Emily Howlett: 5 differences between hearing people and deaf people who can hear

Posted on February 20, 2015

So, deafies come in all shapes and sizes. We also come with a wide, wide, range of hearing abilities.

However, even those among us who use devices to help restore some hearing (hearing aids, BAHAs, Cis, e.t.c) are still fundamentally deaf.

And still fundamentally different to those profoundly hearing folk. Don’t believe me? With my usual lack of respect for structure, grammar or, well, anything, I shall now explain…

#1 – Judgement

It doesn’t matter what your actual level of hearing is with aids; you still don’t ever have quite the ability to judge this input in the same way hearing people can.

Loudness is one of the more obvious examples; hearing aids in particular tend to just amplify everything to the same extent, so although you might be able to tell if a room is frat-party-noisy or library-quiet, you don’t really have anything more subtle to work with. No in-between.

This, then, is the difference between a hearing person listening to music in their car (with their passengers humming along happily), and a deaf person listening to music in their car (with their passengers wearing protective earmuffs and grimaces).

It isn’t only loudness though; there are other things that get missed. Electronic hearing tends to gloss over small nuances like tone of voice and richness of sound.

Particularly if you can’t see a person’s face or body language, when heard through an electronic device their voice alone will often give very few clues as to intention or emotion.

This can be confusing at best, upsetting at worst. Well, no, actually; at worst it leads to murder and mayhem. That’s not just me, right?

#2 – Awareness

Hearing people get an easy ride in terms of being able to behave well when out in public. Hearing people tend to choose of their own free will when they want to make a spectacle of themselves.

Deafies? Not so much.

Hearing aids and implants generally have microphones that point away from the wearer, the better to pick up sounds from the world around them.

While this makes excellent sense, it also means that it can be very difficult for deaf people to hear themselves at all, and even harder to judge the little that they do.

So, yeah… Sometimes we shout about how awful the wedding buffet is just as everyone goes supremely silent ready for the first dance.

Sometimes we talk so quietly people think we might be in the throes of some deep personal anguish, even though the conversation is about puppies and bluebells. Sometimes this is because we can’t actually hear ourselves. Sometimes, this is 100% on purpose. That’s not just me, right?

#3 – Proximity

There is a mysterious concept around sound, which hearing people accept as just simple fact, but which is sometimes quite baffling to a deafie.

Do you know what they can do? It’s basically super-human. Hearing people can listen to a sound, and know exactly where it came from. They can gauge distance and direction. They can do this without even thinking about it. Bully for them.

For a deafie, listening to the half-world through half-ears, this task is about as attainable as reaching the moon in a rocket made of yoghurt pots, powered by jam.

Not being able to do this is an everyday situation for deafies that hearings tend to struggle to grasp, with it being so second-nature that they don’t even notice themselves doing it. Bully for them.

But it’s also downright annoying. You never know which way to look first to locate the source of a sound. You never know who is speaking, until they’ve finished, so group conversations with those pesky speaky-heary people are a constant game of catch-up.

Worst yet, all the sounds you do hear just suddenly arrive right there in your brain. There is no difference between the gentle click-click-click of a rabbit drinking from its bottle across the room and someone playing bagpipes under your earlobe.

There’s no differentiation; if you can hear it, you can hear it insistently and internally, but that doesn’t mean it’s clear or makes any sense. It also means you can’t quite be sure if it’s the rabbit, or if that Scottish busker followed you home after all. That’s not just me, right?

#4 – Mercy

Deaf people are ruthless; we show literally no mercy in any arena. Oh wait, that’s not what I was getting at… I mean the opposite. Let me continue…

Hearing people just go out and about, doing whatever they want to do, listening to stuff. Generally speaking, their ears don’t just suddenly stop participating in this listening.

Their hearing is continuous and constant and any other things beginning with ‘C’ that mean it doesn’t break down. This is not true for deafies. We are at the mercy of our electronic friends. Who, in turn, are at the mercy of their battery life.

It is not uncommon for our hearing to literally die spontaneously, often without warning because we can’t actually hear the beeps that are supposed to signal the impending death.

And then, worst yet; we are at the mercy of our own brains remembering to carry spare batteries at all times. Which is a lot to ask of a teeny tiny brain. Hmm. That one’s just me, right?

#5 – Tuning Out

Of course, there’s an upside to all this. There’s quite a few reasons why, actually, we don’t want to hear the same as those guys out there with the cheek to define themselves as ‘hearing’.

The cheek! The audacity! (Audio? Aural? Audacity? Did you see what I did there? No? Ok.)

Quite a few reasons, indeed. They often get mentioned among these hallowed pages. But there’s one reason that stands head and shoulders and deaf ears above the rest; we can turn our hearing off.

We don’t have to listen to scary noises at night. We don’t have to wear earplugs to house parties, and know we’ll still have earache the next day.

We don’t have to pay attention to anything that bores us, just by dint of hearing it. We don’t have to endure train or bus journeys with information about every single stop being piped into our brains.

We just switch off. Which, amazingly, solves all those other things too. Or, at least, means they completely cease to matter. Who’d have thought it?

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