‘…absolutely the most useful app that I utilized…(incomprehensible)…do you know what I mean?’ a leading travel blogger explained to a nodding group of fellow travel bloggers. I didn’t nod. Yet I was in the thick of it as a deaf travel blogger. With a tried and tested bemused and tired smile on my face, I reached out to touch her on the shoulder and asked her to repeat it again. IN FRONT of everyone. This time, I moved closer to gain the best audiological conditions possible in the din of the Travel Massive Event at the Traverse 2013 Conference. Everyone was competing with everyone to get their voice heard and as a result, everyone got louder and louder. This was also coupled with the music that was fighting with the rising voices. It was so loud, that not even my cochlear implant and hearing aid could cancel the noise out completely and I had to struggle with hearing what this travel blogger had to say. This happened first time round and I’m prepared to listen again. I’m a committed deaf travel blogger and by heck I was going to get the best networking and tips possible.
She looked at me, puzzled, and realized as she caught sight of my hearing aid. I grimaced at that.
‘ah, I was just saying that….(incomprehensible)…most useful app…’ I couldn’t hear the rest as someone laughed rather loudly to the side of me so I was even worse off hearing what was being said. As she finished, everyone nodded again. Okay, so I’m in a catch 22 situation. Do I dare risk asking again pushing patience on everyone’s part, ruining the flow of conversation, and create an impression that I simply can’t hear anyone so why should anyone talk to me or do I do what I immediately did. Nod. And feign comprehension.
Thus the conversation moved on. And I was lost completely and utterly. It wasn’t the fault of the speaker, it wasn’t the fault of the group around me, and it certainly wasn’t my fault. But let me tell you this. It’s ever so lonely being in a crowded room.
I tried in vain again to follow the conversation once more. She said something funny, everyone laughed and a second later, without wanting to look like a douche-bag for not laughing, I laughed uncertainly a second later. If I asked to repeat the joke again, I may have got it but I would be the only one laughing whilst everyone looks at their shoes or away while they wait for me to finish. There would be no camaraderie for me. After a few minutes, I grew bored and pretty soon, I would be scanning round the room without meaning to so it would give an impression to everyone that I’m purposely being bored. While I was scanning around, I was startled to find someone in front of me looking slightly cross. Apparently, he had called me by my name and I simply didn’t hear him making it look like I was ignoring him. Sighing inwardly, I smiled that smile again and apologized and explaining that I’m deaf.
You are absolutely correct in thinking, I should be making people deaf aware first. I completely agree and yet at the same time, I disagree.
Why? Because I’m Rexy the Travel Blogger NOT that deaf guy. I’d rather people know me for who I am but not what I am. It’s frustrating to me that I have to tell hundreds of times about my deafness to everyone and then afterwards, after all situations like the one I described occur often, people simply think it’s easier not to converse with me actively unless I prompt. So the only thing that you know about me is solely my deafness, not the amazing personality within.
Hands up, I didn’t engage as much as much as I would have normally and I freely admit that I was pretty quiet over the weekend. It’s because it’s happening so much in my life constantly that I’ve now lost the will to explain about my deafness. I’m defined constantly by my deafness and I don’t want to be. However, at the same time, I still want to promote deaf awareness as it’s undoubtedly the most thing that people may need to remember with me.
I think I was at my lowest ebb at the AfterParty. Walking in, I was so dismayed to discover how loud it was and I knew that there was no chance of speaking to anyone therefore my networking plans was in tatters. I knew people would want to have a great time partying and dancing to Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer,’ to which I heartedly applaud but throughout, I would fidget and walk around trying to get a chance to speak to anyone but to no avail. I would linger at the edges of the groups trying to see, and hoping, that I would understand a conversation that I could partake in. But it was too loud. The best impression I probably gave was that I was an annoying person who kept gritting his teeth and popping up too much for your liking.
At Question Time earlier on, I enjoyed the discussion between the panelists. They had microphones and they were clear. Brilliant! But when questions were being said from the audience, I would have to swivel my neck far and wide to pinpoint the source of the question by which the time the question had already been asked. I could have stood up every time facing the questioner to repeat again, but in a serious environment and 150 people staring at you while you ask for the question to be repeated…would you? Sometimes, I may have got the subject after listening to the panelists discuss between themselves after a minute then I could relax. This can be the same for workshops as well. But I’m not directly in the thick of it.
Even at my Pro Bar One to One Session, I stumbled through. As I booked in the last slot, already the staff was loudly packing up the desks and rattling the trolleys around behind me. I only had 10 mins and I wanted to milk every second to gain useful tips and ideas rather than wasting half of it asking to repeat himself again. But I felt more comfortable, one to one, asking the other person to be more deaf aware.
Now, listening is half of the problem. It’s my talking that’s the other half. I’m simply not loud enough or sometimes clear enough. If you think you had a problem getting your point across in a loud party, just think about how harder it is for me. I can’t even judge how loud my voice should be. So I could be thinking I’m confidently loudly enough only to be met with a ‘pardon?’ Sometimes, people wouldn’t understand what I was saying and I know in their eyes that they didn’t yet they would nod and feign comprehension and move swiftly on to another person. End of conversation. That is soul-destroying. In the workshop that I did only ask a question in, the speaker didn’t understand me at first and asked again. Feeling a rush of embarrassment to my face, I said it even more loudly, perhaps too loud. And I squirmed in my seat. Here I was reminded that I’m deaf. Again. And again. And again.
I didn’t choose to be deaf. And I have managed it pretty well and made the best of things. But in a situation where I’m very passionate to be a travel blogger and want to give 110%, it’s very disheartening not to get that simple spontaneous connection through networking and thus have to work for something that comes so readily easy to everyone. Sometimes, it’s so disheartening that at times I thought about giving up my travel blogging just to make it easier and less painful for me.
Many people are often surprised about how quiet I was. I’m really not. Ask my friends and family. I’m really am like my social media presence, I’m loud, silly, in your face and extremely teasing. But at the travel conference, they found a different person. Before, online, they can have a totally easy conversation with me but in person the easy way of communicating has been removed and my outlet seems to have been removed.
However, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the Conference at all. In fact, it was one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to (see my post about the Conference!) and I absolutely loved meeting you all. All of you are each and individually an inspiration to me. And I couldn’t have asked for anything further. But I just wished I felt more of a connection with you all.
I hope you can understand. It’s not your fault at all. I just would like you to know how I felt. And there’s nothing significant that can be done. But I promise you next time when we meet, I’ll make some deafness awareness comment if a situation arises and be a lot more like my usual confident self. I think I was just having a bad month. But please promise me this, please be patient and don’t be frightened or uncomfortable to talk to me. I won’t bite. You’ll probably just get a big sloppy kiss.
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Thanks for sharing something so personal. I’m actually really surprised. I thought you came across as confident and chatty! Good on you for putting yourself out there, even when it’s tough to feel included sometimes. I’m not sure I’d have the guts to do the same if I was in your shoes.
This was a great read Rexy. It gives a really great insight into how you were feeling that weekend, and I can feel your frustration coming through. Next time you go to a conference lets hope it’s quieter and easier for you to get your networking on!
You’re still the guy who gave the best hugs the whole weekend 🙂
Mate, it was nigh on impossible for me to hear anything at that AfterParty. Can only imagine how you felt.
Good read man, interesting perspective.
I didn’t know that you were deaf, as I don’t think you mentioned it in any of the blogs I have read before. I’m partially deaf in the right ear, it’s not much, but it does mean that I usually talk a lot louder than people are comfortable with, and also that I too have to ask people to repeat themselves while I point my good ear towards the conversation. Luckily, I don’t have to explain myself too often, unless I spend a lot of time with someone and I can see they are getting annoyed with the constant parade of HUHs especially when they think it’s because of their accent. Thanks for sharing this I think it’s a really important article.
Great post Rexy, really interesting to hear this insight from you. We did intentionally try to create a chill out area at the after party with some tables and chairs (where the instagram wall was). This was more so that people could chat and the music wouldn’t be too loud but I think most people didn’t use it because they were busy hitting the shots at the bar!
I thought you were one of the more out going people at the conference so I wouldn’t worry about being quiet! I think the great thing about the people who attended Traverse is they (from what I saw) were really open and welcoming.
Hey Ed, it was awesome meeting you at Traverse and this is a great post, thanks for being open and honest 🙂 Sorry to hear that you weren’t enjoying it as much as you could have though. Accessibility isn’t always top of the agenda for most people – I’m always trying to raise awareness at work though in relation to developing accessible online learning materials and highlighting how accessibility is beneficial for everyone. I’m still learning too, we all make mistakes sometimes or could approach things differently, which is why feedback is important and I think there’s some very useful feedback here that could improve a lot of conferences, workshops etc and I’m gong to share this with some of my colleagues. I regularly attend events where a speaker isn’t loud enough or I can’t hear a participant/delegate asking a question because they have their back to me, so there is definitely room for improvement.
If I hadn’t met you on Twitter before the event, I would not have known you were deaf when we first met. You may not have been feeling your usual self at the conference but I still saw that personality shining through 🙂
Hi Ed – really well written post and good for you for putting yourself out there. I enjoyed the chat at Traverse and will follow up on that. Meanwhile, stay true to yourself and your writing – you will do well. All the best, Steve
Thanks for sharing this, Rexy. I wasn’t at the conference, but I know you from Twitter. Just want to say that I enjoy what you write re: travel and I’m glad you shared your feelings in this post. It’s important.
Meanwhile, keep up the great work. Hope to meet you in person at a conference some time! 🙂
Awesome things here. I am very glad to see your post.
Thank you so much and I am looking ahead to touch you.
Will you kindly drop me a e-mail?
Thanks for sharing, Rexy. I don’t know anyone who is deaf so this is good perspective for me to gain.
Thanks for posting something so personal. My mum is mostly deaf and so I’ve grown up around these challenges which unfortunately for her have often meant she’s felt really self conscious and definitely not confident. I’m well aware of the background noise issue, and feeling lonely in a crowd of people. It’s really amazing you share these insights with people though, because the few you do reach will in turn help to make the world a better, more inclusive place for everyone.
It is important to promote awareness with people. Sure enough it may seem like it’s negative sometimes but as long people know, then both parties can work together to do something about this.
I actually attended Traverse again this year and I’m glad to say that the organisers made sure that for two deaf travel bloggers attending, there would be a ‘quiet section’ for our use. Awesome!