Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Experiment

Yesterday was the day on which I had promised Mog that I would wear earplugs to experience for myself what it was like to be hard of hearing (HOH). The Experiment turned out to be more unpleasant and difficult than I had expected. But, for all that, I’m glad I did it. I discovered things that I believe would have been impossible to learn any other way.

It was disorienting. From The Experiment I discovered that sounds help me to delineate time and space. When I hear the footsteps of the letter carrier on my front path or the children pouring into the schoolyard across the street for recess, it helps me to track the passing of the hours. When I tip my laundry basket out, I expect to hear a “plop” sound when the contents hit the floor. This confirms for me where the room ends. I found it surprisingly disconcerting to be deprived of these clues that I usually take for granted.

It was boring. Sounds provide me with variety, the auditory equivalent of colour, texture and taste. Maybe it’s true that silence is golden. But, for that to be so, there needs to be contrast between silence and not-silence. When there was much more silence than my environment typically provides, and when that silence was sustained for hours, I grew uncomfortable. As the day wore on, my annoyance increased and escalated to downright fury.

As I am typing this post, the day after The Experiment, I have Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik playing in the background. Being able to hear it is beyond delicious. Not being able to listen to music created a far deeper experience of deprivation than I had anticipated.

I was fortunate in that it happened to be a gloriously sunny day with a clear blue sky. From my house, I was able to look out at the greenery, the crocuses and the daffodils in my garden. Had it been a foggy day here at the coast or a brown, late winter day back in Alberta, I would have suffered even more than I did.

It took extra work. Many tasks that I take for granted -- climbing steps, walking through traffic, cooking -- required far more attention than I normally pay them. Multi-tasking was difficult and often impossible. Cooking required total concentration. I didn’t hear the signal that the dryer cycle was finished, so my blouse got creased. To un-crease it, I threw a wet cloth into the dryer, and ran it for a few more minutes. Regularly interrupting what I was doing in order to check on this and that made my day more complicated.

The phone was a pain. I could hear it ringing, albeit more softly than usual. However, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear anyone speaking, so I just let the calls roll over to the answering machine. No one left any messages, though. Perhaps all the calls were from telemarketers.

One of the primary reasons for carrying out The Experiment yesterday was that I didn’t have any phone appointments. In selecting a time for The Experiment, I couldn’t find a single day on which it would have been convenient. No matter when I carried out The Experiment, it would have created hassles. But being able to have a phone-free day was a non-negotiable requirement for The Experiment.

It was disappointing. Last night Thomas Homer-Dixon, author of The Upside of Down, was speaking. I had been very excited when I’d heard he was coming to Nanaimo, and had greatly looked forward to attending his talk. I didn’t bother going, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear what he said. Perhaps he would have had a PowerPoint presentation with slides that I could have seen and that would have given me an inkling of the topic. Still, it seemed like a waste of the $10 admission as well as my time, so I gave up on the idea. I was very sorry about that.

It was embarrassing. The biggest challenge I faced was how to handle the weekly meeting of the shareholders of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community. We are a development company. We monitor the construction of the apartment complex in which we will live and are working towards the creation of a strata (condominium) corporation. There are many financial, legal and practical issues for us to deal with.

I knew there were a number of important items on the agenda for yesterday afternoon’s meeting. I knew that, to get through that agenda, we would need to be efficient. I knew that, if I participated in my HOH state, it would slow down the meeting and perhaps even grind it to a halt.

It seemed to me that our consensus decision making model also would complicate things. In order for a proposal to be adopted, everyone has to agree with it. But how would I be able to participate in the discussion, to hear other people’s input and provide my own? How would I be able to collect enough information on which to base each vote?

If there had been time to prepare for this, I could have told my fellow cohos about my dilemma, and we could have rigged up something to assist me. But since there was little time to prepare and since it was a one-time occurrence, it seemed too much to ask of my busy fellow cohos.

I was very fortunate in that I knew I was philosophically aligned with my fellow cohos. I knew what was on the agenda. I trusted them to make wise decisions.

I decided that the least harmful course of action would be to stay away from the meeting. In fact the one moment that I cheated during The Experiment was the time that I removed my earplugs and called into the Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community office half an hour ahead of time to say that I wouldn’t attend the meeting.

But it seems to me that this too illustrates something about hearing loss. It must take tremendous guts to belong to organizations and to participate in activities when you know your involvement makes things inconvenient for other people.

Another thing about my fellow cohos was that I trusted them to understand when they found out the unusual reason for my not having been at the meeting. I trusted them to respect my need to march to the beat of my own drummer, even if that involved making a wild and wacky promise to people whom I'd met through the Internet. Since my fellow cohos are committed to inclusiveness, I expect they'll be interested in these findings.

It helps to have friends. In the evening, my Skype friend, who knew I had committed to The Experiment, e-mailed to ask me how my HOH experience was going. I was sitting at home, feeling crappy about skipping the cohousing meeting, disappointed about missing Thomas Homer-Dixon’s talk, and feeling sorry for myself because I couldn’t hear music.

I e-mailed him back and asked if he would be willing to contact me through Skype. I said I wasn’t sure how it would work. I thought that, if I turned up the volume at my end and if he talked slowly and enunciated his words carefully at his end, we might be able to communicate.

He did call me through Skype, and it did work, albeit I often had to ask him to repeat himself. When his voice was so faint, seeing his face helped. For one thing, it indicated when he was speaking and not speaking. Even that information was useful.

I told him how grim it was to be HOH. I said it was worse than I had appreciated. He asked in what ways it felt bad. I said the lack of the auditory equivalent of colour, texture and taste impoverished me much more than I had expected. I also told him that I'd sacrificed the meeting and the lecture. He said that was all interesting. It felt comforting to have my reality acknowledged.

This morning I woke up to an e-mail from Susana, bless her heart, that updated me on a couple of key decisions that had been taken at the shareholders’ meeting. She did this without even knowing why I hadn’t been at the meeting. I appreciated it enormously that she had taken the trouble to keep me in the loop.

There were a few benefits.

I’m sure that one day of doing The Experiment was worth a whole semester of theoretical learning about hearing loss. I understand the situation of HOH people in ways that I would not have dreamed of.

When my back was up against the wall, I realized how much I trusted my fellow cohos to make prudent decisions.

As difficulty tends to do, the day of The Experiment helped me to identify a couple of exceptional friends.

Skipping Thomas Homer-Dixon’s presentation saved me $10.

When I went grocery shopping in a supermarket, I was spared from the abomination of Muzak.

In closing.......

I want to acknowledge Mog, Marnie (ms toast burner), Sarah (SpeakUp Librarian) and all others who have been enrolled in The Experiment, not for a day but for the rest of your lives.


Mog said...

I've just finished reading this Judy, and am very, very moved by your words. I'll write more later when I hae had time to think.

ms toast burner said...


Mog said...

I'm back!

I have commented on my blog in response to your post, and have linked in.

Thank you for giving it a go. The more people that try to experience others worlds, to understand, the more we can be inclusive Not just with disability too.

I appreciated your insight into your day, and that your commitment extended to missing out on important events.I don't know that I would ever have done that.

Take care Judy.You are a good person.

Rob Inukshuk said...

Well done for your commitment to the experiment. Like you, I feel I have learned so much from taking part, much more than reading about it. It's the old walk in moccasins thing.

Thanks too to Mog and Marnie for setting in motion our HOH education.

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Thank you, Judy. I'm very moved by your closing comment.

Sam said...

I am very late to this conversation and so I apologise!! ;-) As a deaf person myself I was very intrigued to read your account of being deaf for the day. Everybody should have the same experience, just as everybody should be a wheelchair for the day. Walking a little way in someone else's shoes really does highlight the issues faced by those people.