‘…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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