HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED what it would feel like to be deaf or blind, or both? I remember pondering that from a young age after learning about Helen Keller, who was unable to see and hear. I asked myself which would be harder. I concluded that I’d rather lose my hearing than live in darkness.
Realistically, both present challenges. And, because I am neither blind nor deaf, I really can’t fully understand what it means to live with those disabilities. I do, however, have a partial understanding of deafness.
Nearly 12 years ago, I lost most of my hearing in my right ear, diagnosed as sudden sensory hearing loss. I know the exact moment it happened. Visits and tests with a local ENT doctor and an ear specialist at the University of Minnesota led to the conclusion that my hearing loss was caused by a viral infection. My hopeful reaction was this—I could get a hearing aid. That is not an option for my type of hearing loss. Thus I’ve learned to live with near deafness in my right ear. Yes, it’s annoying and bothersome that I can’t hear whispers in my right ear, that I can’t tell the location of sound, that white noise and too many conversations at one time make hearing really difficult, that I need people on my left side when they are talking to me. But I manage with one ear.
I’ve been advised by my medical team that, if I ever experience hearing issues with my good left ear, I should consider it a medical emergency and seek immediate care. I will.
I live in a community especially attuned to sight and hearing. Faribault is home to the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and the Blind. Here, at two separate campuses on the east side of town, students from all over Minnesota attend residential academies for preschool through high school.
Occasionally on weekends I walk the campus for the deaf. It’s a beautiful setting of mostly historic buildings (many on the National Register of Historic Places) ringing a green space. I last walked there right before Halloween to view the annual scarecrow display. It’s been a school tradition for many years, a bit scaled back now.
When on the MSAD campus following sidewalks that take me past buildings where deaf students learn, live, gather, I consider how difficult it must be for families to separate on weekdays. (Some families live locally, thus are not separated.) Yet, I understand the necessity of residential schools that focus on educating and preparing these young people for life. They learn to navigate in a hearing world. And, I expect they learn, too, that their disabilities do not define them, that they can pursue their hopes and dreams.
When on the MSAD campus, I consider also how we sometimes take our senses for granted, until they become diminished or we lose them. Aging, or something like my sudden sensory hearing loss, open the door to understanding, to a deepened sense of awareness, to empathy and compassion.
I feel grateful for the reminders, the lessons learned when I walk the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus. To ponder deafness and blindness connects me to a segment of our population which faces challenges beyond my full understanding. To walk these grounds for a short time stretches my mind, opens my heart, broadens my perspective.
FYI: Limit your time on either academy campus to weekends, when students are not there. Be aware that building construction is also underway so follow posted rules.
© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling