Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Earplug Experiment

For my audiology class I had to wear earplugs for at least 8 hours over the course of 1-3 days and then write about my experience doing so. The point was to stimulate living a "day in the life" of a person with hearing loss. Here's what I have to say:

“Earplug Experiment”

Monday, 21 March 2011

Dinner in PCB with Friends

Tonight I decided to start the “earplug experiment” right before dinner. I went to the cafeteria to meet three other friends for dinner and within minutes of talking to them, they said “Are you wearing earplugs?” I told them I was and that it was for a class experiment. The situation was a little bit awkward because I was meeting one of their friends that they have talked about for a long time and now when I finally had the chance to meet her, I was having a bit of a time communicating with her. It was a little bit frustrating, and like I said, awkward because they weren’t 100% understanding.

While eating dinner, we sat in a booth and that helped because I was able to look at each of my friends’ mouths when they were talking. One of the receptive communication strategies I used many times was to reiterate the topic that they were beginning to talk about. It made it much easier to track along even when I couldn’t hear every word they were saying if I could contextually guess at what they were talking about. There were three times during the remainder of the night while we were hanging out when I would say “I’m sorry did you say you were playing at the park…?” or something along those lines as to gain context of the topic being addressed.

Driving in the Car

After dinner, we all went to a church service that was about fifteen minutes away from campus. It was actually really hard for me to communicate in the conversation while in the car. Through the earplugs I could hear the sounds of the car on the road and other environmental noise. On top of that, my friend who was driving decided to turn up the radio really loudly so we could sing along with our favourite Christian praise songs. This actually made me stressed because I could no longer keep up with the conversation but they were still trying to talk to me and of course I still wanted to be engaged in what they were saying. I also didn’t want to act like the music was bothering me because I knew they were enjoying it so simply didn’t comment about it. After a few times of me jumping in the conversation at the wrong place or trying to talk louder than normal, my friend turned the radio down quite a bit. That helped with communication but it was still really difficult to talk with them. Out of all the different situations that I was in, riding in the car was definitely the most challenging activity…by far! I think having the additional background noise was really difficult, plus not being able to see them nor read their facial expressions was very tricky.

At the Church Service

For the most part, this was one of the easiest environments to be in with my “hearing loss”. We sat about half way back in the audience, so it wasn’t like I could actually make out the speakers’ face nor lips, but it was helpful that everyone was focused on the stage and the whole service revolved around that one stage. One thing that I found really disappointing was I didn’t really want to sing aloud because I had no idea how loud I was being. I could not tell if I was singing louder or softer than the people around me. Since I love to sing and normally harmonize to the music, I try to reign it in a little bit so I do not seem to be shouting while singing. There were a few songs last night that I didn’t know and instead of trying to learn them, I simply stood and listened. My two friends didn’t know the songs either, but they decided to try to learn how to sing them. I was hesitant because even though I could hear what the singer was singing, I couldn’t hear it enough to be able to imitate it with confidence.

When the pastor spoke, I had no trouble hearing him nor following along because he had a microphone that amplified his voice. This really helped me to see the benefit of an FM system because if you do have a hearing loss, it is helpful to know where you should be focusing your auditory attention.

After the service, people stayed inside in the auditorium to talk. There were maybe 200 students in attendance and as you can imagine, an auditorium full of 200 people all talking at once and having their side conversations can be very noisy. Normally when you stand in a crowd of people, all you hear is murmuring noises, but with my earplugs in, I kept listening to see if someone would call my name and try to get my attention. I would randomly hear someone laugh and it would distract me; or if someone would shout or get excited about something, I could definitely hear them and would look over at them. It was really difficult for me to stand in my group of eight or so friends in a room full of about 200 students and follow along with what one person was saying. Not only that, but the way that Hearing people communicate is very quick and sometimes more than one person will be talking at a time (ie: if someone is in agreement with someone else, they may interrupt, or simply say things like “Oh! Oh yeah I know!”) When others would add in their comments, I would look at them and expect them to start talking and take over the conversation, but when they wouldn’t continue, I would then return my attention to the initial speaker but by then, a different person was talking. It was really quite exhausting! It made me really aware of how easily we can converse with each other and just exactly what a “fluent” speaker of a language means. With my temporary “hearing loss” it not only made me feel flustered, but also awkward because if someone were to ask me a question I probably would not be able to answer them. Also, it was frustrating to feel like everyone else was not having a difficult time communicating, but it was only me that had the problem. It was pretty isolating and I can definitely see how people with a hearing loss or deafness may feel depressed as a result of their hearing loss.

There were several things that I did to try to make communication easier (on all parties involved) including telling people that I had a “temporary hearing loss”. Most people know that I am a deaf education major and thought it was kind of funny and a unique experience, but there were some people that I met for the first time and I didn’t want to go through the whole process of explaining why I couldn’t hear. I can now see why it would be helpful to always have a good friend with you in situations where you are going to meet new people so that if all else fails, they will understand your reason for having communication difficulties. In a way, having a hearing loss made me feel like I wanted to keep to myself and to my circle of friends because it simply as easier than explaining to every person why I wasn’t able to communicate with them like everyone else. It was easier to “bluff it” than to simply say that I couldn’t hear what they were saying.

Another thing that I did as a receptive strategy would say “I’m sorry, I got that you went home, but what did you do there?” I would try to give the talker as much information that I was able to hear so that instead of just saying “Huh?” and making them repeat the whole sentence (which really quickly becomes exasperating) they would only have to clarify or repeat the one or two words that I missed. This was highly useful and most people didn’t mind repeating one key word at all. I think the reason they didn’t have a problem with this is because sometimes in normal conversation between two people who both have normal hearing, the listener might accidently miss one or two of the words the talker is saying and will ask for clarification.

In terms of expressive strategies, one thing that I was concerned about was being too forceful with my conversation. Many times I could not hear if someone else started to talk to respond to one of our other friends and I am sure that I seemed a little forward by jumping in and continuing to talk over them, but it was simply because I did not hear them until after I had already said a full sentence. Even people who knew I was doing the experiment were a little turned off by this behaviour and I would have to apologize and try to explain once more that I couldn’t hear them when they began to speak unless they directly addressed me by name initially.

Another thing expressively that I was concerned with was how loud I was being. A few times I was talking too softly and people kept looking at me and saying “What? What?” which got on my nerves because I didn’t know if they weren’t understanding what I was saying, or if it wasn’t talking clearly, or if I wasn’t talking loud enough, or exactly where the communication was breaking down. With this information, I now know why it is so much more helpful to be specific when asking questions instead of using “Huh?” or “What?” as your main clue that you didn’t understand what the other person said.

After the service, on the way home, I took out my earplugs because I had been wearing them for five hours straight and was sick of hearing the world through muffled ears. When I had my hearing restored to me, I felt like I could jump right into my friend’s conversation once again.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Silent Lunch

After classes today I resumed my “earplug experiment” and attended a “silent lunch”. I have been to many before and basically, they are “silent” because everyone uses ASL to communicate, instead of English. I am very skilled with ASL and communicate very easily through sing language. All of the students that were at the silent lunch were ASL 1 students and were just barely learning sing language. I was hoping there would be some people who were more skilled in sing language like me so that we could effectively and easily communicate. The lab director, Glennise, is very good at ASL and her husband is Deaf. It was so exciting to talk to Glennise because we easily understood each other. It was the best communication (outside of class time this morning) that I have encounter with my hearing loss. If I were deaf of hard of hearing, I would choose to communicate by using ASL. However, I do see the benefit of being able to hear and speak because when I would want to talk to anyone else in our group (those who did not know sign language very well) I found it very helpful to use a TC (total communication--> where you speak English and used signed English at the same time) because they could understand me better when using I used English and I understood them better when they used ASL. I was talking with one woman and she would use all English but when she came across a key word that she knew how to sing, she would sign it and that was an added beneficial factor to our communication. I can imagine how useful it would be for a Hearing parent of a Deaf child to learn as much sign as possible (even if their vocabulary consists of only 100-200 words) because it will aid in communication that much more if the Deaf child could see and hear the words you are speaking at the same time.

In this situation I had way more expressive than receptive breakdowns due to the fact that I could still hear (although to a limited extent, due to the earplugs) but due to the other student’s lack of ASL fluency, it made it very difficult for them to understand me if I began to sign at a comfortable speed. It was really frustrating to stop and fingerspell words sometimes three and four times before the other person understood. One thing that I did that seemed to help was to mouth the words on my lips while fingerspelling or signing them. Many people don’t realize, but, facial expressions and mouth movements are crucial in ASL for the very reason that it is easier to understand a concept when it is expressed with both signs and words. Another thing that I had to do was slow down the rate of my signs. I also dropped idioms and expressions that a beginning signer wouldn’t be familiar with. It was harder than I thought it would be. It was almost like when you are trying to talk to an ELL (English Language Learner) student and they have very low English comprehension.

After signing for a little while, some of the students go tired and started using their voices. There were three females, plus myself, and one male in the group. One of the girls was outgoing and had a booming low voice and I was able to understand her very well. One of the other ladies had a bit more of a timid personality and had a high, soft sounding voice. I had a really difficult time hearing her and eventually asked her if she could use her signs and speak at the same time because I was having such a hard time understanding what she was saying. The third woman was Glennise and we signed back and forth to each other mostly so we did not have a problem communicating. With the boy, I had a really hard time even hearing when he was talking, let alone what he was actually saying. He was a fairly good signer so I tried to sign with him more than talk with him; we did a lot of fingerspelling because he was quite good at reading and producing fingerspelling which helped me out a lot.

People’s Overall Perception

I think for the most part, people didn’t think anything of my experiment. If they did, they did not express their concerns to me other than asking me “Huh?” and then I would adjust my speaking volume louder. When I would explain to my friends or to people who noticed my earplugs (since they were bright yellow) they found the whole situation amusing and sometimes comical. A lot of people said “That’s pretty cool; I bet you will have a greater understanding of what a person with a hearing loss goes though once you are finished with this project.” Some people even said that they would like to read my log to gain my perspective from the assignment. Overall, it went really well and I have definitely learned a lot about communicating with a hearing loss!

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