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I’m Not Deaf – You Know …

“Our next speaker is Laura McHarrie.  This speech was inspired by Rachel Knowles.  When Rachel answered Julia Martineau’s table topic question – what invention could you not live without, she took off her glasses.  It made Laura chuckle as whenever she has to take her glasses off at the dentist or the chiropractor or the opticians, she’ll quip to the doc that she can no longer hear what they are saying.

With a speech entitled I’m not deaf you know.  Please welcome Laura McHarrie”

Strangely enough, it is (almost) quite true that I can’t hear what the doctors are saying once I have taken my glasses off.  Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, let me explain why.  

Chinese for Listen.001

Some of you will have seen this poster of mine before.  It is the Chinese symbol for the verb to listen and it describes so well all the senses that we use to grasp what someone else is saying. 

We hear sounds through our ears for sure, we gather information about what we are experiencing and we judge the body language for additional information.  Take any one of these senses away even temporarily like my glasses – it takes time to adjust.  Yet … adjust we do.   

Imagine what it would be like if you lost your hearing. How would you cope with life without sound.  It is likely that you’d learn to communicate, make sense and understand what’s going in other ways. 

My mother, for example, has severe hearing loss and has had since (well) before I can remember. According to ‘Hear it’ severe hearing loss is when sounds need to register at (loud) 70-95 DECIBELS to be heard. With normal hearing, we can hear at … (whisper) 0 – 20 decibels. My mum wears hearing aids in both ears.  She reads lips. She has a hearing loop that amplifies sound. And she has the most gorgeous hearing dog called Willow, who’s job it is to nudge her with her nose.  Brilliant for alerting her to urgent sounds.

I’m not entirely sure you can describe it as good fortune, but mum didn’t start losing her hearing until her mid-teens by which time she had already gone through most of her schooling. There are many deaf children who are not so lucky.  The National Deaf Children’s Society shares the results of a 2013 study where only 43% of deaf children achieved 5 GCSEs compared to 70% of hearing children.

How so, when we know that we can adapt if we lose one of our senses?

Dr. Dana Suskind was a Pediatric cochlear implant surgeon for many years helping deaf children to hear. However, she recognised that giving them the power to hear did not change the disadvantage they had in terms of learning. What’s more, there are many others, disadvantaged through not hearing enough!

She founded 30M words.  It delivers a portfolio of support initiatives to encourage families to Tune in, Talk more and Take turnsIn a Freakonomics Radio podcast. she discusses with Stephen Dubner the 1995 research of Hart and Risley. This followed 42 families across different demographics and logged the average number of words used per hour. The research illustrated a big difference between high and low-income families. It was a staggering gap of 30 million words by the age of four. 

The drama of these results has been debated in many blogs – just Google 30 million words for more information. However, in 2017 LENA scientists published a near-replication of the Hart and Risley study. This study had 300+ families, and almost 50K hours of recordings, from children aged 2 months to 4 years. Their conclusion. The “word gap” between high-income and low-income groups was about 4 million, not 30 million.

It doesn’t make quite such a good headline, does it? Nevertheless, the 30MW website cites 11 positive trials around their deliverables.

Whilst Suskind’s initiative moved from those who can’t hear to those who don’t hear … I was lead to consider how early we start to hear compared to those that can’t.  

Sure enough, most of us will hear before we are born.  Healthline tells us that at 24 weeks, we already have little ears which are sensitive to sound and we’ll have been hearing for 6 weeks earlier than that. Unless (of course) we are born deaf – you know … that life without sound.  Before birth, a significant disadvantage, after birth,  a significant disability.

I have lived with the frustration of trying to Tune In, Talk More & Take Turns with my dear old mum and I know she gets frustrated with her inability to understand what I am saying. Maybe future technologies will develop ways to supporting those who cannot hear, like, for example, Cocklear implants have done for some.


In the meantime, mum and I have found a happy new medium with WhatsApp messaging. “Luv Ya Mum!”

With or without my glasses fellow Toastmasters, I’m so glad I’m not deaf – and bless her so is my mum; after all … she IS my mum!

Purpose Statement

The purpose of this project is for the member to learn or review basic research methods and present a well- organized, well-researched speech on any topic.

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