Stranger: “Hi, may I know what are those things hanging behind your ears?”
Me: “Oh sure! Thanks for asking though. They’re assistive hearing devices and they help me hear since I’m hearing-impaired.”
Stranger: “Oh I see! I’m so sorry for you!”
Me: “Hehe not a problem at all, really!”
That was a short conversation I had with a passer-by while I was in Dubai for holidaying last winter. But wait here, what do you think was wrong about that?
Why, you might ask? It’s not that it’s an offensive thing to approach a stranger and enquire about those big things sticking on their ears, right?
I’ll give you a hint if you haven’t figured it out yet.
The stranger apologized for me being disabled.
But one shouldn’t apologize for another’s disability.
Not only this but also we should constantly remind ourselves that one’s impairment isn’t something that would be limiting one’s abilities.
And so started around 15-16 years of speech therapy and auditory-verbal therapy, of rehabilitation post my cochlear implant surgery and its frequent programming at the clinic (to make sure that it’s optimizing my hearing and functioning well) as well as struggling with dealing with this trauma of being different from others.
Ok sure, it’s a good thing to remind myself that I may have overcome so many obstacles and that I should be proud of myself for having come so far as I have. But the very fact that I go about my life, doing the things that another hearing person does is sufficient proof that I’m doing well so far.
So there, here’s my adventurous journey of achieving super-hearing gain.
When I was around a year old, my parents realized that I was not responding to the loud firecrackers during Diwali that would normally make a baby cry in retaliation. When my parents were notified of this observation, they consulted specific doctors in Bhilai and later on surgeons in Mumbai. They took me for further auditory tests and it was diagnosed that I have profound bilateral sensorineural mixed hearing loss. And so started around 15-16 years of speech therapy and auditory-verbal therapy, of rehabilitation post my cochlear implant surgery and its frequent programming at the clinic (to make sure that it’s optimizing my hearing and functioning well) as well as struggling with dealing with this trauma of being different from others. My parents never really imagined that something like this could happen to me; their only child.
After consulting all the specialists, my parents realized that we need to work towards a firm solution. I was immediately fitted with hearing aids and began speech therapy from a very young age. This gave me minimal benefits but I was able to pick up some language. But as the years progressed, things started getting tougher. Communicating in school was a challenge. Conversing in a crowded or noisy place was next to impossible. I still remember those days; I felt as if I had gone into a shell. I could not be myself. My parents and I continued exploring options that could make me completely independent. I knew that I was not living life to the fullest. Because after all, if one can’t hear sounds properly, one wouldn’t be able to produce the same sounds, right?
After using hearing aids for almost nine years, I received a cochlear implant at the age of 10. There has been no looking back since then. With my cochlear implant, my hearing improved significantly. I could finally hear well and be a part of the conversations with my loved ones. This boosted my confidence and helped me excel in school, college, workplace, just everywhere wherever I’m. My social life also improved significantly. When I look back, I cannot imagine that I had been missing out on so many little joys of life!
Having experienced the agony of hearing loss myself, I felt the urge to work towards empowering specially-abled people.
Being an ardent techie beyond academic boundaries, I was fascinated by the technology it offers and the connectivity with human interaction is phenomenal. Having experienced the agony of hearing loss myself, I felt the urge to work towards empowering specially-abled people. As an engineering student, I have increasingly come to understand the power of technology which can serve as an aid for children who seem to be very motivated by it in this modern era. During my first year at the insti, when I came to know about the summer project that lies in this field of my interest, I immediately jumped at the offer. I was excited that I would get a chance to work with an interdisciplinary team of designers, software programmers, and animators at IDC School of Design to develop application-based aids for children with disabilities which can holistically address the problems at the interface of healthcare and technology. Along with an interdisciplinary team, I developed a multi-modal application called ‘Jellow Communicator’ which aids the speech-impaired to communicate. It can be used by children suffering from cerebral palsy, autism, Down’s Syndrome, and brain injury. It can also be used by adults who have lost their speech following a stroke which can supplement their mode of interaction with others. Over the years, this project has earned numerous awards including the Microsoft Design Expo Award as well as the National Award from the President of India!
So no, one shouldn’t have to actually show sympathy to another for their disability.
With this I would like to speak for all the differently-abled people when I request to take this as a word of advice whenever you approach a person about their disability (be it of any kind), do not express regret about their disability.
We just want to be thought of as people who can do the same things as the next person can, albeit with some difficulty which we CAN overcome.