Day-to-Day

11/01/2022 03:23 AM By Lisa Anderson
Access
Margie Kluess
Margie Kluess
Story by Cierra Ross • Photo by Joshua Jacobs

Day-to-Day

Wanting To Be Heard While Trying To Hear

In 1974, Margie Kluess was born in Gainesville but did not call it home forever. The mix of agriculture and industry compelled her to love Ocala. Currently, Margie is the director of business development for Tech Serv, which is located in Ocala.

In her twenties, Margie’s hearing declined due to otosclerosis. After undergoing three failed surgeries to attach wires to her bones, she turned to hearing aids, which were an adjustment for her and her family. “I realized I had to teach my youngest son to stop screaming at me, after I got hearing aids, because he was so used to having to talk loud,” Margie said.

To help her children understand hearing loss, she taught them a lesson with earplugs. “I gave [my kids] a set [of earplugs] to try. I [told them] I’m gonna teach [a math] lesson and they [said] but I can only hear like every third word,” Margie recalls. After the math lesson she had them remove their earplugs and journal about how it felt to figure out the math problem without having access to all the information. Margie showed her children what her life is like on a daily basis.

Learning the Language

Margie knew about American Sign Language (ASL) most of her life—but never turned to it until recently. She began learning the language from an ASL class and from a Deaf-owned and -produced app. After the class ended, the app has been an asset for Margie’s continued learning of ASL. She also attends Deaf events hosted by Hands Up Communication as another way to dive into the language and culture of the Deaf community. “I was [at] Deaf Night Out, and it gave me this absolute feeling of ‘I have no idea what anybody said.’ I don’t know if they’re talking about me. I don’t know what they’re talking about, but they’re all very clearly communicating.” Watching members of the Deaf community converse was an experience Margie would never forget. “It was a very humbling experience, but I’d have to imagine that it was incredibly empowering for the people that were there because that was their first language.”

“It was awesome to see, and there were so many [people] that were very inclusive,” Margie recalled. Being an extrovert in a room full of people using a language she was learning challenged her. Ordinarily confident, Margie learned she had a comfort zone she would need to step out of if she wanted to meet people and use the ASL she’d learned.
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Managing Misconceptions

The advice Margie would give to anyone with a hearing loss is to “definitely go get a hearing test…because getting past that hurdle is really important. The best thing that I did was [to get help] before it became a big problem. The language skills and the ability to hear is part of your brain’s path. If you wait until you’re 75 to get the hearing aids, your brain is gonna stop being able to tell the difference between [similar sounds], but if you get the hearing aids early enough, then your brain…retains all of it.” Margie stopped hiding her hearing loss, and misunderstandings and miscommunications minimized.

However, telling people about her hearing loss came with managing misconceptions and common stereotypes. “You do deal with some people that just think that if you’re hearing impaired, then you couldn’t be as smart.” Hearing loss is not visible, and people often make accommodations for what they see, such as people who are physically disabled. “People don’t think about ‘can somebody hear me’ and that’s probably the most challenging piece.” Access shouldn’t be limited to someone’s appearance.

Margie has methods and techniques she uses to manage her hearing loss. “I strategically plan when I am in a meeting: I sit on the outside edge in a corner because that will ensure that nobody is behind me talking and that acoustically, the sound is coming to me…[from] the right corners of the room.” The methods she uses enable her to communicate with friends or family. Margie’s openness and honesty allows herself to be surrounded by people that understand. “I would love for people to realize that if you’re talking to somebody’s back or if they walk by you, they should not assume that [no response] was a personal thing. You should assume that I didn’t hear you,” Margie explains before giving an example: “If I walked by somebody…and didn’t speak, they [might] say something smart. My team would turn around and be like, ‘Hey man, you didn’t know she wore hearing aids. You shouldn’t just assume that she wasn’t being respectful.’

“You don’t owe anybody an explanation. You just need to say, 'I’m sorry I didn’t understand what you said'…but [hearing loss] is also not something you should avoid talking about.” Accommodations can be made that allow people with a hearing loss to have access. Access can be as easy as using a microphone that sends the sound into someone’s headphones. With the technology developments, Margie states, “You just cannot accept that there’s nothing we can do about this.” Retaining access with hearing loss is challenging. “I wanna be heard…[it] sounds kind of silly that you wanna be heard while you’re trying to hear,” she says. “It’s hard, but…it’s like [being left or right-handed]. It’s just the way it is.”
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