Hear me so I can hear you

Story by Parker Hutson, Staff Reporter

Footsteps on a sidewalk, birds chirping, and hearing someone yell from afar to get your attention: these are all things that people with hearing take for granted. 

What would school and life be like without hearing or while having a hearing disability? I spoke with my best friend Leigh Ann Cowan, a senior English major, about her experiences with hearing impairment. 

“I was born with it (hard of hearing), but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was five years old,” Cowan said. She has hearing aids which amplify the sounds they receive, but they don’t help her to understand them. They simply help her hear sounds she can already pick up to make it easier for her to listen and understand. 

“This world is a hearing world. Everything, like PSA announcements and fire alarms, is made for and by hearing people. This means that I have to ask for accommodations all the time, and usually they don’t have accommodations,” she said. 

“This school is a majority of hearing people, so there’s not really anything for deaf people to do. Like, there’s a lot of concerts, which is great, but for people who can’t hear those kind of things it’s just kind of…Eh,” she pointed out. 

Recently, there have been more interpreters raising awareness to the importance of the experiences they help to provide to those with hearing disabilities. 

“Interpreters are good for people who know sign language, but I don’t know sign langue, although I’m trying to learn,” Cowan said. “My parents raised me to lip read, which basically means I have to guess what people are saying all the time.” 

Many people with hearing disabilities learn to read lips either intentionally or over time and experience naturally. However, it can pose a challenge in the classroom. 

“A lot of teachers tend to walk around when they talk, talk to the board while they’re writing, read off their PowerPoint slides, or talk behind the computer. So, that’s always difficult,” Cowan explained. 

“We also usually have class discussions, which means my head is going everywhere and I can’t see people on the other side of the room or behind me, so I never know what they’re saying and I’m always missing out on something.” 

How can teachers help remedy this issue for students with hearing impairments? One professor helped cater to Cowan’s needs by moving the class to a conference room. 

“We could sit around the table and I can see everyone to read their lips. That was really cool,” Cowan recalled. “But if you have a big classroom, you can’t really do that, so another professor of mine has us get in small groups a lot, and that works too.” 

Sadly, outside of the classroom, Cowan notes that it’s very difficult to make changes on campus. 

“The campus is a majority hearing, so they kind of have to budget for that I guess. A lot of the stuff they do costs money, so they try to get the majority of people to come to it (functions/events) to make up for what they spend,” Cowan pointed out. 

Since Cowan is among a minority on campus, she notes that it would be awkward to hold a major event for such a small group. “But I guess one thing they could do is to have a class for learning sign language or a sign language club to kind of get hearing people involved in the deaf culture,” she suggested. 

Still, until that day comes, Cowan and her peers are feel entirely left out. 

“I feel, and my friend who is also hard of hearing here on campus feel excluded a lot of times by people. And it’s not because they are doing it on purpose, but because they don’t understand what we need because it’s easy to forget,” she said. 

“Deafness is an invisible disability. It would be nice if people could be more patient and try to include us more by speaking directly to us or stop making tightly clustered groups that make it hard to read lips and things of that sort.” 

We sometimes forget how lucky we are to hear footsteps on a sidewalk, birds chirping, and to hear someone yell from afar to get your attention. 

As trivial and common as these things may seem, we forget that some people can’t hear those things at all.