Practically deaf, my grandfather never lets you forget it. “I can’t hear a freaking thing,” he goes around yelling, “so don’t bother talking.” If these constant reminders have taught me anything, it’s that partial deafness poses unique challenges. There is, after all, no wheelchair, Seeing Eye dog or cane to alert others of your problem. As a result people are liable to think you’re stupid, and get irritated really quickly. “When I was young,” says comedian Kathy Buckley, “I was put in a school for retarded kids for two years before they realized I actually had hearing loss.”

Watching my grandfather go through this has been tough, even if I know it isn’t such a loss for someone who regards socializing like time spent in the stocks. In fact, I often hear a hint of relief when he says, “You’re flapping your lips for nothing big talker, I can’t hear you.”

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