Get to the Forest!

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”trail-to-graveyard.jpg

This picture was taken at Harper’s Ferry in 2006. It doesn’t exactly show a forest that is isolated like I believe this riddle alludes too, but it is “Kodak evidence” of how fond I am of forests.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Don’t you love a great riddle? This has always been one of my favorites as it causes me to “wax philosophical”. Is sound only sound if a person is around to hear it?

My first reaction is that OF COURSE a falling tree makes a noise when it falls, irregardless of whether or not a person is around when it happens! In a forest, trees are usually densely packed with only the occasional trail towards a water source, created by “forest dwelling mammals”. Can you picture a large tree in a forest suddenly beginning its descent towards earth? No one is around to holler, “TIMMM-BERRRR!” (I had to scratch my head and ponder on that awhile! Why shout “Timber!” when a falling “timber” begins to fall? Why not yell, “Look out! Move back! HEADS UP! Sorry I digress…)

It very likely snaps and pops, creating echoes of noise that reverberate through the forest. Nearby trees lose their own branches and twigs as the tree makes it way down, Down, DOWN. They shudder and groan as the descending tree makes contact with them, and seem to almost respond to the original noise by snapping and popping as well. The tree picks up speed as it nears its resting place, and the ground shakes in percussion as final contact is made. A great deal of noise was made in this process. Had I been standing there watching it happen, the noise would have been no different had I been at home in my recliner watching FOX news. I could have even set up a camera to catch all the action and noise. Yet no more or less noise was made when it fell.

Things That Make Me Go, “Hmmmm… ”

I think that this is important. If NO ONE IS THERE TO HEAR THE NOISE, then NO SOUND WAS HEARD. Many things can make a noise, but only ears hear sound. Therefore, if no one was around when that tree fell in the forest, no sound was heard! (Are you scratching your head in confusion yet?)

Stick with me here!

Do you know that when people with hearing loss advocate for themselves or others, they can make NOISE or they can make SOUND? Noise is usually made by people who have simply “had it” with the hearing world. These folks are angry, bitter, and believe change cannot and will not happen. Their noise is ignored by people with normal hearing, or worse yet… it is only acknowledged if that person decides they need to step out of the way of that NOISY, FALLING tree!

These noisy people refuse to call their Congressman when HLAA, ALDA or other organizations put out a plea to “make yourself heard”. Cell phone compatibility, accurate captioning, and hearing aid tax credits are just a few things that I have been urged to voice my opinion about to my own government officials in recent years. They belly-ache and groan about how hard life is when you have a hearing loss. They don’t really like to be with groups of others with hearing loss as they may find people who are coping just fine. They don’t want to reach out to someone new with hearing loss, because THEY want to make noise… not listen to others! They grumble, gripe, groan and belly-ache… keeping Pepto-Bismol in business.

They choose to criticize hearing loss organizations who are busy trying to get them to “make themselves heard”. They act as if the power of combined sound is in the Board of Trustees instead of the members who make up the organization. They completely miss the point that if they join others who step up to advocate in a positive way, their combined “noise” swells into an orchestra of purposeful sound that crescendos and echoes it’s way across America.

When we advocate in a positive way we do more than make noise. Our sound is heard. It may still be ignored, or it may be that they think it is only the sound of ONE tree. That’s why it’s important to be around other trees; to be around others with hearing loss. We observe, we learn, we support and educate. We learn to be pro-active, and learn to do more than make noise. We learn to make a sound that is HEARD.

Get to the forest! Let’s make some sound!

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

I Left the Assistance Dog in the Van

My family and I went to Harper’s Ferry Saturday afternoon. It’s one of our favorite hangouts. I was having a really good “balance day” too as we had clear blue skies. I felt SO good, we even hiked up to Jefferson Rock.

I left my assistance dog in the van though. I decided that “today… Chloe gets to be a dog!” She had a great time, and I brought her longer leash so that she could “just be a dog” if she wanted. I was kinda of tickled that she refused to go very far from me, and was plastered to my side on the steep stairs. I can’t explain to her that I’m “having a good day”.


The great thing about having a canine partner, is that sometimes they are “just a dog”. I love dogs… so that’s a good thing. She works really hard, so she deserved the “day off”!

Denise Portis


amish-country-lancaster-pa-october-2006-003.jpgMy daughter, Kyersten was my “picky one” as a toddler. Her diet consisted of a very short list of acceptable foods. She would eat hot dogs, Banquet Chicken Nuggets, Spaghetti’os and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I mention brand names in this “short list”, because it really did matter. The kid couldn’t read yet, but really did know whether or not what was placed before her was her “acceptable” food or not! I remember keeping a Kraft Macaroni & Cheese box out and buying the “cheaper stuff” just to test her taste buds. Much to my chagrin, the little tyke ate only a bite! She wouldn’t touch McDonald’s chicken nuggets, but would eat Banquet’s nuggets in a heartbeat! Was I ever glad she would chew a Flintstone’s vitamin once a day! Forget fruits and vegetables!

Thankfully… she grew out of that. I remember celebrating when she would finally eat pizza. Now she eats a great variety of foods, many of which actually happen to be good for you. (Imagine THAT!) The only food that remains a CONSTANT in her life? The only edible thing that has followed her through the terrible two’s, grade school and high school? CHOCOLATE.

In fact, she is so opposite of “picky” now, she comes up with her own concoctions that frankly only she will eat. Some of them are “scary sick” in my humble opinion. But she eats enough healthy things, I count my blessings and ignore the “strange” meals that sometimes grace her plate. Her favorite this year, was discovered by accident. She’s one of those “strange critters” that actually prefers instant potatoes to the “real thing”. She makes potatoes by “eyeballin’ it” (in that she never follows directions and just dumps a little of “this” and a little of “that”), and then adds cubed ham and gigantic chunks of cheddar cheese. I know I blanched in distaste the first time I saw it. It looked… it Looked… well, it LOOKED MONSTROUS! potatoes-004.jpg

As she rarely gets enough calcium, I don’t argue about the amount of cheddar cheese we go through each week. Thankfully, Costco saves me a little on this, and she is skinny as rail so I’m not worried.

Everyone in the family looks at her “creation” and says “no thank you”! (Aren’t we a polite little family?) Her preference is to eat this and OFTEN.

What she considers “yummy”, nutritional, and “worth the effort” is OK for Kyersten. I wouldn’t eat instant mashed potatoes, ham and cheddar cheese all mixed together. But hey! If she likes it… “make it yourself dear and ENJOY”. She is happy to do so.

I thought about how this often parallels people with hearing loss. One person with hearing loss may have a preference for a “label”, while others refused to be labeled at all. One person may welcome assistive devices and tools that make their hearing loss very visible. Others, however, may choose to “appear as normal as possible” and keep things like cochlear implants and hearing aids hidden and private. Sadly, I have witnessed more than one disagreement between people with hearing loss and their choice of “labels”, or their choice of acceptable tools to improve their situation. It seems we aren’t very respectful of other’s preferences.


I consider myself an adult with a disability because I am late-deafened. I know plenty of culturally Deaf people and folks who became deaf later in life, who are deeply offended by the word “disabled”. I guess I don’t have a problem with that label because I don’t consider it a negative word. I was born hearing, and I no longer hear “normally”. I hear in a wonderful new way thanks to a cochlear implant, (New Freedom from Cochlear Americas) but I do not hear like I once did. I don’t sit around feeling sorry for myself, and yet I fully recognize that I do have a disability. I am “not ABLE” to hear like I once did. In my thinking, something that was “able”, is now “disabled”. I embrace the accessibility rights I am guaranteed under the American’s with Disabilities Act. I only ask my peers to be accepting of the fact that I’m OK with the label “disabled”, as it certainly does NOT mean that I am not very ABLE in other areas! I don’t judge others who choose not to identify with that word. My preference? I am a disabled American with an acquired disability.

Hearing Dogs

I am often asked, “Why a hearing dog?” They require training, supervision, attention and care. I carry a backpack now that is for “Chloe”. It contains her access documentation, as well as treats, baggies, towel, water bowl, and first aid kit. It reminds in in a weird sort of way, of the diaper bags I use to have to lug around for the kids when they were little. But it’s a burden I gladly carry as it was a choice I made and decision I acknowledged that… YES… the advantages of having a hearing dog far outweighed the disadvantages.

I have had some of my late-deafened peers ask me: “Why would you want to have something with you all the time that makes something invisible… VISIBLE.” I’m sure the fact that I wear BLING on my implant is another reason why I don’t mind my disability being visible. It is my preference to allow others to know that I require a little patience in communicating. I may not hear you if you are a cashier and you say, “I’m open over here!” But Chloe… my bling… allow a cashier to see that there is something different about me. I may need “waved over” to their open line. I’m OK with that. It’s my preference.

If you are late-deafened and only use ASL to communicate with others, and use an interpreter in order to communicate with oral Americans… I’m OK with that! That is your preference, and I respect it.

If you have a cochlear implant and/or hearing aids, but prefer for no one to know that you have a hearing loss… I’m OK with that too. It is your preference.

I suppose everyone… hearing and deaf alike… would get along better if we respected each other’s preferences.

I don’t have to eat instant potatoes, ham and cheddar cheese though!

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Deaf/Blind for a Day?

usakeller2.jpg Helen Keller with President Dwight D. Eisenhower

A friend of mine named Bob MacPherson (owner and moderator bhNews, a listserve to which I belong) posted the following article: Helen Keller

I have no idea where he found this, but he’s always been incredibly gifted at digging up interesting tidbits that no one else seems to know about. Even people without disabilities or physical challenges appreciate Helen Keller and her life. I remember reading books about Ms. Keller when I was in grade school back in the 70’s.

In the last couple of weeks, one of my classes was “Deaf for a Day“. Due to a few very negative reactions from students and their families, as well the counter reactions from my family and online friends who were looking forward to the assignment’s conclusion, I decided to not discuss the assignment in class this year. I chose to have them write about it instead, and I really look forward to reading what they “learned”. (Hey! I’m wise enough to note my own emotional limitations by which to handle topics that are painful for me!)

I suppose since this is still on my mind a great deal due to everything that happened, Bob’s article on Helen Keller got me to thinkin’…

“Hey! I should remove my cochlear implant and hearing aid… wear a blindfold… and be Deaf/Blind for the day! After all I have several very dear friends who have this combination of challenges!”

Well my husband put a quick stop to this idea. He has numerous emergency room bills from falls I take when I have full use of my sight. He wasn’t about to allow me to take away yet another sense. stick-in-mud.jpg(He can be a real stick in the mud! Kidding) It didn’t seem to matter that it’s been a full 6 months since I’ve been to the ER for an accident due to my poor balance!

I did find myself longing to experience a deaf/blind day as two of my dear friends live this every day. (I posted about them recently here). It is my opinion that the best way to understand how another lives, is to “walk in their shoes”.

As I often do, I digress. Wasn’t it incredible that being deaf AND blind, Helen Keller still learned to speak so well that her enunciation was perfect? Not even someone talking with her on the telephone could tell she was deaf/blind by listening to her voice! Helen Keller learned to SING? It’s an incredible skill and testimony of hours of practice and work to speak well when deaf/blind. But to sing as well? (Honestly, my jaw dropped open when I read this!) I am only “late-deafened”, and was a member of different choirs in high school and college. Think you’ll ever hear me sing now? Think again. When I sing I use my hands now, not daring to trust that I may possibly actually sing in tune with my voice. I do sing around the house sometimes, but it’s usually when I’m hooked up to my Sennheiser TR 820 listening to iTunes. I’m fairly confident that I’m not singing in tune, judging by the winces from my family and Chloe!

Helen Keller is a great example… I suppose in many ways a hero to me. She is the author of several books. I think it’s time I re-read them.

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Kindness is a Language the Deaf Can Hear…

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
— Mark Twain

My senior kiddo is taking American Literature this year. She just finished the novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

I’ve always been a little “nuts” about Mark Twain, even though I don’t agree with everything he did, wrote, or said. I think you can still admire a writer and a “mind”, and not agree on “everything”. I love this quote by Mr. Twain, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see”. I believe that. Kindness is something appreciated by all people regardless of their ability to hear, see, walk, talk, read and ETC.

In blogs across the internet there has been much hullabaloo over the Pepsi commercial shown at the beginning of the Super Bowl. If you missed it, you can view it at YouTube here.

Personally, I loved the advertisement. It doesn’t matter to me that the majority of folks with hearing loss choose not to learn or use ASL. I think any recognition of hearing loss and communicating in a non-traditional way is something to celebrate!

I’ve seen blog after blog “bashing” another’s perspective or point of view! Why? Certainly the culturally Deaf and oral hearing loss communities have differences. They choose to communicate differently, they take advantage of different types of assistive devices, and have several different access needs for accommodation. However, I truly believe that we have many similarities and issues that unify us… initiatives on which we can work together. Captioning, cell phone and telecommunication accessibility, and being treated with kindness instead of being treated like we are STUPID are just a few.

Another thing that benefits both populations is SEEING. In the Pepsi commercial, I love that one of the first things the actors did in the car was to flip on the light so that they could communicate! That’s something I still do, even after being surgically implanted with bionic hearing, and taking advantage of numerous assistive listening devices. It still helps for me to SEE the face.

One of the many reasons I am so thankful for my hearing loss, is that I have seen my children grow up treating people… all people… with respect and kindness. When we lived in NC, we were active in the families and lives of people who suffered from traumatic brain injury. When we moved to the DC area, we learned much more about the hearing loss community and how best to treat someone with this disability like an equal… and with KINDNESS. If having an acquired disability results in my children becoming people who treat all individuals with kindness, I count myself blessed. Kindness is a language the deaf can hear, the blind can see, and the mute can speak. Kindness heals the injured, and moves those who are now immobile. Kindness is a language that knits together the hearts of every person; if we will only learn it. It’s not a tough language. We can all be bi-lingual in this regard!

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Retreating or Engaging?

I recently read an article at HSLDA that really caused me to think about whether or not I “retreat” or “engage”.

I love to look up definitions of words that I already know, as I am many times surprised by a new definition or use of a word I have been using for some time.

As always, there are numerous definitions for words. It often depends on the context and how you choose to use the word.

For “retreat“, I liked the following definition:
“the act of withdrawing, as into safety or privacy; retirement; seclusion”. For the word “engage“, I chose these definitions: “to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons)” and to attract and hold fast.

This is a picture from 2004 with my friends Art N. and Linda K. from Florida. They are both deaf and blind. We are pictured with their guide dogs Dusty and Charcoal. I am holding one of Art’s famous embossed “hug coupon” cards. He believes in the power of a “hug”, and gives them out liberally.

Art and Linda would find it very easy to retreat from life. They each have two major disabilities, and neither were born with them. Both acquired them later in life; Linda began losing her sight as a child, and her hearing as a teen. Art began losing both senses as an adult. It would be pretty simple for them to hole up in a “safe” place and have someone take care of their needs. Many would choose to withdraw from life, as it can be a very difficult thing to interact with people not being able to see or hear well. Art has a unilateral hearing loss, and Linda is one of the few bilateral cochlear implant users that I have met. This doesn’t mean that they communicate easily, however, and it takes patience and “work” to communicate with others.

The internet has been a wonderful tool for them, and it was through an online support group that I first met them. I was so taken with them and their very special abilities, I became a very willing friend and have met them several times in person.

Art and Linda reach out to others. They engage people where they are at… whether an online support group or through the numerous places they go to during the week. They eat at several different restaurants whose owners and patrons know them by name, Linda gets her nails done, they go to get their haircut often, shop for groceries, and just got back from voting in Florida’s primaries. To meet them is to be forever changed. They rub off on a person in a really wonderful way.

They chose to engage others and have had a profound impact on the lives of others. They chose not to retreat and hide from the world.

I have to admit that there are times that I wish I could just stay at home and hide from others. It can be very difficult telling the SAME people the SAME things about how best to communicate with me. I suppose in some ways I have retreated from certain functions, but I really believe it is more of a way to preserve my sanity than it was to retreat from fear! A friend of mine named Sandy, tried very hard to include me in every function available to other teachers. She made it possible for me to utilize my personal FM system, insisted everyone use a microphone attached and linked to that same device, and made sure meetings were held in a round table format. However, there were certain things like “holiday parties” that I had to put my foot down and insist on not going too! Sometimes what is “gained” (that is, going to a party, eating fattening foods, playing silly games, hanging out with my peers), is not worth the price that must be paid when you have a hearing loss. The stress, fatigue, and “dangers” I would encounter… were not worth the risk! (Dangers? Have you ever tried balancing a plate, the leash of your assistance dog all while experiencing vertigo from Meniere’s disease? Smile! Yikes!)

However, as much as possible I believe I have tried to “engage” people. I teach classes and hope to relay valuable information about hearing loss to others. I speak at functions when invited and try to represent the population I am a part of in a positive way. I take part in national initiatives that seek to make hearing loss a matter of national concern. I try to make a difference where I’m “at”… where I live.

Each of us have unique gifts and talents. We also each have unique problems that can create barriers to our engaging people. We may be tempted to retreat.

I challenge you as I challenge myself each and every day… go out an engage someone. Attract their attention and hold them fast by occupying their attention and interest. Retreat is sometimes necessary. Just don’t STAY there…

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Another Perspective

Okay, this feels really weird talking from my mom’s blog. I know this blog is widely read…I think I am getting stage fright.

I gave an aggravated and stirring (well, at least aggravated) speech to my mom this morning about one of her sign classes.

Last week she was explaining to this sign class their assignment, “Deaf for a Day”, which I think my mom has mentioned earlier in this blog. It’s an assignment she really looks forward to each year, excited for her students to see things from a new point of view.

Now, this year I am a senior, and everyone LOOKS incredibly young to me anyway. But I was shocked at how immaturely some of the students responded after hearing their assignment. They were downright WHINY. I have a slow temper (unless you talk to my brother), but I was furious. Here was an assignment that my mom was excited about, worked hard on, etc., and they acted like brats.

I truly wish, and hope, they will see the reason for the assignment. It is a ONE DAY assignment… ONE DAY. It is not going to ruin their life to take this time to see things from another perspective. A person with hearing loss cannot take a day off from not hearing to see things from a hearing perspective. They live with it EVERYDAY. I have first-hand experience of this with my mom. I felt offended for my mom’s sake…like they were saying her life was too horrible to go through for one day.

Being a KODA (kid of a deaf adult), I want to encourage y’all who have a hearing loss, that most friends and family of those with a hearing loss, admire you who have to be “deaf for a day” EVERYDAY. And not all students choose to learn nothing from this experience. Some really embrace it and learn to be thankful for their hearing as well as being able to better understand those with a hearing loss.

Thanks Mom for allowing me to post from your blog where more people could read it, seeing as how my blog is never read….or posted in…actually where is my blog?

Kyersten Portis

P.S. That is an AWFUL picture of me. My mom thinks I look so cute in it, but that’s because she is my mom. I was having a bad hair day…and face day….and etc. Just to let you know.