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May 5, 2006

Deaf Talkabout: My wonder at how we cope with deafness

From: Belfast Telegraph - United Kingdom - May 5, 2006

By Bob McCullough

05 May 2006

"Going blind is hard. Knowing it is your own fault makes it harder. And having it happen when you are only 25 years old leads to the kind of soul-searching not many people have to go through".

The quotation in the Sunday Times was from the story of a girl whose sight loss was a possible complication of diabetes that she had not taken seriously.

She bravely faced up to and came to terms with her disability and says you need more determination and a better sense of humour than the average person? but that's all.

Sudden deafness in later life is hardly ever our own fault and Helen Keller made the valid point that "deafness is worse than blindness because blindness cuts you off from things whereas deafness cuts you off from people ? and that is a much worse misfortune." Determination and a sense of humour may alleviate the problem to some extent, but the spiritual and mental difficulties appear to be much more subtle and life changing than those experienced by the blind.

I debated this with the late John Anderson, a blind man and former head of the blind department at Jordanstown Schools who had lost his sight by accident, and he very forcibly let me know that in no way would he ever want to be deaf.

By means of modern technology John was able to read books and newspapers and listen to his beloved classical music and chat with friends and neighbours. The blindness was a handicap, but he was emphatic that deafness was worse.

In his later years Ludwig van Beethoven suffered greatly from depression caused by his increasingly serious deafness and historians describe how his domestic life declined in quality and he became quarrelsome with friends and tormented more and more by his illness.

Yet the last decade of his life (when he was almost completely deaf) saw his most extraordinary and supremely great achievements, and nearly 300 years after his death Beethoven's ninth symphony still moves and inspires millions.

I lost my hearing at 11 and still have vague memories of classical music. My father had an old wind-up gramophone and as a boy I used to sit for hours listening and singing along to the old records. But the strange thing is that those of us who lost our hearing in later life from meningitis, fever or similar illnesses, are usually left without any hearing whatever whereas the born deaf often have quite a lot of residual hearing that enables them to enjoy music through their hearing aids or turned up high. They tell me they enjoy the sound but can't make out the words.

Music has been described as the highest of all the arts and it's soul-destroying to lose your hearing in later life and be cut off from such a life-enhancing gift. Is it any wonder Beethoven became cantankerous and crabby?

After a hard day's work or study it must be wonderful to sit back at home and feel the music wash your cares away. And a long drive in the car becomes so much less wearisome.

That's why I never cease to marvel at the wonderful way so many deaf people have come to terms with their hearing loss and manage to lead such normal and satisfying lives.

It's easy to say and hard to do ? but things start to look up when we learn to accept our deafness and look life in the face.

© 2006 Independent News and Media (NI)
a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd