An Open Letter of Thanks to Dan Rather for Bringing Hearing Loss to the Forefront of a Discussion

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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.

With gratitude,

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:

 

 

 

 

 

Invisible Woman: A page in the diary of a late-deafened woman

Many years ago, when I was a student at The College of New Rochelle’s School of New Resources, I had the opportunity to read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.  The book deals with issues such as race, society and identity.  I was deeply moved while reading the book, and it made me think about how issues described in the book could be applied to persons with disabilities or any other group struggling for their right to dignity.  That, along with an experience described in the next paragraph inspired me to write the poem Invisible Woman.

One day while paying for groceries, I witnessed a woman ahead of me in line with her husband.  She appeared to be afflicted by some type of palsy, and after checking out, she had a seizure.  Her husband did his best to comfort her and escort her out of the store, but the clerk snapped, “People like that should be kept at home.”  I was mortified to think anyone has the right to determine if another individual is a valid member of society, and if their presence should be allowed.

That sparked me to write this poem based on my own observations as a late-deafened woman and the sometimes insensitive treatment of persons with disabilities:

Invisible Woman

Your eyes shift downward, or you look away,

I understand your predicament, you don’t know what to say.

You say it’s scary,…to think it could happen to you.

And if it did, you wouldn’t know what to do.

It’s okay, –glance at my deficiency, when I look away.

It’s part of the experience, a natural part of my day.

On no! It’s not catchy! You can shake my hand.

I’m just like anyone you’ve met, across our great land.

We’re really more alike,than you can perceive.

We pray there’s a God.  I for one still believe.

If I ask you a question, you reply to my spouse,

What’s someone like me,doing out of the house?

I don’t mean to frighten, but yes, it could happen to you.

And if it did,do you know what you would do?

You would still marvel at sunsets,and bathe in dewy rain.

You would develop compassion,and learn to sustain

the unexpected changes that would come your way,

–to appreciate life, day after day.

And you know what else might be of interest to all?

We laugh and we love. We learn to stand tall.

And we realize life is full, even after the fall.

Because you don’t see me,doesn’t mean I don’t exist.

The more that you think this, the more that I will persist,

to marvel at sunsets, and bathe in dewy rain,

and develop compassion and learn to sustain

To visit the orcas at Stellwagon Bay,

to blow out birthday candles, –what a thrill, I’m just that way.

To visit covered bridges and lighthouses too,

and yes, I still love the zoo!

But one more thing, before you walk away.

Did you know Milton was blinded with pen in hand?

His work was pure genius, beyond what many can understand.

And Beethoven’s world was silent when he wrote his best songs.

FDR led the country in a wheelchair for three terms, no one’s ever been president that long.

And Edison deaf, yes you heard right.

Over 1,000 inventions! God that man was bright.

The irony of this verse is simple as can be.

The next time you see me, please, please just see ME.

Copyright © Mary Grace Whalen 1999.  All Rights Reserved.