There's a familiar Christmas song called, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" For many, the answer to that song would be, "No." Be assured that stories of the hearing-challenged are quite widespread. The 2002 National Health Interview Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation found the following:
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About two to four of every 1,000 people in the United States are functionally deaf, though more than half become deaf relatively late in life; fewer than one out of every 1,000 people in the United States become deaf before the age of 18.
Nine to 22 out of every 1,000 people have a severe hearing impairment or are deaf. At least half of these people reported their hearing loss after 64 years of age.
Up to 140 out of every 1,000 people in the United States have some kind of hearing loss, with a large share being at least 65. Across all age groups, at least 1 million individuals over the age of 5 are functionally deaf, and 8 million over 5 are hard of hearing.
The information cited can be acquired from the Gallaudet Research Institute online.
The Rev. Dan Wanders, of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, has a low mellow speaking voice that is clear and kind. Most all enjoy Wanders' cheerful greetings and his warm way of delivering a message on Sunday morning.
In the past few years, many among his congregation realized they just couldn't hear Wanders in worship services or others who participate as the liturgist or during announcement time. The acoustics in the sanctuary are superb but this isn't enough for those who need hearing assistance.
This year, a Christmas present came early for folks who benefit from hearing-assistive technology in public settings. Aldersgate United Methodist Church recently installed an inductive loop system. An induction cable is installed around the listening area. Microphones, head sets and a receiver operate in conjunction with the loop. The loop system reduces background noise for all who use it.
Those who have hearing needs have two options. Ear phones receive the clear sound streaming through the microphones that work with the induction loop. Others can adjust their telephone coil switch on their hearing aids to receive the signal that boosts the sound straight into the ear from the microphones. The microphones and speakers are hooked into both the amplifier for regular use and to another amplifier for the loop system. Everyone benefits.
On Dec. 2, the first Sunday of Advent, Wanders proudly announced that the system had been installed. Marsha Gladhart, an instructor of technology at the University of Alaska Southeast, held up her earphones proudly. Four or five other individuals requested the ear phones. Their faces brightened immediately. The whole room brightened as others turned on their T-switches. It will take a while for all to learn how the system works and to understand that this is not an individual preference. The system is for the purpose of human connection and making sure that people who have no other choice are not barred from the inspiring words and prayers of worship.
Many with hearing challenges often lose their pride when they find themselves not hearing as well as others. The experience of not hearing in a group can be quite isolating. All of us in one way or other deal with something in life that challenges us. People worked together to make this system work and the bill is paid.
Now one more person who didn't hear the pastor's bad joke during the sermon the week before can say to another: "It's nice to hear the pastor even when he's telling those bad jokes." Not to worry. Wanders is smiling.
A Christmas present came early to Aldersgate.
Sharon K. Cooper is a retired diaconal minister in music and religious education for the United Methodist Church.