Random Definitions – Consider the Source

Aren’t definitions funny critters? Oh sure… you can use “Dictionary.com” or Merriam-Websters Collegiate “big enough to cause a hernia” dictionary to look up words. But the funny thing about the English dictionary? Words can mean different things. The words can EVEN mean different things – to different people. Some random definitions I have encountered in the last week include:

Now: To the mother who demanded the trash be emptied, it means immediately. To the 20-year-old son who will get to it eventually, it means sometime today.

D-cup: “What does ‘D-cup’ mean to you?” Response: “Male or female?” Speechless thought: “Wha’…   ?”

McDonalds: To the over-extended, ‘I forgot to thaw out the chicken’ parent, it means SUPPER. To the health-conscious, it means ‘heart attack in a bag’.

Snap: Daughter: “Oh snap, I forgot my key!” Mother: snaps fingers and looks quizzically at daughter. Daughter: (raises eyebrows and shoots an exasperated DUH look at mother…)

Normal: To a teenager, it means someone who “fits in”. To a dog, it means it can be eaten. To a person who happens to have a disability, it means “treated like everyone else”.

Yup! You often have to consider the source to understand how people choose to define common words. The word “normal” has cropped up a couple of times in the past several weeks for me.

First occurrence:

Kyersten and I were at Costco looking around and purchasing some bulk items to take back to Virginia for college. A lady did a double-take, looked at Chloe (my assistance dog), looked at my head and kept walking a few steps. However, she immediately stopped and left her cart, pocketbook and items and trotted over to where Kyersten and I stood to say, “Excuse me! Is that a cochlear implant?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Oh my husband has one of those. How long have you had yours?” she asked with curiosity.

I preceded to tell her a little bit about my own activation 5 years ago and hearing health history. I was trying to keep an eye on her cart (with pocketbook that screamed, “Steal me. Someone steal me” in it), so was a little startled when she interrupted my nervous glances toward her cart to say, “But your speech! It’s so normal!”

In talking with her, it seems her husband was deafened at a young age and was essentially without sound for 27 years before he received his own bilateral implants. He evidently has a noticeable speech impediment. But what is “normal”? I have met late-deafened and congenitally deaf people from all over the United States. “Normal speech”? Some would argue my southern accent is not “normal” for the DC-Metro area. How one person with hearing difficulties speaks, is much like an individual accent. There isn’t anything “abnormal” about it. My son has perfect (selective) hearing, and he has a speech impediment. It is “normal” for him though. How pronounced his own speech difficulties sound, depends on how hard he chooses to enunciate words and regulate his speed. Who determined what “normal speech” was and determined the “yard stick” by which to measure all speech?

At Pearle Vision Center:

A lady and her daughter stopped to admire Chloe who was in a down/stay. “Oh what a beautiful working dog! Are you training her?”

“Oh! No… Chloe graduated 3 years ago. She’s always training, but I’m not her original trainer” I replied.

“Oh! You mean she is YOUR partner?” the surprised woman asked.

“Yes. She’s a hearing/assist and balance assistance dog. I am late-deafened and have Meniere’s disease”, I cheerfully replied.

“Oh wow… you look so n-norm- normal” she stuttered out (since she realized how inappropriate that was as soon as she started saying it!)

I just smiled and she walked away embarrassed.


Very likely, this world would be a better place if people didn’t go around labeling others as NORMAL or NOT.

To someone, somewhere… you aren’t “normal” if you choose to define the word as “not like you”!

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Fidos For Freedom

Below is a short video about Fidos For Freedom. This is the organization that Chloe comes from in Laurel, MD. Assistance dogs can be owner trained, trained by a knowledgeable trainer, or may be a program dog (trained by an organization). The latter often provide “certification”, however the ADA does not require that dogs be certified. I am blessed to live close to Fidos For Freedom and was able to train and obtain a “Fido’s dog”.

For those with hearing loss, you can go to the link (provided below) and turn on captions.

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

I’d Never Shave My Legs

You know? If I didn’t think what others thought of me was important… I’d never shave my legs.

I would throw my toothpaste away.

I would toss all of my bras.

After all, I do not do these things because smooth legs, peppermint breath and supported body parts do anything for ME.

I’ve heard folks say, “I don’t care what others think of me”. Oh really? If that were true, you wouldn’t have showered this morning and you’d be standing there in purple sweats;

and a red-checkered flannel shirt;

with one green flip-flop;

and one hiking boot!

Instead, your “outfit” (such as it may be) is color-coordinated to a degree. Your body odor reflects you care about hygiene.

OK. Maybe you are sitting there mentally clarifying that you may care what people SEE when they look at you, but – “I don’t care what people think of me personally”. Oh really? If that were true then when your spouse, teenager, co-worker, roommate, or walking buddy asked you this morning, “How are you?”, you would have responded with something much different than “I’m just great! How are you?”

Instead you would have thrown your hands up and said, “Well this is a POOPY day. My dog got in the trash this morning, my daughter forgot to run the dishwasher, I was running behind because I got up 20 minutes late, we were out of eggs so I had to eat CEREAL (face blanches), and I’m standing here with a wedgie if you MUST KNOW!”

But we don’t respond that way, do we? There are societal “niceties” that we adhere too. We know that, “Hi! How are you?” doesn’t mean that the other person really wants a play-by-play of how your day REALLY was. I don’t think that makes us liars. We are simply individuals that are part of a society that interacts somewhat superficially in our everyday greetings.

Yes – I know! There are some people we are just “straight” with and tell it like it is. But most of the time our interactions with others are not with those specific individuals. These special, specific individuals don’t care if we shave our legs.

Stay Positive, PEOPLE!

Take for example something that happened to me this past week.

I was out shopping and maneuvering cart, assistance dog, and SELF up and down the aisles. A woman noticed Chloe, my assistance dog. She came closer with real intent in her body posture and facial expression. I wasn’t getting really “friendly vibes” from her so instead of pretending to continue to shop so that I could keep an eye on her, I boldly faced her approach and waited to see what would happen. She made her way to my side with determination and pointedly read Chloe’s vest:

She then looked at the side of my head and noted my cochlear implant. She actually took two steps to the side to check out my OTHER ear. By this point… I’ll admit that I was a little intimidated!

She looked me in the eye and said, “So you need this dog yourself?”

Now you have to understand my IRE was already “tickled” and there was a part of me that wanted to respond:

“No, stupid. I bring this well-trained dog into public places because I like the attention. This cochlear implant and hearing aid? All for show, lady. As a matter of fact… (and I’d lean close to offer a conspiratorial whisper) I. Don’t. Shave. My. Legs.”

But you know what? I care what people think of me. I care… because I care about others who have hearing loss. I care about others who live their lives with assistance dogs and service dogs. I want this ill-informed lady to walk away with a better appreciation for what I can do “in spite of“. So I plaster a semi-genuine smile on my face and gesture towards Chloe…

“Yes, I have a hearing loss and Meniere’s disease. Chloe alerts me to sounds I cannot hear, and picks up things I drop. Because of her, I can be out shopping without anyone with me and I never have to ask for help”.

Her face gets a lightbulb moment kind of look. “Oh I see”. She looks at me. She looks at Chloe. She walks away. I could still sense the disdain coming off of her. But at that point? It simply didn’t matter. I had taken a deep breath and responded in such a way that I remained a POSITIVE advocate for both people with hearing loss and people with working dogs. As she walked away I pinched myself to keep from stopping her to ask if she shaved her legs. I do admit that I leaned down to Chloe and scratched her head to whisper:

“Imagine that Chloe. It’s not even Halloween!” The witch with hairy legs walked away with some positive information about working dog partnerships.

We Need Each Other

I’m reminded time and again how much we need each other. I know a kindred spirit and dog-trainer who drove all the way to Frederick with her roommate who has a service dog to walk around the mall after my “incident” to show solidarity. These same people were all set to travel to Virginia to attend a vigil to protest that Andrew was not going to be allowed to have his service dog in school. Thankfully, the school board reversed their decision.

I know numerous trainers at Fidos For Freedom that spend countless hours training assistance/service dogs, training and instructing people… all without pay. They take dogs into their homes to spend countless hours OF THEIR FREE TIME, honing skills and modifying behavior so that a dog eventually makes an excellent match with a person that needs them. These are NOT people who “don’t have a life” either. They have families, jobs, pets of their own, ministries, hobbies, and goals. These trainers not only do not get paid, they rarely receive any recognition. They don’t do what they do for the recognition though. They do it because they love people, love dogs, and love to be a part of the connection that takes place between these matches.

I have another friend who constantly challenges herself by going back to school in spite of working full-time. She already has multiple degrees but she is constantly looking for ways to better herself so that she can better help others. She is heavily involved in hearing loss support, traumatic brain injury, enjoys wildlife and supporting her local zoo, and is an avid photographer. She has bi-lateral cochlear implants, but you’d never know she had a disability. She doesn’t live like she has one. She, like many others I know, live life in all the ways they are ABLE and don’t focus on the disability. (I love her… can you tell?)

I know people who volunteer and give of their time, resources, and talents to numerous non-profit agencies. Their goal is to serve their fellow man. They want to make a difference. They DO make a difference.

It takes just one BAD example of a person with a disability or special needs to sort of “spoil it” for the rest of us. As for me? I don’t ever want to be that person. I certainly take the opportunity to “belly-ache” to select individuals who know I just need to “vent”. I know – that THEY know – I may belly-ache about an encounter in private, but in public I will put on a brave face. They let me vent… and then hand me a razor.

Yes… we need each other. Don’t ever think that what you do – does not in SOME way reflect on others. As a person of faith I try to be extra careful. After all, I cannot go around “claiming faith” if I live as if I don’t have any at all. If I express that faith is important to me, I need to remember that my words, actions and life reflect how others see Christ.

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal