Intersection - Navigating the World of Sound With Hearing Loss | KBIA

Intersection - Navigating the World of Sound With Hearing Loss

Apr 29, 2019

Nearly 29 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, citizens, organizations, companies and campuses are still working on providing access and accommodations for those who need it to engage with and experience the world - its streets, its buildings, its concerts, classrooms, and even its radio programs.

On this edition of Intersection, KBIA producer Kassidy Arena, who has hearing loss, explores what all this means for those who are deaf and hard of hearing (a transcript of the conversation is below). As a producer and journalism student, Arena wants to explore how radio is experienced for the deaf and hard of hearing. 

MU student John Coleman (left) and MU's Angela Branson (right) spoke with KBIA producer Kassidy Arena about the experience of deaf and hard of hearing students on campus and in the community.
Credit Janet Saidi / KBIA

Angela Branson is MU's coordinator for deaf and hard of hearing students. John Coleman is a student at MU who, like Arena, lives with hearing loss.

Kassidy Arena spoke with Branson and Coleman about the misperceptions, challenges, and triumphs they encounter as they navigate the hearing world.

This program ended with the music of Sean Forbes - you can see his song signed, here.

For more information, check out these resources:

Here's a transcript of Kassidy Arena's conversation with Angela Branson and John Coleman:

Janet Saidi:

(Hip Hop Music)

This is Intersection - The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed nearly 29 years go - seeking to ensure that Americans with varying degrees of ability have more equal access to services and opportunities. But, 29 years later,

What is it like to navigate the world when you experience it differently. KBIA producer Kassidy Arena specifically wanted to explore what it’s like to navigate the world of the hearing, when you have experienced hearing loss. Here’s Kassidy.

Kassidy Arena:

I found out I couldn’t hear in the first grade and I grew up trying to figure out how my hearing loss fit into my life. Some people may think it’s odd, but I found my place in radio. My next step is figuring out how to make the medium I love more accessible for people like me. And I’ll start by bringing this conversation to the table. I spoke with hard of hearing student John Coleman and Angela Branson, the MU coordinator for deaf and hard of hearing students. Thank you for joining me, and enjoy the conversation!

(Intersection Starts)

Kassidy:

So Hi, everybody. Thanks for coming. Angela, John, I'm sure that you kind of got yourself a little bit familiar with the topic today, which is deafness and hard of hearing. So I guess first we're just going to kind of start with what's your familiarity with deafness or hard of hearing? John, I guess we'll start with you. How were you introduced to your hearing loss?

John Coleman:

My introduction to hearing loss was I lost my hearing. So I had a pretty like, blunt introduction. But like, at the time, I didn't really know what was going on. I wasn't really aware of like, like deaf or hard of hearing people because like the community I grew up in, was pretty hearing. But after like losing my hearing, I kind of like, understood that concept of like disability and like hearing loss and then kind of tried to familiarize myself with it. So I guess that's kind of like my introduction.

Kassidy:

And how old were you when that was happening?

John:

I lost my hearing around three years old. It was really weird. Like, it was literally I could hear one moment. And then I couldn't the next it was like literally like a snap of a finger. And so it's really weird how that happened. But it's, it's not something I really like feel bad about, I guess. It's kind of interesting.

Kassidy:

And Angela, so you are, can you just talk about your title and then kind of what brought you to do that job.

Angela Branson:

So I'm the Deaf Services Coordinator at the University of Missouri. I'm also a certified and licensed sign language interpreter. I've been an interpreter in Missouri for 18 years. I have interpreted everything from kindergarten to job training to psych hospitals to everything, concerts, you know, so that's... I've been kind of involved on the fringes of the deaf and hard of hearing community for a really long time. And I guess what kind of drew me to that was learning sign language on Sesame Street as a little kid, you know, they teach you A B C, just a simple finger spelling, hand shapes, and took a class after I graduated from college and have been doing stuff like this ever since.

Kassidy:

And while we're on the topic, really fast just for our listeners, Angela, I think you're actually one of the best people to talk about this. But what is the biggest difference between deafness and hard of hearing?

Angela:

So, it's quite the broad spectrum. And hearing loss is very individual. So just looking at an audio gram, it shows what you can hear what you can't, what your brain processes what it doesn't, that doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to comprehend, understand or discern that sound very well. So you'll have some people that I may consider hard of hearing that use sign language to communicate. Or you might have a person who really can't hear anything at all, who reads lips and speaks very well for themselves. So that line is very blurry. And assumptions by other people, I think make it even blurrier. But a lot of times hearing loss is categorized as mild, moderate, severe, profound, that's kind of how it's looked at.

Kassidy:

And, John, before we kind of started recording, you and I were just talking about our different hearing losses. We're both considered hard of hearing, but yet we're completely different in what our hard of hearing entails. So tell us a little bit about your hearing loss.

John:

Yeah, so I have what's called sensory neural bilateral hearing loss. So what that basically means is, um, the neurons in my brain are like firing but they're not firing at the correct rate or they're not firing at all. So my ear isn't being like stimulated, so it's not conducting the sound. And the bilateral part is basically, my hearing will tend to switch from like, left or right side, tending to favor one of the others. And it happens like sporadically. So there might be like, days or months or like entire years where like, I'll hear really well on like my left or right ear, but then like it could quickly change to the other ear.

Kassidy:

Interesting and how are you kind of getting your balance here with that kind of hearing loss?

John:

I think for me, just really being like aware of it, and trying to understand like, okay, is it because I might be like congested or is it like, Oh, I'm really hearing better out of this year over the other and maybe I need to like boost up my hearing aid on this side or just be more aware of it and stuff like that.

Kassidy:

So John's hearing loss is kind of more caused by nerves right? In the brain. Whereas my hearing loss is very physical. When I was younger, I got tubes and then the tubes just didn't let my ears heal, hence leaving a hole in the eardrum. Is that something that you are more familiar with for the hearing loss community?

Angela:

There's a lot of structural issues that can cause hearing loss. A lot of students have had spinal meningitis. That's a leading cause of the students that I've had. People that are born hearing, but then they get sick. So spinal meningitis... I think it's actually the medication that they use, and not the actual disease. Or a lot of people more my age, their mother had German measles when they were pregnant. And so that's where a lot of people became deaf, but that tends to be older folks. It can be things like maybe a mother that takes drugs when she's pregnant, that can also cause hearing loss in the child, but like, you know, the leading cause of deafness is unknown. It can be genetic, it can be, you know, environmental, it can be structural. So, all kinds of reasons.

Kassidy:

So, John, you had mentioned that your, quote, unknown hearing loss, that doesn't frustrate you at all?

John:

I mean, there's some days where it frustrates me like, I know, when I was little, I think a lot of like, deaf or hard of hearing kids have that same kind of feeling. It's not really... I wouldn't say it's fun living with a disability, or having hearing loss or being deaf because it is kind of like an isolating factor socially. So when I was younger, like, I was obviously like, frustrated, I hated being like the only kid with like, hearing aids and like, only seeing like, other people who could like hear normally. People would like, kind of avoid me because they thought I was going to get them sick. And I didn't really like having to like bring like an F.M. to class and like, help teachers figure out how to use it. Or like constantly, like worried about Oh, are my hearing aid batteries gonna die. So that was a little frustrating. I think as I kind of like grew up, I kind of like, accepted that it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just something I kind of have to live with. But it's not like something entirely detrimental. Like, I realized, Oh, I can still do a lot of things like normal able bodied people do. I just have to make sure I can hear and like, stuff like that. I think for a lot of deaf and hard of hearing kids, or I guess for me, just kind of like coming to terms and like accepting that part of me was just kind of like learning more about like the deaf community like where I fell in that and like educating myself on like my hearing loss and like, that kind of stuff.

Kassidy:

For me, a big part of that was actually coming to college. I used to...You talked about the hearing aid batteries, I used to take my hearing aid into the bathroom to change the batteries. Because I didn't want anybody to see that. I used to wear my hair down. I have long hair as opposed to you, I guess they're always visual, or visible. But I used to, like I said, Go into the bathroom and change them. And then when I actually came to college, that's when I realized, Oh, this is not something that makes me different. There's a whole community here on campus, whereas when I grew up, I was the only kid that ever had to deal with that. And I was the only kid with a microphone that I would give teachers so that I could hear them better. So yeah, so that kind of leads us into what are the biggest misconceptions that the hearing community has for deaf or hard of hearing people?

John:

I think there are a lot of misconceptions. I think Angela briefly touched on it how deafness and hard of hearing is like she said a huge spectrum. A lot of people assume that I am deaf, because I were hearing aids. But when they hear me speak, they're like, Oh, you don't sound deaf. And I'm always in the back of my mind. I'm like, Well, what should I sound like? Should I be using sign language? Stuff like that? So I think one, I guess common misconception is that like, having like an implant or hearing aids, people automatically assume that you must know sign language or that you don't speak. And that can be a little frustrating. I kind of play along with it. I know like, enough sign language. So if I, if my hearing aids do die, I just go along with it. And I do sign. And then like, when people are getting like, kind of stressed like, Oh, no, how do I talk to this person? Like, Oh, no, I'm just joking. I can hear. I'm mean, in that regard,

(Laughter)

but I think that's one misconception. Just like all deaf and hard of hearing people must know sign language. And maybe that's true to an extent. I think a lot of people who have hearing loss kind of do like to learn a little bit of sign language. Just like maybe interact with like the deaf community more just if it's like an emergency and they can't hear and they don't know how they're being heard signing can help.

(Break in conversation) Janet:

 This is intersection. I'm Janet Saidi. Today we're listening in on a conversation hosted by KBIA producer Kassidy Arena. Kassidy is talking with guests Angela Branson and John Coleman about navigating the hearing world as someone who is hard of hearing. Kassidy herself has hearing loss and wants to make radio more accessible. You can find more on this conversation at KBIA.org. Now, back to the conversation with Kassidy, Angela and John.

Kassidy:

And Angela, what do you do to reach out to the hearing community to kind of combat these misconceptions?

Angela:

It's interesting because one of my roles is as a sign language interpreter on campus so I interact with a lot of faculty and staff and a lot of times I'll reach out ahead of the semester, and just explain, hey, there's going to be a sign language interpreter in your class, or there's going to be a student in your class that uses captioning or whatever it may be. But I still even after 18 years, I get surprised at the questions that I get, you know, I still get the: Can deaf people drive? question, which should be should be not asked anymore. Like, you know…

John:

I had that question asked to me when I was taking my driver's test, they're like, do you... are you going to be able to drive and I said, like, I can drive? I just can't hear that well, so you might need to repeat things for me. And they're like, Oh, okay. I thought it was like it was the first time I had heard that question. One question that I got asked, it was really weird, was: Do you know Braille? I'm not blind.

(Laughter)

I’m not blind.

Angela:

And I've seen that happen. You know, somebody go up to the counter at McDonald's and start signing, and the person behind the counter gets really excited and they run back and they get the Braille menu out.

(Laughter)

Kassidy:

Oh no.

Angela:

It's like, no, like, they can just point, you know, and but our students on campus I think they do really well. They adjust really well, you know, the students who maybe don't communicate as well with hearing people, you know, at the line at Starbucks, how do you, you know, order there?

John:

I actually had that. I was really lucky. There was a student who I guess took the ASL course here. I didn't have my hearing aids in and like, my voice was like, really dry. And so I just, like, typed out my order and like signed and it worked enough that they like were able to sign I could see that they're getting so excited. Like, ah! I get to use sign language. But um, yeah, that's like one thing I've noticed. It kind of can be weird, like, ordering things.

Angela:

And I think you know, life on campus can be kind of isolating for students who do just use sign language. You know, I've had students live in the dorms and not be able to communicate fabulously with their roommate or live in a sorority house. You know, and I think there are challenges no matter if you sign or you don't. I've had students with cochlear implants who have kind of issues with those as well. As far as you know, what they sound like when it's not on or wearing it all the time or not wearing it all the time, that kind of thing as well.

Kassidy:

Yeah, I myself kind of experience a little bit of isolation with the sign language. I don't sign. I know very basics, just like a lot of people can count to five in Spanish. And so it was actually in a group message and somebody wanted somebody who could sign and so somebody else responded to her and said, well, Kassidy can probably sign and I was like, Oh, no, no, I cannot. So I think that that's one of the biggest things that is a little bit misunderstood that just because I wear a hearing aid, doesn't mean I know how to sign. That doesn't mean that's my number one way to communicate. Well, and one of my favorite questions too is: Why do you wear a hearing aid? Oh, because I can't smell that's usually my answer.

(Laughter)

Just because it’s funny.

John:

I just say that they're like, like knockoff air pods now, because people have asked me they're like, oh, are those like knockoff air pods? I'm like, yep.

Angela:

I see those in people's ears. And I'm like, deaf person!

(Laughter)

Kassidy:

So before we move on too far, how are campus administration and organizations working to improve the experience for deaf students or hard of hearing students and staff?

Angela:

So one thing we're trying to do at the disability center, and we have a digital accessibility policy and all these kinds of things, but really, the main thing about it is captioning. We want faculty and staff to caption you know, digital stuff is great, but if it's not captioned, you're missing out on a big part of the student population who can, you know, get use out of that and captioning benefits a lot of people, you know, older folks as well as students who have English as a second language. So captioning, they've done studies, captioning really does help. So we really try to kind of push the captioning because it just does benefit so many people.

John:

Yeah, I use captioning and I think it's really beneficial. Like, they're like, it's great for like lectures where there's a lot of people I know for, like, I'm in an online course, like not everything's caption, but the stuff that is captioned, it's so much easier to like understand, I'm not like, turning up my volume to like, hear it. And yeah, I think captioning's like the big thing for me. I know Mizzou's disability coalition is really trying to push for graduation to be captioned and making sure that captioning needs are being met along with a bunch of other accessibility needs.

(Break in Intersection) Janet:

This is Intersection. I'm Janet Saidi. Today, producer Kassidy Arena is talking with guests Angela Branson and John Coleman about navigating the hearing world as someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, Kassidy herself has experienced hearing loss and wanted to explore the experiences and issues for this episode of Intersection. You can find more on this conversation at KBIA.org.

Kassidy:

So how are you navigating between this world of hard of hearing community or deaf community and the hearing community?

John:

For me, it's just kind of like making sure that like well, my accommodations are being met and that two people understand like, what my hearing loss kind of entails and like, how they should like interact with me. Um, for me, kind of like I grew up more in a hearing community so I never really had much experience with deaf and hard of hearing kids outside of a baseball camp that I went to over the summer, where there's like the tons of hard of hearing kids. And that was like my first exposure to that. And so I kind of understood like, okay, there's this huge spectrum and like, I'm not the only one. And I think it's different on Mizzou's campus because I do see students with like, implants or like a hearing aid. And my first instinct is like, Oh my gosh, someone like me, but then I realize, Oh, I can't just go up to them and be like, Oh my gosh, you're like me! Let's be friends!

(Laughter)

Kassidy:

I saw a little boy trick or treating once in the Greek campus, and he was wearing hearing aids and I was like, Oh my gosh, and I went up to him and showed him mine and he was very excited, but I guess I can't do that to a college aged person. So, um, what about so we've talked a little bit about ASL. John, you and I both have hearing loss and I don't sign and you do. So how important is learning ASL?

John:

I should preface it like I don't sign fluently. For me, learning sign language was just kind of like a way to one, like kind of understand like deaf culture. Like, be able to communicate with deaf people more like I can maybe have like a really simple conversation. But like if someone who was actually deaf and only signed came up to me, I would probably be stuck using like, broken grammar and like finger spelling. I definitely think knowing ASL is like beneficial, um, if you're like a hard of hearing or deaf person just because it can kind of connect you more with that community. And I think it's also like a beneficial thing for hearing people to know even if it's just like the alphabet so you can finger spell things. But I wouldn't say it's like a necessity. I think it only becomes a necessity if you really need it.

Angela:

I've seen students on this campus who came with a hearing loss, not knowing any sign language and then through different things, maybe taking ASL as their foreign language. They've really gotten a little bit more proficiency using sign language and I think it's really benefited a lot of them I have a student who recently got her master's in child life. And her sign language ability has really gotten better through her years here. And so she's hoping to work a lot with children who are deaf or hard of hearing and be able to directly communicate with them, even though, you know, when she got to this campus, her, you know, signing skills maybe weren't fabulous, but they really got better. So I think it can be useful to directly communicate with this community that you've kind of always been on the fringes of you know.

Kassidy:

And so we talked a little bit about Deaf culture. What is it to you?

Angela:

I think Deaf culture, just I mean, not being deaf or hard of hearing. Deaf culture is very important to the folks that have grown up. You know, capital D Deaf is what we say. Maybe they went to a State School for the Deaf maybe they went to Gallaudet University or Rochester Institute in Rochester, New York, NTID. You know, it's... people that speak your language. I mean, that's important for any culture. And I think there's strong ties there. It's different. And I think sometimes hearing people, we're so used to being polite and civil, it kind of takes us aback because, you know, sometimes deaf people can be very blunt. But that's just that's just the way it is, you know, and it's, I don't know, I think Deaf culture is beautiful for the, you know, small percentage of folks that are in there.

John:

Yeah, um, there's a really good documentary that was on Netflix called "See What I'm Saying." And I forget who in the documentary mentioned it, but they mentioned that like deaf people kind of view themselves in like a separate world. So there's like the hearing world and the deaf world and that Deaf world, it becomes like a really small kind of community once you are in it and can also become like, a really homogenized community too, depending on who you speak to. I know for me growing up when I was learning about my deafness, there's a little kind of like identity crisis, because um, there's some deaf people who only sign, they don't where hearing aids or implants. And that's like a choice for them. Like, they don't view their deafness as like a disability or anything that hinders them. They view it as something that makes them part of this special community. And I think that's a really good way of viewing like deafness and disability in general, and not as something that hinders you, it makes you part of the community and can bring you closer together. And then there are people who advocate for speaking, over signing and having implants or hearing aids and that can cause like, huge divides. And so I think deaf culture is essentially kind of what group in the deaf community you fall in. Like for me, I know if I went to like Gallaudet, for example, there might be students there who say, oh, you're not deaf. And I applied to Gallaudet but that was one of the reasons I didn't go because one, I didn't want to learn sign language just to attend lectures, but I didn't want to have to kind of face some of that stigma that might come with not being capital D deaf. Um, but I also think like deaf culture is really interesting, from like a historical perspective. I remember there was this book I read, I forget what, but it basically talked about like, deaf history and like, some of the prejudice that came with sign language, how early schools for the deaf didn't allow sign language like they tied students' wrists together to prevent them from signing or put little bells so they did sign, the teachers were like, no, no speak, or like, silent movies. A lot of silent movies were big for deaf people when they came out because it was the first time they could go out in public and enjoy like a movie. But once those went away, they didn't have that kind of same luxury. I think it's really interesting looking at like deaf culture from like a historical perspective. Because usually when you think about it, a lot of people think, oh, a deaf person can speak, that's like great. But sometimes it's not always by choice, or it's something that they realize separates them from their community. Or it's like, oh, this movie's captioned, but at the same time moving might not be totally accessible. I know when I go to movies, none of them are caption. I don't use the hearing assistive device they have because I don't know where it is. And it looks like more of a burden to like, set up then use. But like, I think Deaf culture's really just interesting from like a community aspect.

Kassidy:

So just to wrap things up, how is the overall hearing community how are they and it becoming more aware of the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people that you have experienced?

Angela:

I think there's more have an awareness kind of out there. And then every time we see something in pop culture, you know, that has a deaf person in a movie or...

Kassidy:

Switched at Birth!

Angela:

Yeah.

Kassidy:

I was so excited.

Angela:

Or, you know, some of the new movies that are coming out that actually used up actresses, you know, those are like kind of waves that help the awareness, you know, kind of go on and in the bigger cities, there's more and more just accessibility. People are getting it slowly, I guess.

John:

Yeah, I definitely think that goes along with like, just kind of exposure. I know for me, like my first time, knowing that there's like popular like deaf people was like Marlee Matlin. And like she's not someone who I can directly relate with. But when Switched at Birth came out, I was like, Oh my god, there's like someone almost my age on TV. And I definitely think like, seemed deafness represented in a positive light on like, TV, social media anyway, definitely raises awareness. I definitely think like, I went to ASL here, and the speaker there, I definitely agree with her points, like hearing people are like, drawn to like a moth to a light when it comes to learning sign language because like, it is kind of like this fun thing to know. But I definitely think just raising awareness of that. And I definitely think like advocacy, I know, Mizzou's disability coalition along with the disability center and just kind of educating students on like, what being deaf means or like, what it's like and like, how to interact with like the deaf people and community on campus definitely helps, like spread awareness and like, reduce stigma or like, avoid questions like can you drive? Do you need Braille? Or do you know sign language?

Kassidy:

(Hip Hop music fading in)

Yeah, well, I mean, I think that the community overall is doing a much better job at not even just making a deafness and hard of hearing more positive but just more accepted and normal. A normal part of life. Some people have it some people don't, some people are brunette, some people are blonde. So I guess that will wrap up our Intersection program for today. Thank you so much for joining us on Intersection.

Janet:

This Intersection program was produced and hosted by Kassidy Arena. Intersection’s producers are Mitch Legan, Aviva Okeson-Haberman, Noah Taborda, and me, Janet Saidi. We’re going out with music by deaf musician Sean Forbes. You can see more about this conversation at KBIA.org.