Imagine going through high school and never being able to hear someone whispering in your ear, or whispering about you for that matter. Or being a middle-schooler with a voice so high-pitched you sound like a cartoon character. Kids laugh at you and call you Minnie Mouse. There are worse things that can happen to a person, but these things and the grander discrimination against individuals with hearing loss sting and stick with a person.
That’s why the Hear the World organization is so intent on raising awareness about the disability of hearing loss, in all its shapes and forms and why a group of eight students between the ages of 17 and 22 all with varying levels of hearing ability (some of the students have never had hearing loss and some were born with severe hearing disabilities) boarded planes from points across the United States to meet in the Peruvian jungle and experience the sounds of the Amazon.
This expedition to Peru, in partnership with Global Explorers, is bringing these students of mixed hearing abilities together in an environment where sound, and preservation of sound, is a way of life, to learn from one another by learning to use adversity to their advantage, and in turn, becoming the next generation of Hear the World sound ambassadors. By making sound a central part of the trip, they hope to convey the important role that sound and hearing plays in our daily lives and the need to protect it — for those with and without hearing loss.
Leading the students is Bill Barkeley, one of 15,000 people in the US and 100,000 in the world with Usher’s Syndrome (Type 2), the leading cause of deaf-blindness in the world. Bill summited Mount Kilimanjaro in 2007 shattering expectations and confirming his role as an advocate and inspiration for the hearing loss community.
One in every six people worldwide is affected by hearing loss. It’s about the same amount of people in the world who own a car. As the population ages — and noise pollution in the world increases – more and more people will be losing their hearing. It is estimated that the number of those affected by hearing loss will rise to around 1.1 billion by 2015.
Image Credit: Jo Piazza
Hearing loss isn’t just a physical disability. It can also cause extreme anxiety, depression, isolation and low self-esteem in those affected.
“With kids of mixed hearing abilities on this trip, we want to make them aware of hearing challenges and train the next generation to be hearing loss advocates and make a better world by helping people to understand what these people face every day,” Barkeley says. “I met with these kids in Colorado already and they have a lot of pain, but they aren’t bitter about it. They want to make the world a better place.”
“I have very little experience on the topic of hearing loss. That is why I know it will affect me very strongly and make me more aware of the topic,” says Olivia Johnson, 18. “I hope to gain some major leadership skills, experience the rainforest, change and challenge my perception of the hearing disabled. And to learn some new and amazing things that really affect my decisions down the road in a positive way.”
And rounding out the expedition is me, Tonic reporter Jo Piazza. My father began experiencing hearing loss due to muscular dystrophy about five years ago and now he hears with a cochlear implant. He calls it his “cyber ear.” I have watched as he has adjusted to his new disability and I know that my experience in the Amazon will help me to be a more sympathetic listener for him. Throughout the nine day trip, I will be sending dispatches from the jungle and watching and chronicling as these students have the experience of a lifetime.