By Teresa Kazemir
Our son Jesse traveled to Scotland this past summer – he is a fiddle player with the North Shore Celtic Ensemble, and they participated in the Aberdeen International Youth Festival for 12 days in July and August. It was an intense, exciting experience for the 20 teens that went – they all had a fantastic, if exhausting, time.
Jesse is hard of hearing and wears two Bone Anchored Hearing Aids (BAHAs), so there were a few things to consider when planning the trip. For one thing, we made sure the chaperones knew that he would not wake up in case of fire, as he would not hear the alarm. Chaperones and other kids in his flat were told that in the case of a fire, someone would have to go into his room and wake him, and so Jesse made a point of not locking his door when he was sleeping. In fact, even though he has a vibrating alarm clock, Jesse tends to fall back to sleep after it wakes him up (teenage boys can really sleep ), so there were a few occasions when his friends had to wake him up for breakfast.
Jesse also made a point of packing his dry aid kit – we have found that in some places the air is more humid (especially if we are camping and staying in a tent), and that causes problems with his hearing aids. Storing the aids in the dry aid kit each night helps with this. Jesse also took it in case his hearing aids got wet – it rains a fair bit in Scotland.
One security guard questioned Jesse about his hearing aids when going through security at the airport. Jesse is quite practiced at talking to people about his hearing aids and hearing loss, and once he explained, they did not hassle him any further. I think it helped that Jesse was not at all defensive, and was quite happy to explain.
There were some situations during the trip where Jesse found it difficult to hear – he managed OK in the cafeteria, but the cabarets we attended each night (where different groups performed for each other) were VERY loud. It was so loud that no one could hear, though, so Jesse was not alone.
Jesse also found that each concert venue where they performed was different, and there were a few places where he had a hard time hearing the guitar (which is critical when you are playing as part of an ensemble, and the guitar sets and maintains the beat). The musical directors of the group are very respectful and understanding about Jesse’s hearing loss, but they don’t necessarily know when Jesse is having a hard time hearing. It’s his responsibility to let them know, and then they make any necessary adjustments. When Jesse was new to the group, he was hesitant to speak up, but as his confidence has grown, he has become much better at advocating for his listening needs. There were two or three times this trip when he was able to adjust where he stood so he could btter hear the guitar through the monitor on stage.
Another challenge was the fact that participants came from all over the world. Many people spoke English, but with a whole variety of accents. This typically presents a challenge for people with hearing loss, but Jesse actually found that he could understand most accents quite well. He did struggle with the flight attendants from Air France, who had very strong French accents. He found he used the same strategies as everyone else – listening carefully, asking the person to repeat, or asking a friend for clarification.
Overall, Jesse’s hearing loss did not really cause many problems for him on this trip. Preparing ahead of time definitely helped (talking with chaperones, packing the dry aid kit). The challenges a person encoun* ters when travelling certainly vary from person to person, depending on their hearing loss and other factors, but one key strategy is to be proactive and be prepared. Other than that, perhaps the best tool is a sense of humour – a smile and a laugh certainly help to smooth things over when an instruction is missed or something is misheard.
As a parent (and chaperone) it was really good to see how independent Jesse has become, and how he can use strategies to compensate for things he might be missing. I have chaperoned on several trips over the years (ensemble trips and school trips) and have found it to be a wonderful way to help the other kids, teachers, leaders and parents learn more about Jesse’s hearing loss. There are oUen nice, natural opportunities for people to ask me questions that they’ve never quite got around to asking. So, Scotland was great, Jesse now has the ”travel bug”…and I am confident that his hearing loss will not hold him back.