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 (see link) 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.
Profound Unilateral Hearing Loss (PUHL)
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 If we have silent electric cars in 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 isn’t one nearby: this is one of the many reasons I have a hearing dog – it helps me navigate in such situations but the dog also acts as a visible cue to others/motorists/cyclists that they should please not assume I can hear them and leap out of the way to safety, as I could have done when I had a normal hearing function. Sadly, on occasion even this has not been enough and I have still 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 brougth about by the loss of the function of localising sounds meaning that one never knows where the danger is coming from in order to avoid it – or to know in what direction to flee.
Lacking the ability to moderate volume to suit ambient conditions, my experience is that I tend to automatically raise my voice to the level needed to be heard but this is often the wrong thing to do. So, beign conscious of this shortcoming, I avoid situations where in a group I need to speak discretely to some one without wishing to be overheard by the group.
I should 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 so I ended up simply withdrawing from most of that kind of social contact. Not 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’e s voice is very embarrassing. Even in a family environment it is difficult because any potential for natural spontaneous reparteee is lost through the needed “regimentation” of people that comes from asking them to remember “rules” whilst speaking to one due to one’s deafness.
I decided to stop watching television for similar reasons because I did not want to regiment my family into enforced silences to enable me not to miss something on the telly: in that respect the PC has been a blessing for me by giving me a means to entertain myself without imposing 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.
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. I am deaf on my right side so as soon as I enter a crowded room I head straight for the right-hand side and walk along the wall, or as near as I can get to it. If I am going to the bar, I again head for the right hand side. At meetings I do exactly the same and seek out the furthest right wall and the furthest right seat. I find it maximises my scope for best utilising the hearing I do have on my good side. It means anybody to my left is fine and I can hear them. Naturally, I want to position myself so that there is as much of me to the left as possible. 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 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 such a set pattern) because one can never be totally confident one has not missed something that might have been said that could be crucial and might elevate itself to some kind of misunderstanding that is very difficult (if not impossible) to subsequnetly correct . 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 I won’t feel like John Cleese because I did a smart walk not a silly walk! 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.