Winchester It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have a friend or family member who is deaf or hard of hearing.
To help people understand the challenges faced by the hard of hearing, World Federation of the Deaf Mark the last full week of September as International Week of the Deaf.
Donna Day is one of Winchester’s main advocates for severely hard-of-hearing area residents, a deaf and hard of hearing specialist for the nonprofit organization Reaching independence Winchester.
You won’t find a better subject matter expert than Dai. This is because she has been deaf since she contracted chickenpox and had a high temperature when she was a year old. As she grew, she adapted by learning to lip-read and American Sign Language.
“I grew up integrating into school, so I had to learn to lip-read,” Day said, but that skill didn’t help much when her teachers turned their backs on the class. “When I went to college, I had a sign language interpreter. I didn’t know how much I loved history! I thought, ‘Boy, I missed out on so much.'”
Day said she also wears a digital hearing aid that allows her to hear some words and sounds that she hasn’t heard since she was a child.
“I could hear a whistling sound in my house and I was trying to follow it because I didn’t know what it was. It was a whistling sound from the microwave,” she said with a smile. “I heard cicadas for the first time. It was driving me crazy!”
Technological advances such as digital hearing aids and closed captions for TV shows have been a boon to the hard of hearing, but people with severe hearing loss still face daily challenges that others don’t understand, Day said. For example, not every deaf person can lip read, and unless they are speaking to someone who knows sign language, it can be difficult to do basic things like order food at a restaurant or ask for help finding an item in a store.
On the other hand, there are hearing-impaired people who do not know sign language and can only read lips. For them, COVID-19 was a curse because face masks covered most people’s mouths for months.
“Some said, ‘I’m not going anywhere, I’m going to stay home,'” said Day. “They’re starting to go out now.”
Another form of hearing loss that makes it difficult to distinguish the voice of a person speaking when they are in a noisy area. Since it’s not always possible to ask everyone to be quiet, “we have devices like ‘pocket speakers’ that help out a bit with background noise,” Day said, referring to the personal assistive listening systems available from Access Independence.
Devices provided by the nonprofit Technical Assistance Program for People with Hearing Impairments are available free of charge to veterans and individuals who meet the program’s income requirements. For those who earn too much to qualify for a free phone, alarm clock, doorbell, or other device, the equipment can be sold at a discount or the nonprofit will help the applicant find an affordable option from another vendor.
A good way to learn about Access Independence services for the deaf and hard of hearing is to attend an upcoming community event:
- From 4 to 6 p.m. today, a free sign language social session will be held for both hearing and non-hearing adults in West Oaks Farm Market At 4305 Middle Road near Winchester. Beginners and advanced users of American Sign Language are welcome to update their skills or learn new ones in order to communicate more effectively.
- The nonprofit’s first annual fundraiser, slope fall, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in Access Independence at 324 Hope Drive in Winchester. The gathering will provide information on all of the services the organization provides to people with physical or cognitive disabilities, and will also include raffles, kettle corn, muffin rolls, food and drink for purchase, children’s area, and wheelchair obstacle course.
- The Open Awareness Session for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing will take place from 10am-2pm on October 17 in Access Independence. Day will tell attendees about the devices the nonprofit is providing to help people with hearing impairments and their families. An invitation to attend is required to be answered, so if you would like to attend, call 540-931-9124 or email email@example.com.
For people who are deaf or hard of hearing, the world today is much easier to live in than it was 20 or 30 years ago. In addition to the myriad of technological devices available to those with hearing impairments, Day said there is also more awareness and understanding of the deaf community.
“They’re very friendly now,” she said of deaf-facing people. “Some of them learned sign language. I’ve seen a lot of it.”
When asked to offer advice to share with people encountering a deaf person for the first time, Day said the key is to be patient and accepting.
“Don’t say ‘I’ll tell you later'” or ‘Nothing important,’ she said. ‘We hate it. We want to know what everyone is talking about.”
To learn more about Access Independence and the services it offers to area residents with physical and cognitive disabilities, visit accessindependence.org.