Thursday, July 08, 2004

Hearing Impaired and Inspired

An empowering story caught my eye - a 56 year old man starting losing his hearing three years ago. He could read lips, but people would turn away when they talked to him and treat him as if he were stupid. His wife created a blue and gold lapel pin stating "Hearing Impaired" and he would point at it. It was the first of many products they developed, in English and Spanish. All products are for sale on their web site ( They travel the country to share their innovations with other hearing impaired folks. Wayne has an adorable service dog, Snow, that helps him do things, including driving. When Wayne gets to an intersection, Snow listens and then puts his head up to Wayne's to tell him the coast is clear. This takes a few extra seconds, so people began honking. This led to another product - a "hearing impaired" decal for the back window, followed by one for the driver window in case the driver is pulled over. A fire in a hotel one night led Wayne to create a doorknob hanger to alert emergency personnel that the person inside is deaf. They have clothing patches, simple guidelines for people dealing with the deaf (don't put objects in front of your mouth, write notes if you need to, etc.)
Wayne and his wife chose to use "hearing impaired" instead of deaf as it is informative, rather than being a negative label. Together they developed these products, and their business, to keep him independent. Talking on the phone was a problem, requiring lots of special equipment. Now, with text messaging, he can communicate just like everyone else. If that doesn't make you smile, nothing else will, except the photos of Snow, a white German Shepard, in a little red vest with a hearing impaired patch sewn on.