- Helen Keller
What Helen Keller means is that deafness / hearing loss is not just a difficulty/inability to hear, but more of a difficulty/inability to communicate with hearing people via audio only. This is what makes us left out, even those with mild hearing loss.
Before understanding communication needs and abilities, it is necessary to understand the nature of deafness and hearing loss first.
It can happen anytime to anyone, so it is not limited to senior citizens. Only 28% of people lose hearing due to age – actually, age is the second cause of hearing loss after the prolonged exposure to noise which is the leading cause of hearing loss that makes it 33.7% of people having it. The number of people with hearing loss has increased rapidly due to their constant exposure to environmental noise and listening to portable music devices. 17% of people lose hearing due to illness or injury and only 4.4% are born with hearing loss. The remainder 16.8% of people have hearing loss due to unknown causes.
Contrary to a popular thought, not all deaf kids come from deaf families. According to Center for Hearing and Communication, over 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents.
The most common and IRREVERSIBLE hearing loss is sensorineural which means that hair cells in an inner ear’s cochlea are damaged. The more hair cells are damaged, the more severe hearing loss is.
You may compare a cochlea to a piano – hair cells are similar to notes representing a certain frequency. When hair cells are intact, you hear sounds as they are supposed to be – so is music produced on a piano with well functioning keys. If some keys are not working, piano produces a distorted music. It is no different from how a person with hearing loss hears due to damaged hair cells. Cochlea is a very tiny organ, only a bit larger than a pin head.
There are various degrees of hearing loss. They are measured in decibels and hertz and are recorded in an audiogram.
The Starkey website has a hearing loss simulator to give hearing people an idea of what it is like to have a certain degree of hearing loss. There’s no simulator for profound hearing loss because you hear practically nothing without a hearing aid/cochlear implant.
You can also view the video below to get an idea what it is like to have a certain degree of hearing loss.
(Video: Hearing Loss Simulation)
The more severe our hearing loss is, the more dependent we are on our eyes and other senses than hearing – which means that many of us are very visual by relying more on writing, lipreading, sign language, facial expressions, body language, etc.
We are also more sensitive to vibrations than hearing people. For example, some of us may not hear a person tapping a table with a pen, but it sends out a vibration if our arms are on a table, and we can feel it. Same with loud music – some of us may not hear it, but feel it.