Rows of desktop computer stretch from the wall toward stacks of bookshelves in the library. There is no door, no classroom privacy except for deep blue cloth screens that separate the students from the open library. This is my second library course, so I know my high-tech hearing devices can’t compete with the openness and the energy from overhead fluorescent lighting. I speechread when I face the instructor but hear little when she moves.
Before class begins, the instructor and I are outfitted with special hearing devices. “Can you hear me now?” the specialist from Disabled Services asks as she adjusts dials on the battery pack attached to the instructor’s clip-on microphone.
“Yes. No. I’m speech reading. Wait until I turn my back,” I reply. I turn away, but there is no sound. “Nothing,” I say. I reach to the battery pack at my waist and twist the volume knob higher. “Nothing but static.”
The clock clicks past starting time, but we repeat the adjustment process. Finally, sounds, then words, emerge from the earpiece pinned to my temple and draped over my right ear. I turn my head to follow the instructor as she moves toward the students, distributing a printed syllabus and discussing class rules. Flop! The earbud falls from its perch. My world is silent until I retrieve the dangling piece and press it back into my upper ear. I repeat this procedure a dozen times.
“I need…,” I whisper to the assistant. Puzzled, she steps away, then returns. The instructor, sensitive to my difficulties, looks at me. “Can you hear me now?”
I nod. Her words flow into my ear, thanks to Richard Drew, the 3M engineer, who invented Scotch tape.