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Gael Hannon on the Importance of Meeting Others with Hearing Loss

Why People with Hearing Loss Should Meet Other People with Hearing Loss

By Gael Hannan, 1/21/2013

Bergit MeyerNote from Gael:  Entering the world of hearing loss, I felt like Alice going through the looking glass;  I was immediately immersed in a new universe populated with a large and expanding cast of people – interesting people who shared my issues and understood my challenges.

Some have become close friends. Many have inspired me with their curiosity and passionate commitment to living more successfully with hearing loss. All of them have stories to tell.

With this profile of German hearing health advocate Birgit Meyer, I’m introducing an occasional series of stories about people who perhaps never set out to be advocates, but who now address their hearing loss in interesting ways.

Birgit Meyer contacted me last year, asking permission to translate one of my blogs, to make it available to German-speaking people with hearing loss. Not only did the editorial team agree, but used Die Wahrheit über Mona as the inaugural piece in a new blog series, Foreign Language Articles on This week’s  translation of Ear Rage! (An Aha! Moment) is the third German  translation in a series that now also includes Spanish and French essays.

I have never met Birgit personally and someday I hope to, but for now I’m delighted to share this interview with a remarkable woman.

GH: Birgit, where do you live?

BM: I was raised in the little town of Rheine, in Nordrhein-Westfalen (Germany’s most populous state). At 18, I moved to Heidelberg to study languages, and after spending time in Brazil and then Cologne where I studied social pedagogics and worked in that profession for a few years, I moved back to Heidelberg.

GH: Tell us about your hearing loss.

BM: I have two cochlear implants. I don’t know the cause of my hearing loss, but there is a hard of hearing or deaf gene on my mom’s side. Everybody in that line is born hearing and starts losing the sense of hearing at the age of 12 or 13. I didn’t notice my hearing loss until I was 18 and living in Brazil. While I could still understand everything in German, as my brain was filling in what my ears missed, it wasn’t that easy with strange names in a foreign language. There was a boy named Miuto in my kindergarten class, and it was only when I read the farewell card from the kids that I discovered that his name was actually Milton.

I never admitted my problem to anybody. I had become an expert lipreader and managed to fool everybody, including myself, it seems. To avoid embarrassing situations, I did not go out much and when I did, I either did not talk (just nodded and smiled), or I talked all the time so I did not have to listen.

Shortly after I came back from Brazil, the doctor sent me to Hanover for three weeks of assessment, only to be told I was going deaf and they didn’t know why. They gave me a prescription for hearing aids, which did not work out for me. (That was many years ago and hearing aids were not what they are now.)
GH:  What is your line of work?

BM:  I work as an integration counsellor for deaf and hard of hearing people, assisting them with employment-related issues. My work involves acting as a communication assistant between them and their hearing bosses or colleagues. For me it is a dream job and I am very good at it, as I can understand the communication needs of all participants.

Although my hearing loss forced me to give up my language studies, I still love languages and speak English, Portuguese and Croatian, as well as sign language with my deaf friends.

GH: How has hearing loss impacted your life?

BM:  Are you serious? I was devastated. I stopped working when my son Lucas was born and by that time I was finally profoundly deaf. It was a hard time, but when he was five, I started studying again. One day, a professor at the university told me to stop kidding myself and to accept that I was profoundly deaf. That evening I sent Lucas to friends, and I spent the night trying to prove the professor wrong.

I did not succeed. I did not hear the TV when it was on full power, I did not hear the banging of pots – I heard simply nothing. I don’t know how I had managed to fool myself for such a long time, but that night showed me that I was deaf.   I had nothing more to lose, so I immediately contacted a physician who did cochlear implants, and about five weeks after that night of horror, I was implanted with my first CI in Frankfurt.

GH: How did that CI change your life?

BM:  Very nicely, thank you!  After the first fitting, I was travelling home by train and I was astonished to suddenly hear a voice saying “Next stop, Mannheim. Exit on the left side in direction of travel.” I had never heard as clearly as that! Three months after implantation I used the telephone. For 20 years I had been yearning to use the telephone again and there it was.

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