Sight, Sound and Beyond

Blind or Deaf?

Helen Keller (1881-1968)

I have been asked the following question many times: If you were forced to choose, would you rather be completely blind or completely deaf?  This recently came up in a conversation and has been on my mind ever since.  One of my mother’s friends commented that she could never cope with being blind and would prefer to be deaf.  Last night I googled: “Would you rather be blind or deaf?” and was amazed to learn that most people would prefer to be completely deaf rather than being completely blind.

Of course, I would not want to be either.  Since I have both a hearing and visual impairment I know firsthand how the loss of these senses can affect a person.  Of course for me, having both these senses impaired creates a whole new experience.  What do I mean by that?  Well, when a person is blind, they often depend on their hearing.  This helps them gather a sense of what is happening in the world around them.  Likewise, a person who is deaf will often depend on their vision to collect information.  As someone who has both a vision and hearing loss, what do I depend on more: my hearing or my vision?  I don’t depend much on either.  I often depend on touch and memory, especially when it comes to music making.  I guess you could also say I have a sixth sense at times and often go with my intuition.  I pay close attention, too, which is why it has been said that I am a very intense person.  I can really get focused on what I am doing.

If I were completely blind, I would not be able to see the beautiful colors of my two parrots, the beauty of nature and all the other things that people love to look at.  Without hearing, I would not be able to communicate through spoken language.  Although many learn to read lips, this is not the case for everyone.  I would not be able to hear my friends voices on the telephone or the calls of my parrots when they tell me they want to eat.  I would not be able to hear the sounds that are supposed to alert me of danger such as the sound of a fire alarm

While being blind would rob me of seeing many things, being deaf would rob me of staying in close connection with the people I love.  To me, there is something beautiful when it comes to the sound of laughter.  I love to hear laughter and I love when I say something that can send a person laughing out loud.

Of course, there are ways to overcome both blindness and deafness, but knowing what I know now and remembering what I have experienced, I will tell you that I have had more frustration when I could not hear something rather than when I could not see something.  Yes, I was frustrated to learn that I would never be able to drive, and I would feel left out in school when I was the only student in class who could not see what was written on the chalkboard.  However, I would become more frustrated and emotional when I could not hear what was said to me.  Also, when I was in college, I lived in a campus dormitory where there would be frequent fire drills at any hour of the day or night.  Whenever I took a shower, I would have to take my hearing aids out, and I would always worry that I would not be able to hear the alarm go off.  Also when I was a child, our fire alarm went off during the night.  There was not a fire.  The alarm was not working properly or something like that.  Anyway, it went off at 5am and everyone in the house woke up because they had heard it go off except me.  It didn’t wake me up.  What if there had been a real fire?

In my opinion, hearing and vision are both important senses and to choose one over the other is extremely difficult but if I were forced to chose, I would say I would rather be blind than deaf.  The great Helen Keller once said: “I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, If not more important, than those of blindness.  Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus – the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.”

Of course, the 21st century is an exciting time for anyone to be living because of the advances in medicine and technology.  There are more treatments to help deafness and blindness today than there were ever before.  I feel very fortunate to live in a time when I was able to receive corneal transplants in both my eyes to help improve my vision.  Yes, my vision is not 20/20, but it is better than before and I am happy with that.  I am also happy to be living in a time that has wonderful technology, which help me to be successful on a daily basis.  For vision, this includes my Closed Circuit Television (CCTV), my magnifiers, and telescopes.  For hearing this includes my digital hearing aids, my FM system and my sonic boom alarm clock which wakes me up through vibrations rather than sound.

I couldn’t be born in a better time period and so I end by saying “viva 21st century!”

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