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Faces Behind the Screen: Sandy

Faces Behind the Screen: Sandy

Sandy’s a retired teacher of the Deaf. She spent 30 years working in New York City; 20 with Deaf education, and 10 with special ed.

She identifies as Deaf, but does not know sign language. She said she took a class but has since forgotten it and prefers to communicate through listening and talking.

Sandy was born into a family of hearing loss.

    My mother had hearing loss. My grandmother had hearing loss. When I was in grade school, I had a speech deficit.

    I was struggling with the hearing loss as a kid because I had a mild loss. I was told, when I was getting to grow older, that I was going to go completely deaf, which I am now. But they told me, and I was in denial.

When Sandy was 13 years old, she had to get a hearing aid. But wearing a hearing aid meant being different from the other kids at school. She would often refuse to wear it and hide it in her drawer.

    I refused to wear my hearing aid… I wanted to be accepted like everybody else.

Sandy’s school didn’t have teachers for the Deaf, which made it tougher for her in class.

    I didn’t do well in school. In ’64, at that time, they didn’t have teachers of the Deaf like I was. They didn’t acknowledge it. They didn’t put me up front.

    They only gave me a speech teacher. That was it, no hearing teacher. And it wasn’t recognized. And I was in denial. And I would be in classrooms where I didn’t hear what was going on.

Sandy says she felt like an outcast.

    I was used to thinking of myself as stupid, stupid, dumb because I can’t hear. Like, kids would be laughing and joking. And, like the game Telephone, I would miss out.

    And I not only had hearing problems, but I had teeth problems. I had oral surgery four times. I had seven teeth pulled. I had braces five years.

    I had talking problems. I had eyesight problems. I got the thickest lenses you can imagine. So I was a weirdo. Like, my hearing, my vision, my teeth, my speech– I was an outcast. And I grew up this way.

Hearing aids have significantly improved since the 1960s and now use digital technology to improve hearing. But for Sandy, many of the amenities like captioned phones, did not exist when she was growing up.

    It was a struggle, real struggle…When I would go to shows, I’d have to read the shows before and then see it and read it again.

Hearing aids used basic analog technology, so noise and speech filtering were quite limited. Sandy distinctively recalls hearing the squeal sound her mother’s hearing aids would make.

    Eee. I used to tell them. And when I grew up, my kids did that to me.

In 1999, Sandy got her first cochlear implant. Unlike hearing aids, which help amplify sounds, a cochlear implant is a device that replaces the functions of the damaged ear and sends sound signals to the brain. Her first cochlear implant worked like a meter. Sound was divided into lows, mediums, and highs. High frequencies were the hardest to capture.

    I had some hearing in the mediums and some sound– loud noises.

    But speech was terrible. Because if you don’t get high frequencies, the consonants– the T-H, the K, the S, F– you don’t understand speech. And you could read lips, but it was hard. And I was at that point for years– if I didn’t see people, I didn’t hear them.

Today, Sandy still uses a cochlear implant, but the technology behind it has significantly improved.

    The first one gave me sound, but it didn’t always give me understanding. The second one gives me much better understanding.

But while the world, as Sandy notes, has definitely become more accessible, it still has a long way to go, especially with accommodations in public places for the hard of hearing.

    I’m on a bus.

    I’m sitting next to a blind fellow. I’m sitting next to a blind fellow. And he’s in a wheelchair. And he has [a dog] for the blind. When people see him, when he gets off the bus, they know how to help him.

    [I was on a plane and] we were sitting on the tarmac for 45 minutes. I didn’t know what was going on. Nobody comes up to you and says, this is what’s happening…Even if you tell the flight attendant, I don’t hear well, they do not make an effort to accommodate you. People forget it. They don’t think about it. You don’t see it. So it’s ignored.

Although growing up Deaf sometimes felt like a struggle, Sandy’s hopeful about where future hearing loss technology will go.

    I have two kids. It’s a 50/50 chance they’re Deaf. And my daughter, she doesn’t have a hearing loss. My son does. But it didn’t start until 19. And now he has two hearing aids. But as he gets older, the technology will get better and better.

    I mean, I can swim now. I can snorkel with a cochlear implant… And it’s fantastic. It’s great. It’s great. The technology is great.

Thank you to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) for hosting this series of interviews at the New England Walk4Hearing.

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