Clearwater Convention – SWC

Self-Check Out Lines in a Silent World

I would like to take a moment to thank the Say What Club Convention committee, Susan Dohne and Cathy Hilden, for this opportunity to come and speak to you this evening. This is my first SWC convention.

I moved to Frederick, Maryland, at Christmas of 2002. Having lived in North Carolina for almost 13 years, I found myself far from friends and family. In early 2003, I was looking over a website for NC SHHH and Beyond Hearing, and found a link to the Say What Club. I tried out different lists for a few months, and settled on SWCNetwork as my main list. I’ve been active in this group since July 7, 2003. I am also a member of Deaf Hearing Couples, and the CI list.

I have to consider myself a pretty “chatty” person, and so I take every opportunity I have to talk to other HoH and late deafened adults. Some of the conversations that have had the most impact on me are those with people who have been hard of hearing most of their lives. I only began losing my hearing in my late 20’s, and have had the benefits of technology and the internet that many who have had long-term hearing loss did not have. What would we do without the internet? Even our own SWC describes itself on the main website as, “a non-profit internet based organization for people with hearing loss or interested in hearing loss issues”. With the primary medium being the internet, we are linked together and in contact 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The internet is a low-cost form of technology that not only enables SWC to function, but it keeps us sane, too! However, there are some other forms of technology that are “free” or inexpensive that I wanted to discuss this evening.

One form was actually forced upon me by my teenagers. I’m going to read from a journal entry that I wrote this past year. I went into my favorite grocery store with my children in tow. Now I use the term “children” carefully, because in all actuality they are teenagers, which does indeed make a world of difference! Teenagers strive to avoid embarrassment at all costs, are horribly opinionated and as a general rule… they hate to go grocery shopping!

Like many grocery shoppers with good intentions, I go into the store with a list of a few things that I forgot from the PREVIOUS grocery shopping excursion, only to leave with a cart full of “Mom! I gotta have this!” We proceeded to the checkout line and my kid’s eyes widen with surprise and wonder. There – in the middle of the checkout lines are 3 registers that have large illuminated signs that say, “Self Check Out”.

My kids squealed, “Mom! Scoot your cart over here! Let’s check out right here… I mean, how cool is THIS?”

Now… I have previously and very dubiously watched people in these check-out lines before. They enter very calm, cool and collected. They exit with hair standing on end, their groceries tossed haphazardly into the cart and they intentionally run over a nearby Customer Service Manager with their carts as they leave the store. I’ve seen “hearing” people lean into the computer monitor with their eyes squinted, and their ears pressed against the little speaker. They strain with every fiber of their “hearing” self to understand what to do next! So! Needless to say, entering the “Self Check Out” line was something I had never thought twice about. I simply wasn’t going to ever attempt “Self Check Out”! I do, after all, have a little sense!

So I responded with a very dubious, “Ummmm… I don’t think so kids. I’ll never be able to hear what the dumb ol’ computer is sayin’, and I will hold up the lines just because I can’t make sense of what to do! Scoot on over to the next register with a person behind it. I can at least read their lips, and point to my little magnetic badge.”

Teenagers, being the argumentative beings that they are said, “Mom! Live a little!” (I was thinking, What? Like I’ve been dead or somethin’?) They continued, “Besides we can hear what it’s sayin’ and we’ll help ya out!”

Now I should have heeded that little niggling feeling of doubt that rose in my chest, but I filled my lungs with air and boldly swung the cart over to the “Self Check Out” line in order to “live a little”.

I start to unload the groceries onto the conveyor belt. The belt begins to move, but then it stops and MOVES BACKWARD bringing the groceries I had placed thereon back to me! I turn to my kids with a giant question mark on my face. You know what I mean? Your eyebrows are raised and you tuck your hair behind your ear while unobtrusively turning your hearing aid up with one deft little practiced move. (But I ask you! Like turning your hearing aid up will help you figure out why the conveyor belt isn’t cooperating?!)

I turned to my kids and said, “Ummmm… what’s up? Why isn’t this working?” (A good translation of this would mean that my blood pressure has just gone up 20 points and if ya don’t help get me outta this mess y’all got me into, I’m gonna KILL YOU!)

The kids are motioning me back and tell me to read the screen…. “Please scan Giant Eagle Preferred Customer Card”. (Oh. Ok. I don’t load up the conveyor belt first. I read the screen first. Got it! I’m thinking, how hard can this be?)

I scan my card and the screen immediately changes… It now reads “Thank you. Giant Eagle Preferred Customer Card accepted!”

My son interrupted my thoughts with, “Hey Mom! It said, “Thank you. Giant Eagle Prefer….”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah! I can read. Thanks though”.

But he continued with, “Yeah, but it has this computer voice like on Star Trek, and it…”

“Yes, son. Whatever. Let’s get thru this, hmmm?”

Now the screen reads, “Begin scanning items”. I stand there a little blankly, while my kids begin taking a few items out of the cart and searching for the bar code.

“Cool! Mom! Look at this! Watch, watch!” So I watch as they deftly scan the bar code on a few items, which is immediately priced and added to a “receipt” that is pictured on the left side of the screen. They place a few items on the conveyor belt and off the items go – in the right direction —- away from us.

(So I’m now thinking, “Hey! I can do this!”) I get out the large water container – one of those jumbo sized ones – from under the cart, figuring I’ll save the kids from hefting it up on the scanner.

I scan the water container and put it on the conveyor belt. The computer receipt changes and adds on the cost of the water… but immediately something goes wrong! The computer screen empties and flashes a giant red “X” across the screen that blinks, and blinks, and blinks. I do what any normal “in-over-her-head” mother would do. I point my finger at it and shout, “Stop!”

My daughter touches my elbow and says, “Mom it said to take the water to the end of the conveyor belt to the bagging section.” Sure enough the water I placed on the conveyor belt has stopped —- NOT moving in the right direction away from me.

A little unnerved I said, “Well what’s the problem? It rang up right!”

So my daughter says, “Well first of all,” with a slightly exaggerated squeeze to my elbow, “you are s-h-o-u-t-i-n-g.” (She carefully enunciates this so that I am sure to understand the gravity of the situation. After all, you do not shout while in the company of your teenagers and bring attention to yourself!)

She continued, “It’s probably too heavy. Let’s just follow the directions and take it to the end.”

“What directions? “ I say, as I stab my finger towards the giant blinking red “X”.

But she has turned and picked the water up off the conveyor belt. The computer screen immediately changes to a picture of our receipt on the left, (this is good – almost normal), and a picture of a brown paper bag with a small flashing red “x” across the bag. Now I know this means something is still wrong. I am now a full inch taller —- you know the kind of growth that takes place when tension seeps up your spine and causes height to be added to your stature? THAT kind of growth.

My son says, “Mom it says to return items to the conveyor belt!”

“But it just told us to remove it and take it to the baggage area!” I am trying to deliberately and intentionally lower my voice, without much success. As a matter of fact I think I squeaked at this point.

My daughter has reached the baggage area and placed the water on the rubber mat at the end. Instantaneously, the computer screen again changes and now it appears as if all is normal. I turn to my son with a triumphant grin. But… he has his nose buried behind a magazine with feigned interest. I took a look at the cover of the magazine. Like he’s ever been a loyal Good Housekeeping reader?

So now with one problem solved and only a few people in line behind me waiting, I continue scanning my items with confidence. Ah! Produce. There obviously isn’t a bar code, but I’ve seen this done innumerable times. The little scan plate is also a scale. I put down the apples. The computer screen changes to three pictures.

There are 3 buttons. One says, “Produce”, one says “Deli”, and the other says “Organic”. I press “produce” which immediately changes the screen to another one. It let’s me choose from vegetables, fruit, etc. (So I’m thinking at this point, Hey! This is getting easier!) But my daughter has taken a single but GIANT step away from me. My son has changed locations and is now about 40 feet away pretending a newly acquired interest in the signs by the “do-it-yourself” carpet cleaning machines.

I quickly scan the last item. The screen changes and it shows a cartoon hand putting a slip of paper into a slot by the register. Hmm… I stand there stumped for a minute.

“Mom. It says to scan coupons now.” My daughter has returned to my side – more to hurry me along than anything else as there are now 5 people in line behind me!

“Well I don’t have any coupons.” My daughter reaches across me and mashes the button that says, “FINISH and pay”. I give her a sheepish grin and turn to tell her thanks, but she has resumed her position of one GIANT step away from mom.

The screen has several buttons that obviously indicate how you would like to choose to pay for your groceries. I mash on “Debit” and the screen changes to a keypad. I cannot hear if any instructions are given….. there certainly aren’t any conveniently typed out for me on the screen. I ASSUME, that it wants me to enter my PIN number. So I key in my number. Nothing. NOTHING. I key it in again a little harder. Nothing.

Ok. I hate to do it. I’m a little tense. But turning to my daughter, I sign, (pointing to computer) “wrong?” She refuses to take a GIANT step towards me to explain, and simply points towards my left. I turn and there, next to the computer screen, is a familiar black box with little touch-keys and a place to swipe your card. I dig my card out of my pocket book and swipe it across the “swipe-er”. The computer screen flashes the same keypad I have been looking at, along with now… 14 pair of eyes staring at me. I again punch in my PIN number. When I say, “punch” in, I do mean that! At this point I PUNCH in my PIN number with exaggerated stabs of my index finger. It’s a wonder I didn’t break my index finger! Nothing. So… I again do what any normal mother has learned to do in situations like this. I point my finger at the computer and shout, “STOP!” The computer responds by adding a button to the bottom of the screen as if it has “heard” and “understood” my command. The button reads, “Ask For Customer Assistance”. I mash the button. A red light begins blinking at the top of the pole above my computer register. I happen to notice that for some reason there is now NO ONE in line behind me!

A front-end manager quickly walks down the front and towards my register. My children have disappeared.

A young lady reaches my side and says, “Hello! May I help you?”

I point to my badge and say, “Hey. I’m hard of hearing and I’m afraid I missed something. I’m trying to key in my PIN number and the computer won’t accept it.”

She reads my little badge, and faces me and carefully enunciates, “Shhhhh…owww, mmmmeeeeee whhhhattttt youuuuu diddddddd” (Doncha hate it when they do that?) I turn and deftly punch in my PIN number again on the computer screen.

She hides a smile and points to my left. “Ma-am. Punnnch in yooouurr PINNNN nummmbeerr righttt heeerrreee.”

Oh. So the computer screen keypad has nothing to do with my PIN number? Well why doesn’t it SAY so. Or……… maybe it did. With head held high, I punch in my PIN number on the BLACK box and then push my way to the cart in which my kids have kindly loaded all my bags. Although……….. they HAVE been haphazardly thrown in! I’m astonished to note my cart looks like all those carts belonging to the crazed customers who have left this same line before me. Success! It matters not that I have a hearing loss! I’m as normal as anyone else!

After discussing this incident with my family, I realized that as HoH people we have a real advantage with the “Self Check Out” lines. From what I’ve learned, if you follow the prompts from the visual display on the computer screen, you are less likely to run into problems than those who respond to the computer’s “voice”. I’ve had a great number of problems checking out at any kind of store. Unless I have been able to really get to know a cashier, I now LOOK FOR self-check out lines. I do have a CI now and am hearing so much more than I ever did before, however, face to face you may still have to muddle through hard to understand accents, or a young person with a wad of gum in their mouth! I don’t feel like I’m avoiding people by using the “Self Check Out” lines, but I have learned how they work and am much more comfortable using them now.

Another free form of technology are the visual devices at drive-through lanes in certain fast food restaurants. Not all fast food restaurants have visual displays, but some do. When I discover a new one I try to always let the manager of that store know that I appreciate the visual display, or email a thank you to the company through their website. The first one I ever saw was at a McDonald’s, but I have also seen them now at Wendy’s, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Before discovering these visual devices, I would pull up to order and one of the kids would “cue” me that they’ve asked me for my order. After ordering, the order is usually repeated and I would look for a “thumbs up” sign from one of the kids. With the visual displays, I have even seen the person’s face who is taking the order, with a text print up at the bottom of the screen! So if you read lips, this type is a real bonus! But most of the visual displays that I have seen only have a text read out of what you are ordering. I am certain these devices help those who have typical hearing as well, as I’ve been told by many people that the audio quality at drive-through restaurants is usually very poor.

Yet another form of free technology that I have used is that through my local library. We live in a small town of about 60,000, so I was very pleased that our library had an interactive website. I can put books on hold, renew my books online if I can’t get them checked back in before the due date, peruse the card catalogue, etc. I would guess that most city libraries are now available online for residents to access their local library at home.

I also use internet relay now. When my hearing deteriorated to the point that I could no longer use a telephone, a HoH Texas friend gave me an old TTY. I used it a little bit, but still found that finding a place to put it and remembering to plug it in when I was expecting a call was difficult. We only have one phone line, and with teenagers, guess how that phone line was used? Anyway, there are several ways to access relay through the internet. I use internet relay much more than I ever did the TTY. Our internet access is through our cable line, so I am not tying up the single telephone line that we have. It works very well for me. I use “My IP Relay” through the buddy list on my AOL Instant Messenger. It’s quick and easy to use, but again there are numerous providers of internet relay. If you are looking into it for the first time, ask around and find out from others what they are using and if they like it.

I have the luxury of living in the DC area where there are a great number of monuments, museums, and historical places to visit that have assistive listening devices. In many such places, I only have to switch my CI and hearing aid to t-coil and can hear any of the audio feed or narration that typical hearing people can hear. Many places all over the country have assistive listening devices, and many more are updating what they have or acquiring them for the first time because people like you and I insist on equal access!

Movie theatres are to have assistive listening devices available. I’ve found that they don’t always WORK, but they are to have them available. Insist that they work – and that they check that these devices are working. Also, Insight Cinema at is a great movie website you should check out if you haven’t already done so. They provide updates on theatres in your area that are showing current movies on the big screen with open captioning.

Our post offices now have these wonderful small visual screens available when you go to mail a letter or package. At a glance I can see how much “first class”, “priority”, or “same day” rates are to mail a package. I can easily choose whether or not I want insurance, a stamp that says “fragile” or “perishable”, etc. This has been such a big relief to me, as I really use to hate going to the post office! I can even click on how I want to pay, and whether or not I want a receipt. If I chose to, I could go into the post office and not have to “hear” anyone, nor communicate with anything more than a smile! I do usually go in and say, “Hey, how ya doin’?” and hug their necks though. But that’s just me!

Many places of worship are purchasing inexpensive FM systems that are t-coil compatible, or can be used with ear buds. Some churches think they don’t have the money to purchase these systems. However, if you would like for your church to purchase a system that will help you hear, do the homework FOR them and present them with what you find! I go to a small church, and I am the only person who is HoH and late deafened that attends regularly. When they purchased 3 William’s sound devices with neck loops, receivers and ear buds, they were surprised at how little they really had to spend! There are other similar devices as well, so investigate this if your church does not have this already. I am able to hear what everyone else hears through the PA system through my t-coils now. As a matter of fact, I think that at times I hear BETTER than some of the typical hearing members, as I do not hear the background noise that they contend with each Sunday morning. I also know for a fact that the other devices are checked out regularly! So if you are in a small church, don’t be surprised if you discover that you are helping more than just yourself!

Some churches are able to loop their sanctuaries, which is a real plus if you have t-coils. There is no receiver to carry around, or neck loop to wear… you simply switch to t-coil and you are hearing better. Even this technology has really come down in price, and many organizations like and others are finding that more and more places of worship are purchasing this technology for their HoH members. Our church will be building on new property next year, and if you can loop a building during construction, the cost is even more reasonable.

In closing, I want to share with you what a lady from Nebraska told me when we were discussing living as a HoH person. She began losing her hearing much like I did in my late 20’s. However, I am 39 now and she is in her 70’s! So I asked her on several different occasions to explain to me what it was like before technology made things a little easier for those of us who are HoH. She lost her hearing long before computers and internet access was available to the general public. I remember her telling me how very lonely life was. Actually, I sat there and cried with her when she would tell me how much she looked forward to the mail each day, hoping to get a letter from a family member who lived close enough to drive to see her when not at work, or call locally. Her regular contact with this family member was a wonderful newsy letter once a week. This was also before Relay and the TTY. A deaf scientist by the name of Robert Weitbrecht, is credited with the development of the TTY in the 1960s. These first TTY’s were large boxes of metal with printer paper coming out one end! I saw an antique model of one of these first TTY’s at the Smithsonian. No one would have had room for this on their kitchen counter, or bedside table! Very few HoH and Deaf people had one in the 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s. Cost was a barrier that prevented the TTY from gaining widespread use and acceptance more quickly.
Now with internet access, communities like the Say What Club have sprung up all over! I belong to six different hearing loss organizations that I can access information and “family” through the internet! My friend from Nebraska told me that the internet and email have meant more to her than her CI! Now THAT was hard for me to fathom, as I just received my own CI and am having so much fun with it! But she explained that being able to contact people at any moment of a day, reaching out to encourage someone else with hearing loss, and receiving encouragement from others, gave her a connection to the world like she’d never before experienced. She told me, “Denise… I have so much to give! Now because of the internet I “give back” each day, and I’m a better person because of it!”
If you go to the Say What Club’s home page on the internet, you will read that it is self-described as, “… an on-line group… of late-deafened, hard of hearing and deaf/Deaf adults and other interested folks who provide support and encouragement to each other through e-mail. Our goal is to provide a friendly, good-humored place to exchange conversation, information, advice, deep thoughts, humor, tall tales, and chit chat. It is our hope that members will get to know each other and develop an on-line “community feeling.” I remember when I first read that I thought to myself, “Wow! Here is a wonderful group of people from all over the world, and from different backgrounds. The common bond we share is that we cannot hear, but we can still see with our eyes. I thought that as long as I could see, I would still be able to “hear”. However, in the last 3 years I realized that this was not the reason I could still “hear” even with hearing loss. I have been blessed with several friendships of very special people who cannot hear or see. Two of them are here today, and their friendship to me is priceless. I have learned that when people “hear” with their heart, they have perfect hearing. They may have a hearing loss, but LISTEN to people and connect by a special instinct of the heart that allows them to create relationships that are unique and beautiful. They may not be able to see, but have a heart and intuition that allows them to help another person, and give them a friendship that provides a sense of worth and belonging that most sighted people cannot give. They connect to their Say What Club Family the same way you and I do – through email and special software. I now believe that the Say What Club and other communities we are a part of through the internet provides our place of “belonging” and “giving back” because we have learned to “listen” and to “hear”, with our hearts.
I had my cochlear implant activated on May 13th of this year. I am hearing things, that really I never thought I’d hear again this side of heaven! My family and I are amazed at every new thing I discover I can hear now. However, I have shared this before, but am truly serious about this. I would not give up what I have learned about myself, and how to “listen” in a whole new way just to hear like a “normal” hearing person. If I could choose to have 5 perfectly functioning senses, I would not do so. I think that only those of us who have lived with hearing loss can understand this. We are who we are BECAUSE of our unique way of listening to others, and connecting.
I ask you to go out there and investigate some of the wonderful technology we have access to today. Don’t be afraid of “Self Check Out” lines. But I also challenge you to celebrate the reason you are special, and the reason you “hear” so well! Because of your heart! From my heart to yours, thank you for being family to me.

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