Friday, June 1, 2012

"Duh." Or Not.

Funny how fast time flies. Today I had my two-year follow-up appointment with my CI surgeon -- just routine, to be sure I'm still doing well with this piece of metal in my head. How much has changed since I sat in that office two years ago, calm on the surface but really struggling with a mess of anxieties, hopes, and fears. As I prepare to graduate from college in a few weeks, it's so nice to reflect on my progress if only in that one area of my life. Everything is looking fine, so onward!

Now, I don't have that much to say about the appointment itself, save for the (reiterated) fact that this hearing thing is still very much an ongoing process. But I still find something irksome about the way doctors' offices -- even the ones that specialize in hearing and hearing loss! -- interact with deaf and hard-of-hearing people. I noticed this time and time again during the days immediately pre-CI, in which my nervousness about my upcoming surgery was slightly exacerbated by some people's carelessness about communicating with me, and unfortunately it's still there. My surgeon is wonderful and a great communicator (by which I mean very straightforward and very aware of his own clarity and articulation), but I can't say the same for everyone else.

First of all, the waiting room. I checked in with the receptionist, sat down (facing the door, as always, so I could see and lipread anyone who approached), and realized anew the absurdity of having an audiology clinic in a building where none of the nurses give any sort of visual signal to alert patients that their name is being called. They come to the door, open it, and then say the patient's name in a quiet and unobtrusive voice, one that I hardly heard over the scattered conversations and the CNN broadcast in the room. Then, if there's no immediate response, they shrug and walk away (this happened once or twice for patients who were seemingly not there or not answering to their names at that moment). I sat fiddling for twenty minutes, and a few times thought a nurse might, just maybe, have said "Rachel." I got up and asked, only to have them shake their heads at me. I consider myself very situationally aware for a deaf person, and I know how to place myself so I can watch when listening might fail me, but it's not fair to enter a room with people who might have any sort of hearing loss and expect verbal words alone to suffice. How about nurses who know how to fingerspell patients' names as they come in, or at least wave or give some other kind of signal? It might not always be necessary, but it'd be more accessible.

Next, one-on-one interactions. I walked back into the exam room. My nurse sat me down to gather basic information and enter it into the computer, and I noticed immediately that she had an accent. I was placing my bag down on the floor when I heard her speak, and the vowels sounded a little off, a little different. I turned back to her and asked her to repeat herself, a little bothered that she'd started asking me questions when I wasn't looking at her. (Hello? Post-CI follow up? With a person who has a hearing loss? And lipreads? Should be fairly obvious what to do here.) She rattled off the question again, very rapidly and not making much of an effort to look me in the face. I still didn't understand what she'd said; I was still hung up on the accent. After one or two more tries, she laid down her pen and very clearly said, "Do you need an interpreter?"

"No," I told her. "I'm fine. Could you please speak a little more clearly?" That time, she did look me in the eye and speak a little more slowly (maybe wondering after my actual powers of hearing/intelligence), I got the question, and we moved on.

The whole interaction lasted less than two minutes, but it left me miffed. Having hearing people rattle off questions without looking at me is something I've grown used to, but for goodness' sake this was an audiology clinic. Where employees should know better. Where people with hearing losses, some of whom doubtlessly must lipread, come in every day. Frankly, copping out and asking me if I needed an interpreter, without first making a clear effort to be understandable, didn't show as much consideration as I would have liked. Communication is a two-way street. If you know that the patient you're talking to has a hearing loss, and if it's your job to interact with other such patients, at least try to meet that person halfway before calling the "authorities" or chucking her off to someone else. I've long had mixed feelings about interpreters being a barrier between me and direct communication, but it doesn't help when hearing people give up on the cooperative communicative venture so easily. A little more personal responsibility for making communication happen here, please.

This post isn't meant to be anything besides a critique of the bizarreness of the hearing status quo and how it relates to deaf/hard-of-hearing people. But it goes to show that things I sometimes think are "duh" -- and that should be "duh" for professionals working with hearing loss -- many times aren't. I'm thinking of the social (rather than medical) model of disability here, in which accessibility barriers arise not from an individual's physical disability but from the conventions of the surrounding world. I can be perfectly coherent and communicative; I just need to be met halfway sometimes. And, honestly, who among us doesn't?

Anyway. My two-year remapping is forthcoming (in a little less than two weeks), and I'm very excited. It's always interesting to see how the sound quality changes after a remapping, but the element I'm by far most anticipating is finally getting my hands on ClearVoice, Advanced Bionics' new software to (hypothetically) make conversations, human voices, and other pertinent sounds easier to follow in background noise. I'm not expecting it to be a total game-changer, but it'll be fun to try. In addition, I'm hoping the remapping will address a few subtle gaps that have arisen in my hearing spectrum in recent weeks. Only during auditory therapy do I really notice them, but fingers crossed that the new program will be able to fiddle with those issues. Until then!

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