On January 17, 1994 a catastrophic earthquake shook the Los Angeles area to its core. At the time I was living in Granada Hills, just a few miles north of the epicenter. Like most people, I was awoken by the massive shaking and entered into a dream-like existence that morning, taking in the scene as it unfolded. When I think about it, though the first thing that pops into my mind is that MY HEARING AIDS WENT FLYING.
The 20th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake has me reflecting on what seems another lifetime ago. And in many ways it is for me. I was 23, living with my 3 housemates and our kitties. We were vegetarian and idealistic – our little hippie planet. I was gearing up to head back to college full time after a part-time hiatus (meaning I had just been going to my dance classes and worked as a waitress in a deli). My existence was very “hearing”. I put my hearing aids on every morning and just didn’t really acknowledge my hearing loss very much. I wanted to blend in. I didn’t use captioning on the TV, I winged phone conversations. I was basically dealing. I had always been quite casual about where I stored my hearing aids at night, usually just somewhere on the night table. Never again after that morning. As I said, they went flying. And I was in the dark, unable to see or hear. I felt frozen inside. I was silenced. As I had been all my life, I was dependent on my hearing aids not only to hear, but to function. So to be without them for the first time in this situation really colored my view of things.
Just as we would for putting together an emergency supply kit, it’s wise to take a mental inventory of our communication tools – specifically for use in a pinch when we are not able to communicate using hearing devices. Not just for natural disasters, even everyday situations. Sometimes my hearing aid battery just konks out and there’s no way I can change it right then. I still need to be able to function. Carrying extra batteries is of course a great idea, but it’s good to have some back-up tools in the proverbial communication garage too. Some ideas:
American Sign Language, fingerspelling
gestures, pointing, hold up how many fingers for numbers
paper and writing utensil (crayons count!)
small dry erase board (I keep this in my car)
iphones and androids (apps with so many uses: cap-tel, video relay service, voice dictation, Siri on iphones 4s and higher, texting, email)
captioning on televisions
captioning at the movies (Captionfish is an awesome website!)
Those of us here to remember are blessed with our lives. Still, I will never forget the way I felt in the dark that morning. And I never want to. This day is memorable to me not only as a day in history but because it served as a catalyst for the changes I would welcome in the years to come.