For many of us, Thanksgiving weekend heralds the official start of the holiday season. It’s a time for food, family, celebration, and reflection. Last year, I wrote about how grateful I am for my hearing loss. That post quickly became (and remains) one of our most popular articles.
Of course being (and remaining) grateful has been particularly challenging in 2020. But, even in such a troublesome year, I find I’m still grateful for the unique perspective my hearing loss gives me.
Grateful, even during a pandemic
There is plenty of evidence that being thankful is good for your health. But it takes practice and effort — especially in a year marked by a global pandemic. The coronavirus has created truly terrifying and trying conditions. I earnestly hope that relief and comfort comes to any who have lost jobs or homes or loved ones during this difficult time.
However, even amidst the grief, I see hope. Just take a look at Twitter UK’s top picks for acts of kindness during COVID-19. Impressively, many businesses organized quickly to donate and give back in response to the pandemic. And thousands of people still spend countless hours making masks for front-line workers and those most at risk.
Sure … but what about those masks?
Of course, mask wearing and conversations through plexiglass can be uncomfortable and frustrating — especially if you are hard of hearing. But still, it’s another area where I find good reasons for hope.
First, I’m impressed with how many people recognize that masks pose particular problems for lip readers like me. Further, many manufacturers and do-it-yourselfers not only saw the problem, but also found solutions. Now, it’s not uncommon to see clear-windowed masks or face shields that accomodate lip reading.
Secondly, communication difficulties related to masks and barriers have given our “hearing friends” some appreciation for what life with hearing loss can be like. As Professor of Linguistics Valerie Fridland points out, masks make it harder for all of us to understand each other, whether or not we have hearing loss. So, masks have reminded us all about the need for good visual cues in effective communication.
More room at the table
Perhaps most encouragingly, these problems (and solutions) — specific to those with deafness or hearing loss — have received significant airtime. Despite broader pandemic concerns and election woes, agencies like NBC News, CNN, and The Washington Post, regularly remind us how the hearing loss community is particularly affected. I believe the increased awareness helps us all.
Recently, I needed to ship a package overnight. The poor young woman helping me (and many others) had to communicate through her own mask, a plexiglass wall, my mask — and any further barrier created by my own hearing loss. Thankfully, I was confident and comfortable enough to say, “I am hard of hearing. You don’t need to speak louder, but please keep eye contact and talk with me face to face as much as we can.” She seemed to immediately understand and made the extra effort to help me ship my package.
In the past, even in the best of times, concern for those with hearing loss may have been a mere afterthought. Now, even during our greatest challenges, we’re better at keeping those with hearing loss in mind. That’s real progress. And it’s something I’m very grateful for.
So, be thankful
Even with all the chaos and uncertainty around us (and even from behind my mask), I’m still thankful. I’m thankful that, today, I am more comfortable than ever in acknowledging my own hearing loss. I’m also thankful that others are informed enough, aware enough, and kind enough to communicate with me effectively.
I’m especially thankful to live in a world that, despite dark shadows from crises and controversy, still shows flashes of laudable light. Along with Jud Brewer of Elemental, I believe that kindness is more contagious than COVID-19. So, I’m hopeful. From small acts of kindness and consideration to broader inclusivity for our society at large, I find much to be grateful for. And, as we head into this season thanksgiving and reflection, I hope you do too.