'Sorry, could you please repeat that. I did not catch what you just said."
I should print those words boldly on a sign which I could hold over my head as I walk through life alongside my 30 million fellow Americans with hearing impairment. (Some say it is 50 million; whatever the number, there are a lot of us in this stress-filled situation.)
Hearing loss is the disability that gets no respect. If a blind person enters the scene, folks jump to assist that person to navigate any obstacles, find a safe seat and otherwise pay close attention to their needs. If someone walks into a room with an obvious limp, folks are most solicitous in aiding that person to hobble along.
But when I ask someone to repeat a comment I get that "pay attention, pal" look. I frequently teach classes and love to exchange in interplay with the attendees, but I find it more and more difficult to hear questions and input from the crowd. After a recent teaching session, my ever-loyal wife, Teresa, commented to one of the frustrated questioners, "Dick is having serious trouble with his hearing."
The prompt response was, "Oh, I just thought he was arrogant."
We live in a very loud and sound-sensitive environment, and extreme noises are one of the most common causes of hearing loss. I was in the gunnery division on my Navy ship, spending two years firing the big guns off the deck and at gunnery school. No one ever suggested we wear ear protection.
I also flew small airplanes for more than 20 years. Today, all student pilots are ordered to wear earphones we simply flew and endured the racket.
Of course, there's also my passion for driving race cars and being closely involved with NASCAR. And, yes, both my parents had severe hearing loss, genetics playing a large role in the problem as well.
It is especially a problem to hear clearly in a large room, such as a boardroom or around a conference table. For one that sits on a dozen nonprofit boards, this presents keen and stressful problems in keeping up and not appearing to be out of the loop. Yet, many times I leave a boardroom and later hear about a key point that just slid past my muffled ears.
It is said that the biggest stumbling block for hearing impaired folks is denial and a lack of willingness to admit there is a problem.
No such problem for me. I immediately tell folks about my situation and ask them to be attentive to the problem. And, sad to say, most forget by the third sentence and once again I am edging closer, trying to read lips and asking for key points to be repeated.
Soft-spoken folks think they are being genteel and gracious when they speak in dulcet, measured tones. Perhaps. But just stop and realize that every 10th person you encounter has no clue what you were mumbling about.
We are not asking you to shout, nor even raise your voice. Just look directly at us when you speak. And please speak in a clear and direct manner. Just make sure we are connecting.
I am not deaf. Yes, I wear hearing aids. Yes, I pay attention closer attention than you can imagine. But I need your help and awareness of this handicap that inflicts many, many people you will meet today and every day. Speak up! We are listening.
Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in community nonprofits. Send comments or questions to email@example.com.