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“I Can’t Hear You”

January 20, 2014

Part of being a good clinician is knowing what your clients are experiencing, and being able to empathize in order to provide them with the best service possible.

For our very first Audiology and Hearing Science lab, we were instructed to wear earplugs for an entire day to simulate a 32 dB conductive hearing loss. One student shares a bit about her experience with us:

Were there certain things that you are used to hearing that were missed?

  • I couldn’t hear the train approach when I was waiting for the lrt.
  • While eating breakfast at Ikea, it felt weird that I couldn’t hear the background noise from all the other conversations going on around me.
  • Everything seemed too quiet when I was driving because I couldn’t hear the sound of traffic.

What was most difficult about this experience?

  • The hardest thing was talking. My ears weren’t giving me accurate feedback regarding the appropriate volume to use while talking so I erred on the side of caution and spoke in a much softer tone. Unfortunately, that caused  people to ask me if I was sick or whether there was something wrong with my voice.

What did you learn from this experience?

  • I learned how invisible a hearing impairment can be. It’s not like having a broken leg, where you carry around crutches, so everyone immediately knows what’s wrong. I became aware that I would not automatically be given special accommodation just because I couldn’t hear clearly with my ear plugs. This thought especially terrified me as I was returning something at the mall since I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to comprehend what the salesperson was saying to me.
  • I also realized that even a simple conversation required a lot of effort on my part. Sometimes it was just easier to tune out of the conversation rather than try to get the others to repeat what they were saying. And because I couldn’t just rely on auditory cues to jump in at the appropriate time when talking with a group of people, I found myself weighing the importance of what I had to say before deciding if it was worth the trouble.

This experience was accurately named “Empathy Modeling” because it gave all of us firsthand experience with some of the challenges that people with a hearing impairment often encounter in their everyday lives.

While we may never know exactly what it feels like to have a hearing loss, this experience will hopefully bring us closer to our future clients, help us understand the difficulties they may have,  and ultimately make us better clinicians.

Authors: APL & BY

Thank you to Dr. Hodgetts for having us do this assignment.

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