Have you ever pondered what the term ‘lifelong learning’ really means? We are learning every day of our lives. We learn without thinking. Like when we buy a new piece of electronic equipment and figure out how to use it or watch a programme on TV, for example, a quiz, and on hearing an answer to a question think – well, Allison Derbyshire from the UK didn’t know that. She explains what lifelong learning means to her.
For those who have a disability, it means much more. It means adapting and challenging ourselves further than we ever have before. For me, it was minor adjustments, for example, seating myself on the right-hand side of my conversational partner, or choosing a seat in a meeting room, cinema or restaurant which would assist me in hearing on my left-hand side.
As a child with an undiagnosed hearing loss, I would often sit out of sight in the classroom, hoping to be missed, hoping to avoid being asked a question that I wouldn’t hear and therefore couldn’t answer. My school reports all showed similar statements: “is shy and withdrawn”, “lacks confidence”, “is reluctant to join in group discussions”. These comments all rang true with school staff but with other children I was happy and friendly and often the class joker, anything I could do to distract attention from my hearing difficulties.
“I never realised what I was missing!”
I eventually accepted my hearing loss following a hearing test at work. I knew the results wouldn’t be good.
When I received the results several days later, I shared them with a colleague who remarked on how bad my hearing was. She suggested I try one of the company’s non-surgical bone conduction devices called the ADHEAR. Wow, I never realised what I was missing!
There were so many sounds I wasn’t hearing before and that was only in the office environment! I ventured outside and could hear sounds more clearly than ever. I even discovered that the door entry system played a tune, something I had never realised in all the time I had been working there!
I have since received my own ADHEAR and I recently completed a speech in noise test with the audiologist. I was amazed. The test was carried out without me wearing my ADHEAR and I scored 54%. That’s ok, I thought. The test was then repeated with the ADHEAR device in place and the result was 97%. I was now certain that I needed some help.
I am now awaiting surgery for a bone conduction device called BONEBRIDGE which will be surgically implanted on my right side. And yes, I’ve finally admitted I have a hearing loss!
This behaviour continued throughout my education, right up until my mother completed an exit health questionnaire, yet again highlighting her concerns. This was something she had done with our family GP since I was an infant. The practical part of the hearing test, back in those days, to my memory, was him leaning over his desk and whispering to me, “Would you like an ice cream?” I can also remember my response back to him, leaning forwards, across his huge desk and whispering “Yes, please”. His response, roaring with laughter, exclaiming “There’s nothing wrong with her ears, she’s just cheeky! We’ll get her tonsils and adenoids taken out and that should solve the ear infections”.
I also fondly remember one family holiday when my sister and I were supposed to be asleep in the room adjacent to our parents, after being told on numerous occasions to turn the light off and go to sleep. I whispered to my sister: “Don’t turn the light off as I won’t be able to hear you”. I realise now how much I was reading lips just so that I could understand what people were saying.
My struggles through education continued, but despite this, I managed to leave with a range of qualifications which enabled me to continue onto higher education. In school I had discovered my love of reading. I loved disappearing into a book at every opportunity. Reading was my escape, as no conversations were required! I suppose this is where my love of writing began too.
“My hearing is not that bad really…”
At the age of 18 I had surgery on my left ear to repair a perforation to my ear drum. A further operation on my right ear was carried out at the age of 34, again to repair a perforation to my ear drum and try to realign the ossicular chain, both of which did little to restore any hearing. I told myself that it would be fine, that my hearing wasn’t that bad really and that no one noticed. Something that people with hearing problems often say to make themselves feel better!
Lifelong learning, literally
Many people do not realise that when a person receives a hearing implant there will be several months of rehabilitation, or habilitation for those who have had no access to sound before. Rehabilitation is a vital part of learning to hear with a cochlear implant and involves training the brain to hear again and to make sense of the sounds it is hearing. Routinely practicing hearing skills can help someone’s hearing abilities improve faster and more effectively.
For those who have already been through surgery and are now enjoying the joys hearing can bring, your recovery will have been met with new discoveries. For those who previously had some hearing but lost this over time, your recovery will be a voyage of re-discovery. You will remember how sounds can bring tears of joy, even the simplest of sounds, for example hearing the birds sing, hearing their loved ones call their name, sharing conversations in groups of friends and going to the cinema or theatre. I believe this is the true meaning of lifelong learning. To pick up a career put on hold, to learn a musical instrument or a new language, to return to education or even just enjoy life with renewed wonder and with its sounds that we take for granted - the possibilities are endless.
I myself started my learning after leaving school, attending college and university and have been on a lifelong learning journey ever since. The difference is that now I no longer sit at the back. I’m right up front, eager to learn!