What is it like to be deaf on one side is a question I am frequently asked so I designed this website to help answer that question because it is by no means straightforward even for those of us who live daily with the effects of Profound Unilateral Hearing Loss (PUHL). What's the taste of coffee like to somebody who has never tried it? The sensible thing would be to say, "try it and see"!
So please play the video and you will see what it is like only to be able to hear intermittently and randomly. You will see a stand up comedian very cleverly using his voice to pretend his microphone has a faulty connection. So although we know it's an act - nevertheless, try to imagine the voice as it would be without the breaks because doing this would simulate the hearing person's perspective. Then listen to it again "as is" with the sound [supposedly] breaking up to get the deaf person's perspective. Note the audience interaction; the ridicule and laughter at the comedian's double entendres and innuendo, as he dialogues with the imaginary "Albert". It is, I hope, a useful aid for you dear reader, enabling you to witness in your imagination, the social situations when the deaf person gets it embarrasingly wrong. One may ask why subtitles/captions have been included with the video when it simulates profound unilateral only and not total (or profound bilateral deafness (which is more commonly associated with the use of subtitles/captions). It is because PUHL means that the intrusion of unwelcome and unexpected noise can be very destructive of one's desire to pay attention, or to absorb oneself into any activity such as reading or listening to radio or television: it can even be frightening under certain circumstances to have a startling, unexpected sound. So I often prefer to listen to talks or lectures using wireless headphones rather than read because then I avoid any shocks on the basis that the headhpones being so close to my ear, masks out these potentially unwelcome sounds for me, to some degree. But, on the down side, something is almost inevitably going to be missed because some external noise will always get through to intrude on me even with headphones (and serve to blank out something which I would dearly wish I had heard). In other words, something germain to the point - or important for following the narrative thread, as it were. So, in addition to headphones, I usually also switch on subtiles on the television or select captions when watching internet videos. Sometimes I listen to white-noise through the headphones when reading because otherwise, as explained above, loud music or the sound of other voices invading me might disrupt my concentration too much making it impossible to read. However, the white-noise benignly allows me to blank out actual or potentially unwanted external noise. Further, it is also clear that the comedian in the video simulation remains fairly static within a closed environment and is not actually outside and moving about in the chaos of everyday life. By contrast, in the real world, as it were, one can manipulate and manage and rearrange one's domestic environment to some extent such as rearranging seating postions et cetera but moving around in external, wide open spaces brings additional unforseeable complications, such as the invasive / distracting sounds of strong winds and breezes not to mention traffic noise or the general hurly burly of every day life - dogs barking, babies crying and so on. Even on a perfect day relatively uninterrupted by extraneous noise, there is still the challenge of safely navigating one's way around and avoiding potential dangers such as walking in front of cars or bumping into other people and/or things. Not only is self navigating difficult because of the lack of a localisation function - but it is also very difficult to anticipate the trajectory of other moving things/people, especially when they are outside one's line of vision. So I hope this explanation, together with the subtitles, helps the video function as a more complete simulation of what it, in practical terms, it is like to have PUHL (Profound Unilateral Hearing Loss). I hope all of this taken together allows the video to function as a simulation of the deaf person's world who has Profound Unilateral Hearing Loss.
Please try to, either now or later, visit the Animations page where the Alan Watts animations can be viewed. You may wish to follow that by watching the Professor Corey Anton video which will offer you a kind of "gentle familiarisation" with the priorities and the philosophy, as it were, of deafness.
RED (Random Effective Deafness) is a supporting, explanatory term I coined which addresses the experience of those with a total loss of hearing on one side, either right or left. It covers the experience both of the deaf person with PUHL and those hearing people with whom he/she might need to communicate. By experience, I mean the practicalities of achieving meaningful communication between the person with PUHL and others. It should be noted that these practical difficulties are specific to PUHL and stand as separate and additional to those experienced by someone with partial or reduced hearing due to, for example, age related hearing loss. PUHL shares all the difficulties of less severe forms of hearing loss but, importantly, it entails actual functional losses of the hearing faculty which cannot be helped by simple amplification making hearing aids redundant for the most part. These missing functions are Discrimination, Differentiation and Localisation
1. Discrimination &emdash; choosing what one wishes to hear from several inputs
2. Differentiation &emdash; separating out background sound to make sense of speech
3. Localisation &emdash; knowing where sounds originate from
As a real life example of the lack of a localisation function of hearing, let me explain that on one occasion my son and i were at a restaurant and I was in the process of paying for our coffees at the checkout when, from just out of my line of sight, a lady had entered the shop and addressed a remark to me along the lines of saying something nice about my hearing dog. Unfortunately, from not being able to localise the sound, my son told me later that I had wrongly guessed where the sound had came from and mistakenly directed my response to the shop owner - who was of course completely baffled why I was talking to her about something she had not actually said! This was a very awkward situation but at least something was gained from the expereince inasmuch that my son later told me this was the first time he had fully appreciated my struggles with profound unilateral hearing loss, and the loss of localisation in particular and I was able to go back and aplogise to the shopkeeper who kindly accepted my explanation. So that was a fairly dramatic example that was all over in a fairly short space of time but the effects of a lack of localisation also has effects over much longer timescales. For example, I have found through the lack of localisation that I lost the power to look at people directly (eye to eye) when they were talking to me and this must seem really weird to people I come into contact with because it's such a major part of non-verbal communication to actually look at the person one is speaking to (or listening to) and it must seem strange to them when they perceive a disturbing lack of this kind of feedback from me. The point I would like to make here is that the negative effects that flow from this "communication deficit" are no less harmful than my more dramatic, shorter lived example because at least - having noticed something had went dably wrong - there was a potential there for me to go back and correct the error/misunderstanding that had taken place in that restaurant - but it is more worrying in situations where harm is done to relationships inadvertantly simply because one is completely unaware of them. One cannot then go back and apologise, correct or compensate for any offence caused about what went wrong.
Profound Unilateral Hearing Loss carries real safety implications. For example, lacking the ability to localise sounds, one would be foolish to try to navigate busy roads or work as part of a team carrying out dangerous work - or some other activity or sport depending on team members organising themselves by spoken/shouted command. To illustrate the danger, please consider that as we increasingly have silent electric cars into the future then even those with normal hearing shall become more aware of the need to depend on sight as well as hearing and simply not assume that because one cannot hear a car that there is not one nearby: this is one of the many reasons I have a hearing dog which acts as a visible cue to motorists / cyclists that they should please not assume I can hear them and b eable to leap out of the way to safety, as I could have done when I had normal hearing. Sadly, on occasion even the presence of the dog has not been enough and I have been knocked over by cyclists on pavements more than once. One is always anxious and fearful of this kind of thing happening and it is made worse by the suppression of the the fight or flee instinct brought about by the loss of the function of localising sounds such that one never knows where the danger is coming from in order to confront it, or to know in what direction to flee it.
Can you walk the walk? You may want to stand in the right place during a dinner party to see as many of your friends as possible and share a few words to catch up on things. You want to mingle the best way so as not to let your guests feel abandoned. I have a method I would like to share with you. Basically, I always track along my deaf side, or, stand in front of an obstruction of some kind, say a wall or a pillar or a stair bannister or floor plant. In other words, I am deaf on my right side so as soon as I enter a crowded room I head straight for the right-hand side of the room and walk along the wall, or as near as I can get to it. If I am going to the buffet, I again head for the right hand side of the table. At meetings I do exactly the same and seek out the furthest right wall and the further-most seat to the right as I find this method maximises my scope for best utilising the hearing I do have on my good side, enabling me to maximise the chance I will actually hear them if someone speaks to me.
Naturally, on that same principle, I want to position myself so that there is as much of me to the left as possible if I am out of doors, perhaps going along a busy street. This is possible because my hearing dog was trained to walk on my deaf side so he represents a kind of moving obstacle, as it were, meaning that people instinctively know to address me (or walk past me) on the side I can hear and not "over" the dog, so to speak. But there stll remains major difficulties in entering and leaving a room (where there is less opportunity to follow any set pattern) so one can never be totally confident one has not (just on the point of leaving) missed something crucial that might have been uttered and could later escalate to some kind of serious misunderstanding that is very difficult (if not impossible) to correct when someone is convinced they were deliberately ignored/snubbed - not knowing it was completely unintended on my part. So, generally speaking, if I can place myself where there is nothing to my right but a wall or a pillar or some other kind of obstruction then I can feel fairly confident nobody will approach me "on the blind", and I will probably either hear or see if someone speaks to me, so, by following that strategy I won &apost;t feel like John Cleese because I did a "smart walk" not a silly walk! So let's be more adventurous and build on the understanding we now have of the video as a "deafness simulator", the reality of living with deafness which I set out when covering RED (Random Effective Deafness) and my "navigation strategy" just described above introducing the concept of "barriers" to position oneself against. Might it be possible to extend these mainly physical notions dealing with "things in the world" into any abstract general situation of open ended communication and recall how useful a barrier is as a tool for the management of one's hearing difficulty? For purely illustrative purposes, please imagine my being, "toe to toe" with another speaker, so to speak and deprived of any of the aforementioned strategies to draw on. Notwithstanding, I will know for sure that there will come a point when I shall fail to understand or hear something said to me by my opponent. But rather than wait for that to take me by surprise, I can manage my chaotic situation by deliberately encouraging a "breakdown situation" to occur under my own timing, possibly by feigning a misunderstanding or perhaps remembering a fictitious "prior appointent" to get out of the line of fire, as it were, thus creating a meaningful situation I can deal with. None of this is desirable and only represents "tactics of last resort" when there is no other choice available because, in reality, one sided communication proves extremely tiring, if not totally exhausting to deal with.
An example from real life saw me at the hospital bed urgently needing a nurse to attend, but they were all conferring and grouped tightly together so I could not separate one of them off to communicate with me such that I could focus on that single individual, enabllng me to function (in the sense of the speaking/listening interaction of what most people regard as just "normal" communication). I had no choice therefore but to broadcast my request to all the group simultaneously which made me seem very rude but it created the needed breakdown situation and transformed a situation of hopelesness for me into a state of affairs where I could achieve my immediate objective, even although there was a price to pay in attracting considerable antagonism toward me for what was perceived as my "rudeness" (their not knowing the constraints as I was under).
Ishould also say there is a loss of the ability to engage in repartee, what with the natural propensity for people to shoot darting glances around the room at each other and glancing to see who is coming or who is leaving - which can only be done with a hearing function capable of localising sound - so I ended up simply withdrawing from most of that kind of social contact. Not thus knowing who is speaking or where their voice is coming from (and therefore where to look) and not knowing the right volume to pitch one &apost; s voice is very embarrassing. in other words, lacking the ability to moderate volume to suit ambient conditions, I tend to unwittingly raise my voice to the level needed to go over the "noise" but this often proves inappropriate for the circumstances, so, being conscious of this shortcoming, I try to avoid situations where I might need to speak discretely to someone (perhaps as a whisper) without wishing to be overheard by others. Even in a family environment it is difficult because any potential for natural spontaneous repartee is lost through the needed "regimentation" of people that comes from asking them to observe "rules" whilst speaking to me due to the deafness. In other words, I cannot speak at the same time as somebody else - either they must stop or I must stop! This requirement I have that "each takes their turn to speak" is clearly not a part of natural speech / dialogue and for me to insist that people take turns to speak and/or listen is a major encumberance to place on people, to say the least, and breaks their spontaneous flow of communication. So is is for these reasons that I use a textphone rather than a telephone because it allows me (through the mediation of an operator) to impose the needed discipline on my conversations by ensuring (thanks to the operator) that there are no messy overlaps and tempers are not frayed.
Idecided to stop watching television many years ago because I did not want to regiment my family into enforced silences to enable me not to miss something on the telly and engender ill will: in that respect the PC has been a blessing for me by giving me a means to entertain myself without imposing my needs on the rest of the family. I always try to keep active because life can be lonely with Profound Unilateral Hearing Loss, although having a hearing dog does help ameliorate it somewhat.
This is not a medical website so if you are experiencing a lessened or reduced power of hearing in one of your ears then please do consult an audiologist.