It took a while to occur to me that being involved with piano and other musical activities so heavily was somewhat ironic. You see, my family discovered when I was young that I have hearing loss—not enough to be considered completely deaf, but enough to require hearing aids in both ears in order to to make everyday life easier.

When I was little, though, I didn’t think in terms of “Oh, this activity requires a lot of listening and hearing-related things. Maybe it wouldn’t be the best thing to do.” Instead, my world was much simpler. I saw that my older cousins both played piano and wanted to try it myself. My parents found a piano teacher whose only issue with letting me study was that I should wait another year to start, and I subsequently played piano for more than ten years.

There’s a popular sentiment that people with disabilities are exceptionally brave to get through life in spite of whatever challenges they have. I personally don’t feel particularly brave. As I see it, I’ve been given one life to live, and yes, this life includes dealing with less-than-average hearing, but that’s not going to change and I still have to live my life fully so it would be senseless to limit myself because of it.

[bctt tweet=”My life includes hearing loss. That’s not going to change.” username=”wearethetempest”]

There are things I have to do to work around my hearing impairment. Within a school setting, I wear something known as an FM system, basically a small microphone that the teacher or professor wears that picks up their voice and brings it to my hearing aids. I think managing this technology from an early age (as well as keeping my hearing aids safe) taught me an early sense of responsibility.

Even with this FM system there are still issues in situations where there is a lot of background noise. The machine doesn’t know how to focus on one person’s voice, and just amplifies everything, so it is a challenge to work with on group projects with lots of people talking at once.

[bctt tweet=”Someone remarked that I was brave to study abroad with hearing impairment.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Cafeterias, too, proved a challenge because of the high level of background noise. There were certain things I could do to make it easier. The school had placed me in speech therapy courses, and there I learned to lip read, which helped some in noisy situations. But there were many lunches where I only caught snatches of conversation, didn’t quite know what was going on and ended up very frustrated. This changed in high school, when we were finally allowed to eat outside the cafeteria, but even in college dining halls today it continues to be an issue.

[bctt tweet=”There were many lunches where I only caught snatches of conversation.” username=”wearethetempest”]

These issues that I face are sometimes annoying. Sometimes I mishear something and respond with a remark that’s totally unrelated, or can’t contribute to a conversation nearly as much as I would like because I can’t hear enough of it. But I am lucky that these are the only issues I face. I am lucky to be otherwise healthy. I am lucky that I have never been bullied because of my hearing.

And these things are just things to work around. Someone recently remarked that I was brave to study in another country with all the problems I face with my ears. The statement was well-intentioned, but I found it a bit preposterous. Yes, languages are supposed to be hard for someone with hearing impairment, but apparently I never got that memo either. I had been studying Spanish for over 12 years, and the hearing impairment hadn’t stopped me at any time.

Why would I let it stop me from applying what I had learned in the real world? Sure, there would be struggles. But I would figure out ways to work around them.

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Grace Ballenger

By Grace Ballenger


The Tempest , Music , disability , study abroad , language , School , social life , The Tempest fellowships , The Tempest Media , courage , write for the tempest , Grace Ballenger , hearing , hearing impairment , deaf , piano , choir , brave , how to live with disabilities , living with disabilities , working on group projects , college while deaf , high school while deaf , deaf and college , The Tempest Studio ,


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