Bionic Ears Vs. Father Time

Cartoon woman in at the entrance of a maze

Image Source: Pixabay user qimono

And now for a corny joke: deafness is amazing.

Allow me to explain.

Words are cowards. When someone speaks to me, their words wiggle behind a maze. I must work my way through the maze before I get the words to show themselves to me. Mazes, like words, are deeply affected by their owners. Each person presents me with a different maze. For folks I’m long acquainted with, the maze is deftly navigated. For strangers, the maze slows me down some. For the thickly accented or the softly spoken, the maze slows me down much. But most frustrating of all is when I find Father Time is in cahoots with words from a well-known person.

Kith, kin, and acquaintances all have their own way with words. The words of some stand tall behind walls small. The mazes in front of such words present me with but little trouble. The words of my mom stand behind such a maze. Then there are the words of those who I know so well that the words could very well be mine. These words are behind walls of glass and under a light that’s bright. As a result, those walls that I can’t readily see through throw shadows that lead me to the right path. Pam’s words are behind such a wall. A third species of words are those that constantly shuck and jive. They run through the maze ahead of me in a crouch. They quickly dart ahead of the next turn, almost leading me on. While I do fall behind from time to time, the chase is a longstanding one and I can usually keep up with the gist if not the entire sentence. My oldest friend J’s words lead me on like this. While these words are a little tougher to catch, the challenge pales in comparison to strangers’ words.

I’ve seen many a maze since I started work in a public library. From mazes with sharp corners to those with round ones, from mazes with tall walls to those with small ones, from mazes with red carpet floors to those with rock-studded dirt trails, and many, many more. When a person first starts speaking to me, I hold my breath and wait for the maze to reveal itself to me. Their mouths move and I see their words take up shelter behind the maze as the details sharpen. Sometimes I have nary a problem navigating through. Other times, I need them to inject some HGH into the words by repeating them and thus making them loom larger behind the exit. Then there are those times that I get hopelessly lost in the dark corners of the maze. While this happens most often on the phone, there I times I need to call the co-worker Calvary to give me a ride through the maze. Accented and soft-spoken words have the most nefarious mazes.

The words of people with accents, foreign or domestic, sit hunched over behind the end of their mazes twirling their little handlebar mustaches like a good little villain. The walls of such mazes are dotted with strobe lights and capped with walls that curve up over me. Some passageways move, too. The unfamiliar pronunciation distracts me from finding my way. Even when I do stumble across the finish line, the script those words appear in is strange thus rendering familiar words indecipherable. But at least I have my senses to help me. With those followers of The Hushed Tone, I’m afforded no such opportunity.

The words of such acolytes throw a hyperbaric chamber maze in front of me. The maze is the color of the back side of my eyelids. There is no breeze with which I can cheat. Nor is there any scent I can follow like an ersatz bloodhound. These mazes I cannot hope to navigate without the help of the words at their end. I need some of that old HGH from the words’ owners or a flashlight from a friend. The frustration I feel stuck inside these mazes is like no other. Close, though, is when that trickster, Father Time, enters the fray.

I’ve been navigating these mazes since I failed my first hearing test at the tender age of five. Though they are far from easy to travel, I’ve at least become accustomed to looking for the clues the words reveal with the walls. So when these walls started to change, I was flummoxed. Mazes that were familiar suddenly weren’t. A coworker’s tricky labyrinth was suddenly harder than an accented lad’s one. Casting about for clues, my eyes lighted upon the laughing face of Father Time.

My deafness has been steady for years. But I know that Father Time will continue to carry off pieces of my hearing. It seems he may have started this thieving. I’m being forced to relearn mazes I could once run through speedily. I’m finding the words of more strangers hopping in line behind the followers of The Hushed Tone. Father Time may be taking my hearing but there’s one thing he’ll never be able to take; my hope.

I still hold out hope that I’ll be able to reacclimate to these new mazes of my those I know. I’ve done it for decades, so there’s no reason to think I can’t continue to do so. As for those people whose words are soft or accented, well, I have a secret weapon: bionic ears. While my current set will not be good forever, I can always replace them. Whether the trouble is my current set has just worn out or I need a more powerful set, when I get to that point, I will convince new followers of The Hushed Tone to renounce their new beliefs and force them into the ranks of plain old strangers. The mazes of whom I’ll be able to learn.

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Tribulations of a Bionic Librarian

Before I get into this entry, I must ask you to go away…and read this article: http://www.xojane.com/issues/how-not-to-be-a-dick-to-your-deaf-friend

Go on. I’ll wait.

(Man baseball is slow compared to playoff hockey. The game is slow enough and this joker throws a pitch and then meanders around the mound? What’s up with that? I mean…)Oh, you’re back. Good.

Quite the article isn’t it? The lass is a wee bit further down the deafness curve than your friendly neighborhood bionic librarian. But I still found myself shouting YES! as I read it. I can relate to just about everything she said. Her words struck a cord so strongly that I felt the need to pay her homage and throw down some experiences of my own.

So without further ado:

I Don’t Look the Part But Don’t Think I’m Lying

I’m 6’2″ and exercise regularly. While I don’t claim to be an Adonis, I’m in fairly good shape. So when I meet someone new, they are often taken aback by my inability to catch everything they say. I tend to get an interesting mix of people being apologetic and people being affronted. I don’t want either response, I just want you to be aware of my limitation and face me when you speak. When I got these bionic ears, I purposefully bought the grey casings and not the brown. I did so in hopes that folks would notice them and so wouldn’t be surprised when I asked them to repeat something. Now if my hair would stop turning grey…

Don’t Get Angry When I Hear the Wrong Thing

This happens in meetings more then anything else. Everyone is busy and no one wants to be in meetings, I get it. I do. But just because I’m answering a question you didn’t ask doesn’t mean I’m making fun of you. So there’s no need to get offended. The first time I encountered this, I was stunned. I’m a shy guy and don’t like to speak up unless I have to. So pissing someone off is not on the top of my list of things to do. What I haven’t decided, tough, is if I like making someone mad or making someone laugh better. Getting laughed at because I said the wrong thing isn’t too pleasant either. Well, I guess amusement beats scorn. Y’know like rock beats scissors (or Spock beats rock).

Don’t Whistle to Get My Attention

This only happened to me a couple of times. I felt like a dog. The first time, I joined in the laughter. I think it was because it was so unexpected. However, the times after that it got insulting. Luckily, it hasn’t happened in a good long while. When people want my attention, they usually wave. My peripheral vision is pretty good so it tends to work quite nicely.

Movies/TV Shows Need Closed Captions

This is my plea to all the TV and movie companies out there: step up the closed captioning will ya? Back when the Dark Knight Rises came out, I had my first run in with the lack of CC. I’d been watching TV with CC for years and my ears got either lazy or worse because those threatening whispers Batman and his villains like to use fell on deaf ears (sorry). Then the explosions were so loud I had to turn down my bionic ears. Then the whispers began and I had to turn them up. It was exhausting. Since then I’ve always thought twice before going to a movie.

Even staying home isn’t a sure bet. I bought a collection of Mythbusters shows on DVD and wouldn’t you know it, no closed captions. Even though when I watched the episodes on TV they were there. For shame Discovery Channel, for shame! And I won’t even get started on the debacle that is closed captions for live sporting events. When they do manage to keep the pace, they’re often wrong or covering up some interesting stats. I understand that it’s not easy to put captions on a live event, but couldn’t that 7-second delay be used for something? I mean just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Hmph. Ok, I guess I did get started. Moving on.

The Double-edged Sword of Technology

For the last part of the entry, I’d like to get into describing the nuances of wearing bionic ears.

The hearing aids have helped me hear folks speaking to me, but they also introduced me to the background noises that I hadn’t heard for years, if ever. While that may seem obvious, what is a little more irksome is the fact that my brain isn’t used to having to filter out background noise. So while it’s nice to hear the waves lapping the shore, it’s not so nice to hear the traffic outside my front door. But fear not, those technological magicians were on top of that. My wondrous bionic ears are constantly filtering out that background noise. I think it has something to do with narrowing the band so that only things closer to me are picked up. But I could be wrong. It’s a pretty nifty development, most of the time. An unavoidable consequence is the wind. When I’m outside talking with someone, if the wind picks up my bionic ears start a-filtering and I can’t hear a damned thing. Wind is meddlesome but rain, rain has become the bane of my existence. I already wrote all about one that. (See here)

Whether I’m outside or inside, I’m battery powered! And batteries are most definitely not included. The batteries last me a little over a week and more than once, I’ve been caught without a spare one. Oh, they are kind enough to give me a warning beep (usually) but that doesn’t mean that I can always do anything about it. When I’m left with a dead ear everything seems to be coming from one side of the world. It’s quite disorienting. That’s to say nothing of those times when they practice synchronized dying. At times like those, it’s like a blanket has been tossed over everything. When they’re off, they act as gratuitous earplugs. So I usually take them out. At times this is a blessing because having things stuck in your ears all time time can make them quite sore. Of course, without them on my tinnitus gets louder. But that’s a while different story.

Closed Captions for Meetings?

I have trouble hearing in big meetings. Sitting close and microphones only do so much. Nor do I know enough ASL to benefit from interpreters. I was mulling this over one day while watching some TV. As the words marched their way across the bottom of the screen it hit me that a Closed Caption system for meetings would be a godsend! So I started looking at Dragon.

I got in touch with a representative from Nuance and she quickly squashed my idea. Her main reason was that you must train the software to recognize your accent. So unless each person presenting in a meeting has time to train Dragon, it just wouldn’t work. But I didn’t see that as a reason not to try. If the training was short and painless, then it may be worth a shot. So I was able to procure a copy and so I started playing around. It didn’t take me long to see the training issue was the least of the obstacles.

Below we see what I had in mind. A slide from a presentation is augmented with the DragonPad open in the corner. It captures my speech and creates a closed caption for my fellow hard-of-hearing folks.

WhatIThought

Unfortunately, not all is as it appears. Let’s take a closer look at the DragonPad

CloserLook

Here’s what normal hearing-folk would have heard:

The next step in the technology ladder is the pilot period new line the pilot is when we take a technology and put it to work at partners period new line the hardware is purchased in the appropriate groups brought in to lend a hand period new line together comma with the assistance from the vendor functionality of the technology is fully explored period

Conversely, if I spoke normally, the Slide and DragonPad team would yield the following result.

Reality

Ugly.

But this morning on the T, I was standing next to a lady with headphones turned up so loud that I could damn near make out the words to the song. It’s events like these that reaffirm my belief that it won’t be long before the majority of people have bionic ears just like mine. Once that happens, the demand for such services as I describe here will rise and I think that technological advances will rise to meet the demand.