Personal story aims to improve 'connections' between hard of hearing and the hearing world

CHAPEL HILL -- Sociologist Barbara Stenross' understanding of what it means to be hard of hearing in a hearing world has come full circle: She watched her own father, who lost his hearing during World War II, retreat into a silence that she only later recognized as his way of dealing with his hearing loss.

Her family experiences led her to do fieldwork with a self-help group of hard-of-hearing adults trying to communicate with others who are not always sensitive to their circumstances. More recently, she learned that she has a mild hearing loss and will eventually need to wear a hearing aid.

Those experiences provide the perspective for her new book, "Missed Connections: Hard of Hearing in a Hearing World" (1999, Temple University Press).

"One of the most difficult things for people who are hard of hearing to do is to acknowledge their hearing loss and let people know what help is needed," she says. "We can't just expect people to know how to communicate with us. The tendency is to let it go if you don't hear, but if we keep letting things go, we'll miss out on conversations, social connections that are really at the heart of relationships."

Stenross, who taught sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for 19 years before accepting an administrative position earlier this year, found that she has a high frequency hearing loss - the most typical type of hearing loss. "That means I miss higher pitched consonants like P's and S's and that numbers are difficult for me over the phone. That's why I continue to attend meetings of the self-help group for hard-of-hearing people," she says.

"Missed Connections" comes at a time when more attention is being directed toward hearing loss because of high profile hearing-aid wearers like President Clinton and former Miss America Heather Whitestone. "Traditionally, there has been more attention in scholarly literature to the sign language community and members of the deaf culture than t

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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