Deaf students introduce new perspective on school environment

Andrea Hefferan | Staff Writer

There is no place on Earth where one can experience total silence. At all hours, sound surrounds us. But for some, these sounds never reach their ears.

Of every 1,000 people under 18 years old, 15 have some kind of hearing impairment. This can range from minor hearing loss to total deafness. Living in a world full of sounds is difficult for those who cannot hear them.

Freshman Grace Bagadiong, who is deaf and has a cochlear implant and a hearing aid, says the hardest part about her hearing loss is not being able to participate in everyday chatter.

“Some deaf people just wish to participate in conversations and most of the time they are not really a part of conversations,” Bagadiong said. “When they are in a conversation with a bunch of people they can’t hear one voice on its own. You have to hear one voice at a time instead of two voices at the same time because you can’t control hearing two different voices.”

Many people who are legally deaf wear a cochlear implant, while those who are hard of hearing usually just need a hearing aid. Deafness can vary in each ear, as in Bagadiong’s case, so she has an implant on her right ear and a hearing aid on her left.

“A cochlear implant is a technological device that’s inside your ear,” Bagadiong said. “There are wires that go inside your head and they are connected to the cochlea, which transfers sounds to the brain. A hearing aid is like a speaker that sits on the ear and is just a bit louder.”

Hearing aids and implants help those wearing them pick up sounds that hearing people often dismiss as background noise. When sophomore Grace Rhein got hearing aids at sixth grade, she experienced a whole realm of new sounds that made it all worth it.

“It was really crazy,” Rhein said. “A lot of the sounds I’d never heard before, like clocks ticking or people whispering behind me in class, (and) people walking in the hallways.”

Even though this technology is available to combat hearing loss, it is not always user friendly. Sophomore Sarah Epstein, who is hard of hearing, does not enjoy the sensation of her hearing aids.

“It’s like wearing earbuds all day, every day,” Epstein said. “It prevents air from getting into your ears so it gets really uncomfortable. And I had some nerve issues in my ear so I couldn’t wear them for a year without them hurting.”

There are many things others can do in order to make it easier on those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Rhein maintains that being able to see others’ faces makes it simpler to decipher what they are saying.

“(Others should) face me when they talk and talk a little bit louder,” Rhein said. “It doesn’t need to be crazy loud, but just not mumbling.”

Another way in which the deaf and hard of hearing process speech is lip reading. Bagadiong must rely almost solely on this method to understand what others are saying to her.

“As a deaf person it is easier to read lips because they rely on their vision more than hearing people,” Bagadiong said. “ They see things more than anybody else. They just know what the words are by reading your lips and how your facial expressions look.”

Some sounds that are heard every day can be painful for people who are hard of hearing to listen to. Epstein’s ears are more sensitive to certain pitches that would not bother a hearing person.

“Some people have a really high pitched voice,” Epstein said. “When they say certain words, in the way it comes out, it’s very high pitched and screechy to me. It’s really painful.”

Hearing loss can also affect speech. Because of a weak cochlear implant, Bagadiong had difficulty learning how to speak.

“My speech sounds a little different, so it’s also hard for (others) to understand me at the beginning of the conversation, but when time goes on, they will understand me better,” Bagadiong said.

Not being able to hear well makes learning a slow process, especially at a young age. However, Bagadiong and others like her are perfectly capable of being successful in school.

“I really like showing that I can still work in school and I can still learn,” Bagadiong said. “Most people think deaf people cannot learn everything in school. But it just takes time for them to learn.”

No matter how little the hearing loss, Epstein feels any imbalance of one’s senses affects people deeply.

“I think a lot of people might not think of hearing loss as a big disability, but it is,” Epstein said. “I think that having this kind of thing makes you more aware. Any change to your senses really messes with people and I feel like (other) people should be more aware of that.”