Member Spotlight: Maggie Brown
Each month, we invite DBC members with a connection to our theme to share their personal experiences with us. Interested in sharing your story with the DBC community? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can you introduce yourself to our members?
Hi there! I'm Maggie (@mugandnook), a fellow bookworm in Oklahoma City. Even though I have 2 older siblings, my mom said she would almost always find me tucked away by myself somewhere reading a book aloud to my dolls. I've enjoyed alone time with books for as long as I can remember which motivated me to study English and Creative Writing in undergrad. I thought teaching is where I'd always wind up, but a series of events led me to the nonprofit world. I love that nonprofits seem to meet the gaps in a huge range of services for people in need. I enjoy the variety this field offers me, and I've been fortunate to work in social services, health care, and currently work for adolescents in addiction recovery. Besides reading, I love throwing a ball at the dog park with Toby, my golden retriever, hosting travelers from all over the world in my house through AirBNB, costume painting my face and the face of others, or kicking back at a local brewery.
Why is this month’s topic near and dear to your heart?
I have severe hearing loss and tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ear), and I wear hearing aids in both ears. Many of my immediate family members and extended family on my maternal side also wear hearing aids. My mother is nearly entirely deaf without hearing aids and has been my entire life, so, helping her communicate in public is as much a part of my life as drinking water. I was so excited to hear that hearing loss would be represented in the DBC's November theme, Differing Abilities. I feel this topic isn't discussed nearly enough and it's been such a huge part of my life! My hearing loss developed gradually and continues to change year after year. I didn't get hearing aids until 2011 when I was 25, but I first noticed the loss at age 18 when I was first beginning college. I remember standing right next to the ice cream truck and not being able to hear it while everyone around me was being drawn to the familiar sound. This was the moment I realized how significant the loss was, but I still waited nearly 7 years before taking action -- partially because I didn't want to be identified as "different" and partially because a quality hearing aid can cost well over $5,000 and most insurance plans do not cover the expense.
You mentioned hearing impairment is severely misunderstood and stigmatized. What are some ideas or images that you see in popular culture that perpetuate some of these ideas?
We've all heard those insults disguised as jokes for the people in our lives with hearing loss, "TURN UP YOUR HEARING AID, BOB!" "SHE ONLY HEARS WHAT SHE WANTS TO HEAR!" "DON'T BOTHER TALKING TO HIM; HE'S DEAF AND DUMB!" Unfortunately, the common misconceptions are that hearing loss only affects the elderly and people with hearing loss are less intelligent or mentally ill. Something surprisingly ordinary is people's lack of willingness to assist those of us with hearing loss just simply by repeating phrases or speaking more articulately. I am faced frequently with people's frustrations when trying to have a conversation with me or my family. For this reason, many people with hearing loss will often miss things rather than impose another person by asking them to help us understand. Even those of us who can hear have probably been in that awkward situation where we think, "I have no idea what this person said, so, I'll just nod and smile and hope that works." It's easy to assume that because a person isn't understanding you due to hearing loss, they are "dumb" or "slow."
Today, children are given a hearing test shortly after birth before they ever leave the hospital. If an infant fails the hearing test, they should be paired with a pediatric audiologist and speech pathologist. Because of hearing aids and cochlear implants, children with deafness or hearing loss are taught to be able to speak and hear and assimilate into regular classroom settings. The schools for the deaf and sign language are slowly becoming obsolete. However, a note from the author, Cece Bell, in El Deafo, discusses that people with hearing loss may choose a path that's individual, and that is not necessarily this or that. Some prefer sign language while others don't, and some learn to speak normally while others may choose to be mute. There isn't a singular form of hearing loss or treatment.
What would you like those without a hearing impairment to know?
Hearing loss impacts every single interaction I have with another human being. Communication is key to relationships, and relationships are key to life. By not being able to communicate normally, it can feel very lonely and isolating. There's often a desire to withdraw because of the difficulty I often face in groups or loud environments. I ask people to be reminded of this when speaking to a person with hearing loss: BE PATIENT and cognizant of the adversity this person faces. One of the topics I thought was so well highlighted in the DBC pick, El Deafo, is that even with hearing aids, sounds are often jumbled and confusing. The best way for a person with hearing loss to hear you is to speak with clarity not loudness. We can often hear your voice, but we can't distinguish the words. A large part of our understanding is enhanced through lip reading and context clues (also discussed in El Deafo), so make sure that we can see your face and read your lips when speaking to us. The microphone on my hearing aid is located on the back of my ear, so if you try to speak in my ear not only will you miss the amplification by directing towards my ear canal, but I won't be able to catch vital clues through your mouth and face. Keep in mind that technology has come a very long way in advancing hearing, but it still isn't perfected. Do not expect that because we have hearing aids, we are able to hear.
Are there any resources or books you’d recommend for our members who want to learn more about this topic to check out?
Definitely read El Deafo, the DBC pick. It might only take you an hour or so to read because it is a middle-grade graphic novel, but it does an excellent job of describing experiences I've had even as an adult with hearing loss. I was so touched by this story.
I have an Oklahoma-based nonprofit I support called Hearts for Hearing that has a blog with current research, you can find at heartsforhearing.org.
Another great book to read is Shouting Won't Help: Why I--and 50 Million Other Americans--Can't Hear You, where she talks about adult onset hearing loss and emphasizes the need to speak articulately, the volume to your voice does not increase its clarity.
Is there anything else you’d like our members to know that we missed in the questions above?
Don't treat a person differently because of their "differing abilities." This is so often said, but reluctantly enforced. Just because I have difficulty hearing, doesn't mean that I don't want to have a conversation with you. I would hate to miss out on having a relationship with a person just because of my hearing loss. The online book community has been such a gift for me because there's no hindrance to my conversations with all of you! Thank you for this opportunity to discuss my experience. Please let me know how hearing loss has affected your life!