I learnt that I had a hearing condition when I was a very young child. They said nothing could be done and that hearing aids wouldn’t help, so I went through school compensating – sitting in the front of the classroom, that sort of thing. After I finished High School, I got a scholarship to go to a teaching college. It wasn’t until the end of the first year that it was noted that I had a bit of a hearing loss. When they found out, they withdrew the scholarship.
I was suggested that I go work in a library, somewhere quiet. That would’ve been dreadful, so I went and did clerical work, got married, and had three children.
I didn’t really think too much about my hearing loss. I missed things here and there and was just in the background in social gatherings, but I didn’t think it affected anyone else to be honest. I thought it was something that I had to handle.
After my third child was born, my mother-in-law suggested that I try a hearing aid. She said she’d fund it, so I got one. It actually made quite a bit of difference. I realized there were birds in trees, and cars on the road. The clarity of my children’s voices was a lot better.
My hearing aid gave me the confidence to tune back into night courses, so I did a TAFE course over three years, part-time, where I graduated with Honours. But I really did want to teach. Because I did so well at the TAFE course, it was suggested that I go to Uni, so I did. After I finished my studies, I got another hearing aid for my other ear and got a job teaching. I taught for 22 years, ran the faculty for 7 years, and retired in 2012.
When I started wearing my hearing aids, I would try to cover them at first. I always wanted to appear “normal”. All through my teaching career, I tried to hide them as much as I could, particularly from my peers. My friends knew and my students knew. I would tell them at the beginning of every year in class: “We have a communication problem here. This is what you have to do, this is what I can and can’t do, and this is how we are going to communicate.” I couldn’t say that to my peers though. I just felt inferior. I know I missed things in the staff room – the punchline in jokes, the answer to a question that was asked. I felt they probably thought I was an idiot half the time, but anyway. That was it.
Even though I was a late bloomer, I had an enjoyable and fulfilling career teaching. I dread to think about what my life would have been like if I hadn’t taken up my mother-in-law’s offer of my first hearing aid. Life for me, my family, and perhaps several others may have been quite different. Many opportunities that I have since had may never have come to pass.
When I retired, I became a volunteer in Hearing Matters Australia, where I’ve done a lot of advocacy and was President for six years. It was great to connect with people that understood, who you could talk to, and who had been through similar problems and thus could give you advice or be a sounding board. There, I realised how little I knew about hearing loss. I learnt about the social effects of hearing loss and I started to recognise some of the things I had gone through without even realizing it.
If I could give other hard of hearing people one piece of advice it would be to take ownership of your hearing loss. I was burying it, but through my volunteer work, I have had the opportunity to have a voice, raise awareness, and try to come up with solutions. To make a difference. That’s all I want to do in my life. Now, wearing hearing aids is absolutely not a problem for me. I guess that’s the result of actually confronting my hearing loss and taking control.
So take ownership of your hearing loss and encourage other people to speak up and take ownership of theirs. I don’t think you can move on until you do.