Hearing Loss and Church

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I am the mother to a child with a moderate hearing loss. I am also the wife of a man with profound hearing loss. I have been audience to their struggles in a world of sound. I have also been front seat for many victories.

I remember sitting in primary one of the first Sunday’s my daughter attended. The primary president began speaking very quietly. I knew even with hearing aids, my daughter would not hear what she was saying. She began talking about how when you feel the spirit you should become quiet in speech and action. My daughter was staring out the window, not hearing, not invited, not understanding. A distinct message was being sent to me and her. If you can’t hear…you can’t feel the spirit.

I talked to my husband about this later, asking him what his experience had been like in church. He talked about how much he missed. How often he sits through meetings unable to make out the mumblings of the brethren in priesthood, missing countless talks and lessons simply by sitting near a window, in front of two chatty friends, or a teacher that talked into the chalkboard. Even with hearing aids, these situations exist, as hearing aids make everything louder. And pulling out the main sound can often be an exhausting battle, especially when you add an organ into the fray.

To address this need in my daughters life, I brought her FM system to church. Which is a device that brings the wearer’s voice to my duaghters ears. I was shocked when someone refused to wear it. REFUSED. It is not invasive, it is worn simply as a necklace and then transmits directly to my daughters hearing aids, no one else. I left church angry and heartbroken and to this day I have not brought the FM system back to church.

I have a new admiration for members who have a hearing loss. For showing up, even when they know they may get very little out of the meetings.

44 thoughts on “Hearing Loss and Church

  1. I think there are many who don’t realise the struggles people with hearing loss have to go through. I admit, I don’t understand it completely (as far as being able to know what it is like) but I do sympathise. Nikki, I cannot BELIEVE someone actually refused to wear the aid you brought. What serious insensitivity. I think it would be a very good thing to create more awareness in the Church. Maybe you should bring this up with your Bishop.

    I don’t think being able to hear properly is the only thing that helps one feel the Spirit. I know plenty of people who don’t feel it in meetings who don’t have any hearing problems at all. It is more a state of mind, but of course, when you are trying to learn, that is a whole different issue.

    You teach Kia the Gospel, she knows Heavenly Father loves her, and I am sure that even when she can’t hear all that is being taught and said, she is being taught by the Spirit. The miracle of her birth is enough to show that the Lord is very well aware of her, wants her here and has sent her to you and Russ specifically to learn of Him.

  2. They shouldn’t have refused to wear it. wow. That says a lot about your dh & family that you guys are working around the obstacles to be able to attend the service.

  3. This is something with which I have to deal regularly at work—accommodating people with challenges using the Internet.

    I was reminded of this this morning as my son was playing a game on the Internet. They are simple games, but there is no visual equivalent for the audio. Children with hearing loss will be unable to play the games unless the can independently figure out the game’s objectives on their own.

  4. Nikki,

    I worked in the hearing industry for about 7 years in the late 80’s and early 90’s and became aware of the multitude of problems that hearing impaired people suffer.
    However, about 3 years ago in mid December, I suddenly recognized that i wasn’t hearing as clearly as I had been. After exhaustive testing, I was told my severe loss was due to a virus. I now enjoy Church services at about the same level your husband does. I rarely pick up more than 50% of what is said from the pulpit.
    It does, however, give me a legitimate excuse for not responding to my wife. She mumbles too much… :>)

  5. Hi Nikki
    I realize that your posts were several months ago, but I thought I would leave a post.
    My wife is hearing impaired. We attach the microphone to the one on the pulpit. That way each speaker doesn’t have to trade it off to the next.
    I am originally from Southern Alberta, but am now living in Pittsburgh, PA.
    Jeff

  6. Wow.

    I, too, deal with hearing loss & church. I wear hearing aids, and even with them, I can’t hear commentors in RS or prayers, usually. There’s another sister in my ward who is 98. She also has trouble. It’s been really hard getting hem to use a microphone even in RS, and even then, it’s off to the speakers side, and so, when they turn their head their voice drops out.

    I’m going to have to go look up this fm system.

    As for whoever refused to wear it–that was just awful. I have to hope that they were simply scared or did not understand, or felt self-conscious and that given time they’d probably feel bad about it, and be more cooperative. I hope you’ve taken it back in the meantime.

    That other commentor’s idea about putting it on the mic that’s up there sounded good.

    Good luck.

  7. Nikki,

    >My daughter was staring out the
    >window, not hearing, not invited,
    >not understanding. A distinct
    >message was being sent to me and
    >her. If you can’t hear…you can’t
    >feel the spirit.

    Having worked with and among Deaf members of the church and their visual language for over fifteen years, I can patently tell you that auditory sense has nothing to do whatsoever with one’s sensitivity to the Spirit. None.

    It has been my experience over and over again that Deaf people know far more about how the Spirit works than non-Deaf people will ever be capable of knowing.

    I am sure you are already aware, but for others, the Church has put a great deal of time and resources into providing accessible gospel curriculum for Deaf and hard-of-hearing members. Every videotape or DVD produced by the Church since 1990 has embedded closed captioning (if your wardhouse library has television sets produced after 1991, they also have captioning hardware built into them) and several hundreds of hours of signed language interpreted materials are available for those who use a visual language. FM systems began to be installed in all new meetinghouses chapels (note that, not the entire building…) built after 1990-1991. If you wear over-the-ear aids, a microphone on one end and a receiver (Church uses ComTek) with a loop around your neck is all you need; adjust the setting to ‘T’ (for ‘telecoil’) and you’ll be patched into the FM system.

    Shame on that person for not wearing the FM microphone. People don’t communicate with their ears, they communicate with language. Next time, bring your FM system back to church and tell them that GAs use them too; see what their reaction is. Best of luck.

  8. I should add that all general satellite broadcasts (CES firesides, general conference, worldwide training, etc.) are also all captioned. If you have more questions, contact the Special Curriculum department at the Church office building, 24th floor.

  9. “It has been my experience over and over again that Deaf people know far more about how the Spirit works than non-Deaf people will ever be capable of knowing.”

    So deaf, female members are the most in tune with the spirit, right?

    :P

    I think you get my point.
    Can’t it be enough that deaf members are *equally* in tune with the spirit? Why all of the effort to prop up those with disabilities, rather than just aiming for equality?

  10. Rick,

    I’m sorry, I don’t get your point. Are you trying to pick fights or am I just not used to your trolling? I’m not propping up anyone, merely stating a personal observation. Don’t turn an important thread for Nikki into a semantics exercise. No harm, no foul.

  11. Oh it’s not trolling, it’s simply stating a pet peeve of mine.

    Ugly people are more in tune with the spirit…
    Women don’t get the priesthood, but are inherently more in tune with the spirit…
    Deaf people are more in tune with the spirit…

    It just seems like every time someone has some for of disability in the day-today world, members say,’but they’re so blessed with being in tune with the spirit’ like it’s some sort of consolation prize.

  12. Ask any of the priesthood holders that have said this to me, and maybe they have an answer.

    Me? I just don’t get it.

  13. I’m glad Nikki posted this, it’s too easy to bop along in my bubble and not get what’s going on for other people. Despite my superpowers as an ugly woman.

  14. I don’t know about an extra measure of the Spirit, but I can feel vibrations with the bottoms of my feet (and can tell where people are in the house, or if someone is coming to the door before they knock, etc.) Oh, and I can read facial expressions and body language much more clearly than before I lost my hearing. (That’s my real superpower, y’know. It’s like being a polygraph machine or a psychic. :))

    Seriously, though, Rick brings up something, but I’m going to go in a different direction with it. It’s the idea that everything has to be tha same in order to be fair–everything needs to be equalized. It’s just not so. Different is OK. Men and women are different, and that is OK. Too many people, both feminist and chauvenist seem to feel that inherent in different is some kind of ordinal better/worse relationship. Different is just different. There is no need to offer consolation prizes. The very idea fo a consolation prize is to console the person who suffered the loss. Heck, in these situations it’s to console the person talking about someone else whom they see as enduring some kind of loss. It’s a superiority thing, and it all comes from this myth that different has to imply some kind of pecking order, and it really does not. Differemt is just different, and it’s part of the Plan.

  15. At the same time, Naiah (and related to the point I think rick was making), while men and women are different, it does not mean that all men are different from all women in the same way or that all women are the same or that all men are the same.

  16. Exactly, we are unique as individuals, and while there are common characteristics that can be used to classify us into groups (women, men, deaf, ugly, whatever), the posession or lack of any of those characteristics is not better or worse than otherwise.

    There is no true need to feel an emotional need to ‘offer a consolation prize’ just because someone is different than yourself. Different is just different.

  17. Hot Topic – This is a pet peeve of mine. When my father comes to visit he sits thru the service and hears nothing. He lives in an older ward and the Stake spent the money and bought the hearing aid devices for the members. Almost all buildings have the sound system for hard of hearing. The building I attend has a system that goes thru out the whole building. The Stake will not spend the money to equip the building with the devices. Several of the older members have requested them but it falls on deaf ears.

    One of the councilors to the SP attends the Spanish Branch (not in our building) and the Stake Center (where I attend) must have a 100 of the Spanish receivers so the Spanish memebrs can hear.

    Wearing a microphone – In our building we have lapel microphones, wireless microphones and teachers/Bishops will not use them. They always say – I have a loud voice. The truth is they do not. I hate 5th Sunday when we meet in the gym and Bishop speaks to the adults. He thinks he speaks loud but when he uses the mic it is so much easier to understand.

    Side note – Each building is given a budget to buy the hearing devices but the SP can move the money to other places if there is no need for them. Everyone really needs to request them often so everyone can enjoy the services.

    Squeaky wheel gets the grease. I guess older members are not that important.

  18. Nikki,

    It is ironic that I worked as a practioner in hearing for a number of years and now find myself in the position of being hearing impaired.
    I too am totally dismayed at some peoples attitudes and the confusion they have between communication and the Spirit. When the Lord speaks with the still small voice even the hearing impaired have no trouble hearing Him, or when He makes a public announcement the results are the same.
    Those who feel that a soft voice reflects the Spirit should be whispered to in an inaudible tone and then severely criticized when they go I’m sorry I didn’t hear you. They must not have the Spirit and should repent mightily.

  19. Bill said:
    >Squeaky wheel gets the grease. I
    >guess older members are not that
    >important.

    /sigh/

    You had to come over and do this on Nikki’s thread too? The church really is for everyone, Bill. Not everyone is old, not everyone is deaf, not everyone is single, not everyone is married. Sometimes it requires a little education, sometimes a lot.

    /bigger sigh/

  20. Sorry that I apparently have caused others to have semantic heart palpatations on your thread, Nikki. Your comments were really great and appreciated.

  21. My girlfriend has hearing loss. It took a couple years for everyone in the ward to get that it doesn’t matter how loud you voice is–where hearing aids are concerned all teaching and comments must go through the microphone.

  22. The problem with hearing aids is that they are only efficient transmitters of noise, and speech is noise. If a hearing loss is too profound yelling wouldn’t help understanding, because the problem isn’t loudness, but clarity.
    The microphones at Church are useful tools, but often the problem is the speech pattern of the speaker. I have a great Bishop whom I can never understand when he is at the mike because he mumblesand his voice comes across as low frequency noise.
    Enunciation, or speaking clearly can go a long way to assisting those who have hearing impairments.

  23. “Enunciation, or speaking clearly can go a long way to assisting those who have hearing impairments.”

    Yes, this is what I have understood. When my grandpa was struggling with his hearing, he stressed that enunciation and clear speaking was what he needed from people.

  24. Tell me, I know. I never thought this would happen to me. I joke about it a lot because I understand the problem and know the biology behind it, but there are a lot of people who seem to think of it as being something wrong with them and they withdraw.

    Imagine walking into a room where people are talking. They look at you and speak. You don’t understand what they are saying and then they look away and start talking to each other. Since you don’t understand what they are saying, you begin to assume that they are talking about you and you begin to feel self conscious. This causes a further communication gap and you withdraw.

    Unfortunately, this is an all too common occurrence with the hearing impaired. A lot of people go inactive because of the assumptions they make when they don’t hear the comments.
    Those of us with normal hearing need to reach out to these folks and help them as much as possible.

  25. Larry

    Hmmm, yes, this is true. I think sometimes people (and Canadians can be especially bad at this) have a tendency to mumble and they just don’t realise how it affects hearing impaired people, when they turn away or don’t speak clearly and I can see how that can cause self conciousness. It’s easy to take for granted, our hearing and not realise how it can frustrate people who don’t have full hearing, to communicate.

  26. Equally important, as I’ve had it explained to me, is facing the ‘listener’ – especially with totally deaf individuals.

    Seeing the face of the speaker, and not turning away while speaking can, as I understand it, make communication easier.

  27. Oh, and how this is related to church, is that many speakers have a tendency to ‘speak to the pulpit’ in other words, have their heads down while speaking (generally refencing some document).

    If they were wait until they raise their heads to begin speaking, it would help.

  28. Lyceum – From your comments I take it that your opinion is the Church should take care of the masses and if you are single, deaf, old or whatever and feel left out, the Church should ignore your needs. I hope your views in real life are not so racist.

    Some day you will be old, and you might lose a spouse and be single. Old and hard of hearing go together. So I guess you will kick yourself out of the Church.

    If you made a mistake about your views, please share them.

  29. You’re right, Bill. The Church exists for the sole purpose of excluding anyone who’s old, single, or handicapped.

  30. (Take, for example, that widowed man in his nineties who uses a cane…what’s his name? I always seem him at General Conference…)

  31. Itbugaf – You know that is not what I was talking about. If you want to talk about the Prophet you can use his name. I do find it interesting that you do not support helping others enjoy the spirit when they are at church. Why would you want to exclude those that need a little help? Are you a racist like Lyceum? Do you have trouble sleeping at night knowing you are not following God?

    I answered your remarks about what kind of job I have. Why don’t you answer about what kind of job you have or maybe used to have? Do you live off Church Welfare maybe?

  32. “I do find it interesting that you do not support helping others enjoy the spirit when they are at church.”

    Yes, you must find it very interesting since that idea is your own invention.

    “Why don’t you answer about what kind of job you have or maybe used to have?”

    Because, as I’ve explained, oh I don’t know, maybe eight or nine times, it’s none of your business.

    “Do you live off Church Welfare maybe?”

    Members of the Taliban aren’t allowed to live off Church welfare, Bill.

  33. “Are you a racist like Lyceum?”

    You skipped a step, there, Bill. It’s the one where you first show a connection between racism and Lyceum. Have fun with that.

  34. “Do you have trouble sleeping at night knowing you are not following God?”

    Thank you again for demonstrating how not to engage in personal attacks.

  35. #38 – That one is easy – You go out of your way to insult others. I truly do believe you have racist beliefs. You insult Candians, you are an insult to Americans and the vast majority of LDS truly hope you are not a member because your views are not in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

    If you were a Christian and if you were a righteous LDS (not active but righteous) you would want others to hear and enjoy the speakers and the testimonies that are given. Your writings indictate that you are not a righteous person. I feel very sorry for you.

    I will pray for you and ask the Lord to soften your heart, views and the way you treat others.

  36. So to bring this back on topic, the church has realeased a new section of its website for people who understand American Sign Language.

    Material includes the following:

    • First Presidency Message
    • Visiting Teaching Message
    • General Conference
    • CES devotionals and other broadcasts

    In addition, the Church has just released a new DVD that includes the entire Book of Mormon, searchable by every ten verses. This replaces 17 VHS tapes that were only searchable by the fast forward and rewind buttons.

  37. Wow, Bill, you’re on a roll today. I hope you fall off soon.

    So now I’m a ‘racist.’ I’m just waiting—no, salivating—for the explanation behind this slander, Pharisee.

    >Lyceum – From your comments I take it that your opinion is the Church
    >should take care of the masses and if you are single, deaf, old or
    >whatever and feel left out, the Church should ignore your needs.
    >I hope your views in real life are not so racist.

    Look, you haven’t the slightest idea—because you don’t *read* other poster’s comments, you cherrypick what serves your trolling and baiting (which, I’m starting to suspect, is fabricated so you can draw people into disharmony like this)—what I do in my church service; where, how, and with whom I worship and serve; nor my personal life circumstances so **step off.**

    For all you know, I *am* single, older, deaf; thrown in non-white and/or gay, and you’ve got one heck of a giant egg on your face. Save your prognostications for TV cliffhangers, Nostradamus.

    *You* are the one—not I—that came into this thread and squatted all over Nikki’s heartfelt introspection with your bigoted, paranoid, “sky-is-falling-in” excrement to draw attention to yourself. In all sympathy, Bill, I am truly sorry that you have had/currently have such a difficult life experience; your commentary throughout your postings certainly seems to show symptoms of your unhappiness.

    >Some day you will be old, and you might lose a spouse and be single.
    >Old and hard of hearing go together.

    And when that happens, Bill, rest assured, I won’t be blaming the stake president or the HP quorum or anyone else for my situation (or lack of soft seats). My faith is centered in the Source of the authority, not the form of it.

    /sigh/

    BTW, thanks Kim for bringing up the lds.org/asl materials. ASL-using members of the church have worked hard to educate their leaders and church administration on their linguistic needs; it represents a significant effort by the church to put up these materials for its Deaf/ASL-using members.

  38. I suffer from hearing problems but not so bad that I have to wear an aid. I have found myself moving towards the front of the congregation though, so I can see where you are coming from. Luckily I know that I can be heard, even if I can;’t hear everything.

  39. This a nice and well written post. Acquiring the right hearing aids out of the many out there is very important. Hence, the need to consult an audiologist before buying any particular hearing aids cannot be overmephasized. He or she is in the best position to determine the right hearing aid for your hearing loss problem.

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