Iso­la­tion hits when hear­ing goes

What’s it like to sit in ameet­ing or catch up with friends while strug­gling to hear? Reporter Jess Lee took part in the Na­tional Foun­da­tion for the Deaf’s Silent Lead­er­ship Chal­lenge to ex­pe­ri­ence the im­pact of hear­ing loss on ev­ery­day life.

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

It’s eas­ier just to ig­nore you.

That’s what a friend says to me while I’m hearingim­paired for just one day.

I’m a bit taken aback when she says it but, to be hon­est, it’s ac­tu­ally eas­ier for me to sit there and be ig­nored than to try to keep up with the con­ver­sa­tion.

What’s harder to ig­nore though is the feel­ing of iso­la­tion.

I’m sur­rounded by work­mates in a Kings­land bar while wear­ing noise­can­celling ear pro­tec­tors and I feel pretty alone.

When I signed up to take part in the Silent Lead­er­ship Chal­lenge, I have to ad­mit, I was more con­cerned about feel­ing ridicu­lous walk­ing around in bright yel­low ear­muffs all day.

Par­tic­i­pants, in­clud­ing cor­po­rate lead­ers and politi­cians na­tion­wide, are asked to wear the earpro­tec­tors to sim­u­late deaf­ness while tak­ing part in four chal­lenges.

They must at­tend a team meet­ing, a one-on-one meet­ing, a so­cial get-to­gether and try watch­ing tele­vi­sion.

The feel­ing of iso­la­tion and frus­tra­tion I ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing those chal­lenges is a daily re­al­ity for the one in six New Zealan­ders who live with some type of hear­ing loss.

It is pre­dicted that hear­ing loss will af­fect one in four of us by 2050 – a com­bined re­sult of an age­ing pop­u­la­tion and noise in­jury.

As I pull on my ear­muffs at an editorial team meet­ing it’s gig­gles all-round. Yel­low is clearly not my colour.

Once the meet­ing kicks off and more than one person joins in the con­ver­sa­tion I’m lost pretty quickly. I find my mind wan­der­ing as I wait for a con­ver­sa­tion to stop so I can try to pick up the next point.

When my edi­tor starts talk­ing while draw­ing on a white­board I’m to­tally out of the loop.

One of the aims of the chal­lenge is to in­crease work­place un­der­stand­ing and em­pa­thy for those who are deaf im­paired.

The first thing my fel­low re­porters ask is whether they should shout or ex­ag­ger­ate their mouth move­ments.

The Na­tional Foun­da­tion for the Deaf says no. It rec-

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hear­ing- om­mends peo­ple make their face and mouth clearly vis­i­ble and be sure to gain the lis­tener’s at­ten­tion be­fore speak­ing.

If only this could trans­late to tele­vi­sion. Sit­ting down to watch the news turns into a game of cha­rades.

Why on earth is a man blow­ing a French horn at some cows in the mid­dle of a field?

What do Sha­nia Twain and acres of land have in com­mon? It must be over­seas buy­ers snap­ping up Kiwi prop­er­ties?

The chal­lenge was an eye­open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and some­thing I think every­one should try.

But it’s a huge relief to take those ear­muffs off and I hope that by 2050 I’m not one of the one-in-four of us liv­ing with hear­ing loss.

Photo: ROSE CAW­LEY

Tuned out: Reporter Jess Lee dons noise-can­celling ear-pro­tec­tors to go deaf for a day in the news­room.

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