Nice to meet you, I’m Rozanne!
Hello all! I am Rozanne Roux, I had the pleasure of meeting the creator of “The Wrong Story,” Becky Hales over a Zoom call I was a panelist for regarding deaf and hard of hearing audiology students in April 2021. I am going into my second year of my Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) program at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. I am hard of hearing and have worn hearing aids bilaterally since I was a few months old. As someone who is seen as different, the term “disabled” is often used to describe me when people refer to be as a person with hearing loss. Becky has asked me to share my thoughts on the term “disability” with y’all and I was elated she thought to ask me to share! Over the years I have been more or less okay with this description, here is what my personal and professional opinion on what the word eludes to.
First, let’s get some facts straight…
What does the word disabled mean? Over the history of time, when referring to a difference someone may have there have been a myriad of different descriptions, even slurs to describe people with hearing loss and other differences. The terms “lame,” “mute,” “handicapped,” “disabled,” “dumb,” “r*****ed,” “crippled,” or “special needs” have all been used over the history of time. Many of these are no longer politically correct or have been removed and replaced in legislature (American with Disabilities Act changed “handicap” to “disability” in 1990) by the term “disability.” The term “handicap” refers to any physical or mental defect, congenital or acquired, preventing or restricting a person from participating in a normal life or limiting to their capacity to work. “Disability” is the consequence of an impairment that may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental, or some combination of these. A disability may be present from birth or occur during a person’s lifetime.
So, what is hearing loss? Firstly, there are different types of hearing loss. Some is more temporary and may be caused by an ear infection or impacted wax (conductive hearing loss). This type of hearing loss is usually medically treatable or goes away after the issue resolves. Others are permanent, such as the hair cells in the inner ear not being able to send information to the brain. Once these hair cells are damaged they cannot be fixed, and this what we know as “sensorineural hearing loss.” There are also different severities of hearing loss, and this continuum can be hard for people with typical hearing thresholds to understand. A common confusion is “how much hearing loss does a person have to have to be considered deaf and not hard of hearing?” This question usually prompts the “deaf vs. Deaf” discussion. A deaf person is a person with little to no hearing, whereas a Deaf person is someone who embraces the Deaf culture/community, prefers to communicate via sign language, and is proud to be Deaf.
So, is hearing loss a disability or not?
At what point is someone’s hearing loss severe enough that it is considered a disability? To be honest, hearing loss is different than most other “disabilities” in this way. Some people see it as a sign of getting older and are embarrassed by it when their loved ones and friends start to point it out. Others may resent that struggles that they face on a day to day basis and try to hide it. Then there are some people who are proud to Deaf or hard of hearing. There is a popular quote in the Deaf community, “hearing loss, Deaf gain.” This stems from the idea that they may have lost their hearing, but they have gained so much more. A language, a community, and more.
For me, there is no such thing as disability until there is a lack of accessibility. When you watch the hit late 20th century cartoon “Scooby Doo,” no one thinks anything of Velma wearing glasses or not being able to see until the glasses inevitably get bumped off her face and she is on all-fours searching for her glasses. She can’t do anything until the world becomes visible and accessible, for her again.
For people with hearing loss, you must ensure communication is accessible to them. Get their attention before you speak, let them know when there is a change in subject, provide closed captioning, make sure you face is visible, and rephrase instead of repeat when there is a communication breakdown.
Do you consider yourself disabled?
For me personally, I do not consider myself disabled. There are things I do differently and technology that I utilize to make my world accessible to me. I wear my hearing aids from the time I wake up until I go to sleep. During my classes I use a remote microphone that streams directly to my hearing aids and have a CART (captioning at real time) provider that sits next to me and captions what is being said. In-clinic I use a different listening scope (device audiologists and hearing aid techs use to listen to hearing aids) that sits on top of the microphone of my hearing aid so I can listen to other hearing aids to ensure they are working properly.
When the world is accessible, there is no such thing as disability. Only ability.
Rozanne is an Audiology Doctoral student at The University of North Texas. You can follow her on Instagram @dr.roux