Is it Real or Fiction? Portraying Hearing Loss

During dinner with friends, I was asked if I had seen the series titled Switched at Birth. I had not seen the show and they shared the series follows two sisters switched at birth via a hospital mistake. One was hearing raised in a well-to-do household, while the other had hearing loss (or considered Deaf) and raised by a single mother in a working-class neighborhood. It was suggested the series showed the daily challenges that people with hearing loss face.

I was skeptical about this and suggested that portraying the day-to-day living with someone with hearing loss might be difficult. My personal reality, as my readers know, is I have a profound hearing loss. Without hearing aids, I hear very little. There are no birds tweeting, no sense that my dishwasher or washing machine are running. I can’t hear water running unless I see it. I’ve flooded my bathroom more than once because I walked away from the sink without realizing the water was still on. Without my aids, I cannot carry on a phone conversation. One-on-one conversation becomes difficult because I hear vowels better than consonants, resulting in speech that sounds garbled.

More importantly, hearing loss takes a giant emotional toll. It would seem difficult for an actress to demonstrate how isolating, frustrating, and depressing hearing loss can be. Further, I would think it hard for an actress to help an audience understand how those with hearing loss cope. Especially for those who could hear and lost it later in life and do not have the hearing loss communication skills like lip reading or sign language.

I shared I would watch the show and report. In the first episode, it lays the foundation that the hearing loss character, Adriana, lost her hearing at age 3. In reality the actress who plays the role is hard of hearing. She learned American Sign Language at age 20 when she was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease.

The first episode covers a lot of ground, but it is apparent Adriana is comfortable with her hearing loss. In one scene, she tells another character that people who have completely lost their hearing can choose whether they want to learn to speak or not and/or use sign language. Adriana wears hearing aids and her mother explains in another scene that she hears some environmental sounds.

Adriana comes off as a typical well-adjusted teenaged girl. She doesn’t let her hearing loss define as evidenced by the way, she joins right in and talks and jokes with the new-found family she meets.

Is this all too convenient? Is it all in one’s attitude? Resources they have access to? Do those of us facing the daily happenings in our lives do so without frustration or without envy of those who can hear? I haven’t answered the question as to whether fiction can portray hearing loss. My readers are welcome to watch the show on Netflix and I leave it up to you…to decide as my readers know best.

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Linda Bilodeau

I’ve grappled with hearing loss since 1978. Through it all, I’ve faced periods of denial, acceptance, curiosity, trust and hope. But more often than not, I’ve felt annoyed, angry and frightened. I’ve encountered despair, loneliness and envy. I’ve experienced panic attacks. I’ve met understanding people, kind souls who helped me a great deal and others who thought I had nothing short of an invisible plague. As a way of coming to terms with my hearing loss, I’ve decided to put my feelings about my disability down on paper. My hope is to better understand myself and perhaps you’ll find a little something in my meanderings that will help you, too.

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