As a profoundly deaf person, I wear my cochlear implant (CI) and hearing aid pretty much from morning to night, so I don’t live in a “silent world”, except when I take them out (and usually before I go to sleep, which is useful). But while it’s true I don’t hear anything when I do take them off, thanks to my tinnitus I’m not exactly enveloped in a blissful world of quiet.
Tinnitus is that condition where sufferers hear noises or ringing in their ears, but which have no external source. The sounds can change tone and shape at any time and, while I cope with it okay, it is a common affliction among deaf people who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants, as well as those who aren’t deaf.
So when I read sentences – usually in newspaper or magazine headlines – that contain some combination of the words “deaf”, “silence”, “world” and “trapped”, it doesn’t really ring true to me, no pun intended. Many of us use hearing aids or CIs, so the problem isn’t the availability of a pathway to sound (although a CI or hearing aid won’t always work for every deaf child or adult).
Having said that, CIs and hearing aids can create a cacophony of sound that can often be overwhelming because they amplify or recreate all noise – noise that hearing people can unconsciously filter out and assign meaning to in a way we often can’t. So when users switch off their devices, the silence that cuts in is immediate and blissful.
Except for tinnitus sufferers, of course.
Similarly, those of us who don’t wear hearing aids or CIs don’t live in a silent world either. Their thoughts are full of sign language, faces, expressions, body language, images, words and movement. If they experience silence in any meaningful sense, it would be through the absence of visual noise rather than aural noise.