they are supposed to mean because they have no context for me and I find myself simply guessing as to which of the many meanings the communicator is relying on.  Of course, after my third or fourth incorrect guess, I can see the frustration on the communicators face as they begrudgingly find a pen and some paper to write down what they want me to know.  Which is probably what they should have done in the first place.

My ears may not work but my other senses still do.  And believe me, I’m very grateful for that.

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