I awoke on May 22, 2008, ready to leave the hospital after knee surgery. But something was wrong. I couldn’t hear. Panicked, I rang a nurse to call my spouse Sheryl to come ASAP! As the day wore on, doctors trooped through, offering guarded opinions about my inexplicable deafness.
Home a week later, I hoped the steroids and antivirals might cure me. It soon became clear, however, I would be deaf for the rest of my life. I struggled with depression, fear, and by far the worst, isolation. Neither did I know sign language, nor could I—overnight—read lips. I grew up hearing, but suddenly I was stuck between the worlds of the hearing and the deaf. For seven months, everyone had to write out everything they said to me. A true test of friendship!
I now have a cochlear implant, giving me some hearing: mostly face-to-face, without background noise. Every time I go out, I have to “come out” as deaf, asking people to repeat. I cannot go to non-captioned movies. I struggle with telephones. I miss nuances in conversations.
Ironically, what is hardest is that most churches are inaccessible to me. They have neither thought about hearing loss (affecting some 40,000,000 people in the U.S.), nor have knowledge of hearing-assistive systems, other than a few having outdated FM systems with pocket receivers.
There is good news. Induction loops can be installed economically in churches. (The one Sheryl, a former electrical engineer, installed in her church sanctuary and fellowship hall cost around $1,000 for the hardware.) An induction, or audio, loop is a wire setting up an electromagnetic field so someone with a telecoil (in most hearing aids) inside the “looped” area gets a direct “feed,” without the ambient noise that makes it nearly impossible for those with hearing loss to comprehend amplified speech. People without telecoils use a pocket receiver for direct feed.
Like Jacob wrestling with his angel to receive his blessing, I have to struggle over my deafness, but I will not let go without it becoming a blessing for others. If you can “hear” me, think about those who will not come to your church or who have perhaps already left because they cannot hear well enough, then do something about it.
If I come to your church next year, will I, a person with hearing loss, be truly welcomed?