Comment: The two most painful words to the hard of hearing

I am one of an estimated 3.15 million hard-of-hearing Canadians.

This doesn’t mean I don’t hear people. Every day, I hear conversations and arguments and lectures and cussing all around me. And of all the words that stream past, the most hurtful aren’t swear words.

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Like almost everyone else, I swear. But the two words that I would never say to someone and can’t stand hearing are: “Never mind.”

Of course, I’m going to miss things during a conversation. Sometimes I’ll let it go, but other times, I want to be included, so I ask: “Sorry? What was that? Can you repeat yourself?” And hearing: “Oh, never mind. It wasn’t that important” shuts me down.

I was born with a moderate to severe hearing loss in the high- and mid-range frequencies. It wasn’t until I was five that it was discovered I was hard of hearing and needed hearing aids. I went through elementary and high school using an FM system — a receiver boot that attaches to the hearing aids and a transmitter mike that the teacher wears. Most of my classmates were curious about my hearing aids and the FM system, and I was always happy to answer questions. Although, at one point, I may have had a classmate believing I could get radio on the system.

At university, I used the FM system, note-takers and a fantastic program called Typewell. Transcribers would come to my classes and type on their computer what the professor was saying. It would show up on my computer and I would receive a copy of the transcript after class. Typewell brought a whole new level to my learning (even if sometimes the keyboard shortcuts act up — “priests” for “parasites”).

Outside of school, I’ve had jobs ranging from cosmetician at a drugstore in Osoyoos to front-desk attendant at a resort in Fairmont Hot Springs. I’ve volunteered for many events and organizations such as Best Buddies, Desert Half Triathlons, and the Society of Geography Students.

In August 2013, I was crowned one of three British Columbia Ambassadors. The program promotes self-esteem, motivation, volunteering and post-secondary education for young adults. Competitors are judged on public speaking, a B.C. knowledge exam, talent and an interview with the judges. As I don’t have any “extraordinary” talent, I performed a comedy monologue about my hearing loss and the hilarious situations I find myself in sometimes (such as my brother unplugging the vacuum and waiting to see how long it took me to notice).

So why am I telling you my life story? To show that I’m the same as you. I sleep in on weekends, procrastinate on my assignments, and binge on Netflix. The only difference is I’m hard of hearing.

Through all my experiences, I’ve found my hearing loss helps me to stand out, gives me a unique perspective on issues and is a great topic for an icebreaker (I’m never at a loss when the game is “What’s one unique thing about you?”).

My hearing loss is something I was born with and I have no idea what “normal” hearing is like — I imagine it’s loud!

One of my favourite things to do is after a long day of active listening (when you’re hard of hearing, passive listening doesn’t exist) is take off my hearing aids and let silence descend around me. It’s similar to taking off tight shoes when you get home.

I work every day to hear what is going on around me and it is only when at home that I can let myself fully relax.

I’m a social person. I like knowing what’s going on around me, and it hurts when someone is unwilling to repeat themselves so I can be a part of what’s going on. It makes me feel as if I’m less than they or that they can’t be bothered to make just a little extra effort.

Being hard of hearing means you live in two worlds. Every day, I balance the two worlds and do my best to catch what everyone is saying and take part in conversations. There will always be times when I just can’t hear what was said and I will ask someone to repeat themselves.

So please, don’t mutter: “Never mind.” I mind.

Lauren Sherwood is a 24-year-old University of Victoria undergraduate student.

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