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Helping the Hard of Hearing (Pardon?)

By Hedgehog.

The title is an old joke, and those of us who are hard of hearing have heard it so often that we’re fed up to the back teeth with it. Why, in this anti-sexist, anti-racist, politically correct culture, is it still OK, even in church, to make fun of those who are partially deaf? It’s offensive, patronising, ignorant and rude!

If I were blind, had a broken leg or cerebral palsy, I would receive proper sympathy and no-one would expect me to leap to my feet or avoid occasionally bumping into things. Nor would anyone make fun of my handicap. But I’m deaf - not totally, but enough to handicap my life a little and, much worse, to handicap other people’s perceptions of me.

Partial deafness is an invisible, intermittent handicap. A lot of the time, I can hear quite adequately, but in certain situations, life can be very difficult. Noisy rooms, parties, mumblers, beards (yes, beards!) all increase the chance of my mis-hearing.

And I’m not that rare. Did you know that at least 8 million Britons have a hearing loss sufficient to justify the use of a hearing aid? That means that, in your congregation next Sunday, one person in seven may not be able to hear your carefully prepared pearls of wisdom. It’s not just the little old lady who insists on sitting in the back row, but also some of the children and young adults. If you have a leadership team, one of them is probably partially deaf, even though they may not have realised it yet.

By the way, paradoxically, the partially deaf often experience physical pain when confronted with high volume sound, such as loud singing, a preacher who shouts, a music group (or organist) who forgot where the volume control is, and a screaming child.

We don’t want pity. After all, there are advantages to partial deafness. I can sleep through any storm, I tend not to notice babies crying while I am preaching, I can avoid discos and I’m not tempted to spend huge amounts of money on stereo equipment!

All we ask is that people do not treat us as stupid just because we did not hear. And don’t turn up the volume - just speak more clearly and perhaps a little slower. And try to remember our handicap and make a small allowance for it.

For example, when you preach, don’t allow the last syllable of each sentence to tail off. It may sound dramatic and sincere, but it removes the sense from the sent....! Also, please don’t look down at your notes for the next sentence until you’ve finished the one you’re saying.

And if, in a crowded, noisy room, we have to turn our good ear to you, don’t move round to regain eye contact. This happened to me once. A lady was trying to talk to me, but when I turned my head to point my left ear (the one that works!) at her mouth, she moved a little to her left to regain eye contact. I then had to turn my head again to get my ear back in the correct relationship to her mouth (can you imagine this?). By the time, she finished what she was saying, we had moved round in a complete circle, back to our starting position!

So come on, you ministers, and anyone else who preaches and/or leads worship - remember that one in seven of us can’t hear you when you mumble, drop your voice, turn away, leave the microphone, grow hairy beards or shout! And we are not helped in our walk of faith by patronising attitudes that treat us as simpletons. I’ve been deaf since I was eight, and have managed to obtain two honours degrees and a responsible job. So I may be deaf, but I’m neither stupid nor rude. Help me to prove it.

Oh, and, er, by the way, partially deaf people really do hear better with their glasses on - it enables them to lip-read you!

Hedgehog is a pseudonym under which a series of provocative articles will be included in Ministry Today from time to time, as space allows. Your reactions to the articles (which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Board of Management) would be welcomed.


A lovable, but sometimes prickly fellow

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You are reading Helping the Hard of Hearing (Pardon?) by Hedgehog, part of Issue 14 of Ministry Today, published in October 1998.

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