Reading the post, “Why do we, LGBTQL, mistreat each other,” got my mind drifting…
Recently I attended a meeting where three blind people acted as consultants at a discussion on the challenges of the blind students at university. What struck me most about them, was their sense of humor, often laughing at themselves. Having been “otherwise” since I can remember, with a mind and body which refuse to acknowledge each other, I later in life became part of another group when I started losing my hearing gradually. I also learnt that it helps to laugh at situations that arise because of me hearing a different word than what the speaker had said. But there still are those days…
The speaker is well-known, well-traveled. He is probably paid a lot to be present here today. The main conference room is packed. I came early as usual, ensuring a seat in the front row, just below the podium – that way I should be able to hear almost everything that is said. The podium is ready – microphone, reading light, laptop linked to the large projection screen, which all of the 90+ delegates can follow with ease in the sloping state-of-the-art auditorium. The speaker is introduced by a person who reads his CV, while he is standing next to the podium, not using the microphone. Luckily his voice carries and I can hear almost everything he reads off about the esteemed speaker.
Then it is the speaker’s turn. He stands next to the podium, not using the microphone.
“Can you hear me at the back?” he queries.
A chorus of “Yes!” responses.
“Oh good, then I won’t need the microphone, I hate it in any case.”
There is a soft ripple of laughter. I groan inwardly – experience is a hard taskmaster, and always right. And again experience proves me right – the speaker’s normal speaking voice does not carry well.
“How can those people at the back hear?” I wonder. Then I remember – they have “normal” hearing. For the next hour I battle to catch as much as I can from the talk – I would guess about 40% – but the percentage is high, because I can often deduce from the slides what the speaker is saying. Without the slides, I would have lost track completely of the thread of the presentation. He is an animated speaker and loves to pace and every time he turns his back to pace to the other end of the stage, I lose track of what he is saying, as I cannot see and read his lips. He turns around, and then points at something on a slide with a laser pointer. Again I can only hear mumbled words, as his back is turned towards me.
Then it is question time. The conference center has a microphone at every second seat, but the attendees seem to be horrified by the microphones, as they completely ignore the technology. When a question comes from somewhere at the back or side of the auditorium, the question is only an unintelligible string of sounds to me. The speaker does not repeat the question, but answers it from the far end of the stage. Even the answer, and so the whole thread of the conversation, is lost to me.
After the conference I take the opportunity to go and introduce myself to the speaker and talk to him about his topic. When I mention that I could but catch perhaps 40% of his lecture, he is horrified. “You should have spoken up and asked that we all use the microphones!”
Yeah, right. Differently-abled people have been part of life since the dawn of time and with South Africa’s revolutionary, liberating constitution, people with “special needs” have been given more prominence than ever before! Where has he been all these years? Why should the onus always be on us, the “not-normal,” to fight for consideration and acceptance?
I walk to my office – now I have to go and write a report on a talk of which I have heard a fraction of the content and had to rely on my own mind, knowledge and experience to work out some of the rest. And the rest of the delegates go home, still fresh – they have heard it all…
No, hearing loss is not painful at all. Neither is being part of a “minority group” – the big hurt is in your chest – and only one person is aware of it – you.
Some folks are wise and some are otherwise.