Dear Dan Rather,
In late January you were a guest speaker at my local Barnes & Noble store to discuss What Unites Us, a book authored by you & Elliot Kirschner (https://www.amazon.com/What-Unites-Us-Reflections-Patriotism). The crowds arrived early, and people began to line up well before starting time.
I am a late-deafened baby boomer, but I am a bilateral cochlear implant recipient, so I can function pretty well while wearing my devices. Due to my less-than-perfect hearing, I arrive at these events well in advance to ensure good seating. On this particular evening, I was able to get a second-row seat in the center of the event area. Eager and ready, I pulled out a small microphone that serves as an assistive device to supplement my cochlear devices. Needless to say, staying connected to our world is a priority those of us who suffer from profound hearing loss need to keep up with.
As the program began, the crowds clapped and you were seated. It took a few small adjustments to make sure the store’s microphone for the event was working optimally. I sat in my seat feeling somewhat conspicuous pointing my personal microphone in your direction. As you looked straight ahead, I did my best to hear the program and get the full benefit from assistive technology. But wait. Did I spot at least one hearing aid when you turned your head? Perhaps then, you would understand why I was pointing this tiny device in your direction. I was trying to get the full benefit of your words.
Right before the questions from the audience began, you stated you had a confession to make. You informed the audience that your hearing is not what it used to be, preparing them for the possibility of not hearing a question or even answering it inappropriately through no fault of your own. Then you went on to tell the audience about Walter Cronkite who suffered from hearing loss in his lifetime. You added a humorous story that so many of us whose hearing is not what it used to be can relate to.
But it didn’t end there. A young man in the audience with a small child opened a discussion about race. He said that he looked around the room and there were few people in the audience that looked like people “where he comes from.” It was so important that the young child with him could witness your insightful response. It was also important to me that this young child heard you speak openly about your own hearing loss, sometimes with the humor we all need to keep things in perspective.
Finally, often on social media I see young people with hearing loss or culturally Deaf individuals ask what kind of job someone with hearing loss can do. You validated the point that persons with hearing loss can be whatever they want to be just by being present and speaking candidly. Hearing loss is a disability, and unfortunately issues concerning persons with disabilities is an often forgotten part of discussions about diversity.
Getting back to that small child, through your words, the next generation was reminded that although change often comes slowly, an open discussion gives a voice to those of us who have felt on the outskirts of society for whatever reason. Mr. Rather, that is something that unites us, and I thank you.
Mary Grace Whalen
Dan Rather’s website is www.danrather.com
Here is a link to a humorous story Dan Rather has posted on hearing loss and aging: