Over the last five years, I started to notice small changes with my hearing. My coworkers began commenting on the loud volume of my desk phone. In crowded restaurants and airports, I would assume the cashier or waitress was mumbling, or that the overhead speaker needed fixing. I looked for any reason, other than admitting I was struggling to hear what was going on.
I finally visited a specialist in Cape Town and it turns out I have severe congenital hearing loss in my right ear. Without getting too technical, this means my middle ear is preventing sound from traveling through to my inner ear (which is not damaged and can hear just fine). The diagnosis was actually not a huge surprise because my dad is almost completely deaf in both ears. Nevertheless, it was a disappointment and I had one question on my mind:
How would this impact my life as a traveler?
With these tips and the help of a mobile app (or two), there's no reason to let hearing loss prevent you from seeing the world. First, I think having the right attitude is key, and that means the willingness to ask for help. I've learned to be upfront with friends and strangers and it's easy to casually ask someone to repeat themselves in conversation. In general, I find people are really understanding.
I've also realized, I need to stand or sit near the speaker in group situations, especially on tours. I recently took a guided tour of Muizenberg's historic sights. Although I was one of the youngest in the crowd, I stood closest to the speaker to ensure I didn't miss anything.
Last, there are a few mobile phone apps that I have tried and can recommend to help you communicate better:
Dragon Dictation is a great free app for text-to-speech, even if you don't have hearing loss. The only downside is that sometimes I have to slow down my speech to get all the words right, which is tough for a New England girl like myself. This app also requires wifi or cellular data to work.
Clear Captions,Hamilton Mobile CapTel, and Wireless CapTel Sprint are to make phone calls on your PC/Mobile/Tablet and offer free closed-captioning (a third-party listens to the call and types out the text for you). The reviews across all of these apps are quite poor, and it's really discouraging to read what little progress we have made as a society to assist hearing impaired on the telephone! I really hope a better app is on the horizon.
Buzz Cards, a bit cartoon-ish, but does the trick to quickly show others in big text on your mobile what you are looking for.
While on safari in November, I discovered the nighttime chorus of amphibians, hippos, and insects is still loud enough to keep me up at night, even with my hearing loss! All kidding aside, surgery is the likely fix for my ear and I look forward to exploring this option in the near future.