I never realized how much I relied on my hearing to keep me out of harm’s way. There are many safety-related issues that I didn’t need to consider before 2013 when I was left with very minimal hearing in both ears.
From 2008 until then, I had to be somewhat careful regarding how I laid in bed when I slept. If I laid on my right side and blocked most of the hearing in my right ear, I wouldn’t hear my alarm clock. I had to train myself to not let that happen when I slept. On a fun note, though, being able to sleep on my right side and block out most noise, since I hardly hear anything out of my left ear, came in handy. It was during a girls’ shopping weekend and one of my friends snores like a bear! Unlike our other friend who couldn’t escape the bear-like snoring all night, I slept like a baby.
One of my greatest safety challenges is walking outside. I can’t hear cars approaching me beside or behind me. Walking through a parking lot, or needing to cross across a parking lot require that I practice what we teach very young children about crossing the street – before crossing, look both ways – twice! I’ve had some very close calls and since hearing loss is an invisible disability, most drivers don’t realize that is why I may have walked out in front of them, or why I didn’t move closer to the curb or parked cars when they were pulling up behind me.
There is a misconception that deaf people or people with severe hearing loss can’t drive. While it’s true that they/we don’t get the same benefit from auditory cues – like hearing car horns honking, or even hearing a car speeding up beside you – simply paying greater attention to your surroundings and eliminating other distractions can allow individuals with any type of hearing impairment to be safe on the road. One of the greatest additions to modern cars has been the auditory beeping warning when the turn signal has been left on. If it is very quiet in the car I can usually hear the turn signal, but if there is noise inside or directly outside, I may not. Now of course, sometimes I do have to take time to figure out where that beeping in the car is coming from!
The most common piece of safety equipment in the home is a smoke detector. Most smoke detectors emit their warning signal in the high frequency – usually around 3000-4000 Hz. Some research has suggested that a more effective signal for people with hearing loss should be at 520 Hz. That is for people with probably no more than moderate hearing loss. I wouldn’t hear any alarm unless it was next to my ears! Smoke alarms designed for people with severe to profound hearing loss and those who are deaf utilize 2 main features designed to wake up a sleeping person – flashing strobe lights and “bed shaker”. The “bed shaker” is actually a small device that rests under your pillow or mattress and vibrates very strongly when triggered to do so.
Alarm clocks for the deaf and hard of hearing also rely on flashing strobe lights and “bed shakers”. I’ve used once since 2013 and prefer it over an audible alarm any day. The flashing strobe lights aren’t that useful, in my opinion. If I’m facing away from the alarm clock with the alarm goes off, I don’t see the strobe lights. No matter where I’m facing, though, I can feel the “bed shaker”. I place mine under my pillow. It is not the type of alarm that startles you even though the vibrations are powerful.