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Deafness in Athletics

Dealing with Hearing Aids

While playing sports with hearing loss can be difficult, it is certainly not impossible. Felicity Bleckly, BellaOnline’s Deafness editor, has written a number of articles regarding sports and hearing loss. In one article called “Deafness and Sports,” Bleckly provides insight into some of the problems that might arise with using hearing aids while playing sports:
  • “Keeping your aids or implant processors (i.e. batteries) in place”
  • “Protecting devices from damage and protecting your head so any internal implant isn’t damaged”
  • “Protecting your devices from sweat”
Bleckly’s article then delves in to particular issues with hearing aids by sport, including team, individual, and water sports.

Team and tackle sports: Such sports include hockey, football, and cricket. With these team sports, the main issue lies in if the deaf person can hear her teammates, her opponents, her coach, and the referee. While wearing a helmet with a hearing aid or implant processor is an option, some team sports do not require helmets. Even with a helmet on, tackle sports make it difficult to protect outside processors and implants. However, playing these sports is possible; the athletes just might have to adapt their head gear or helmets.

Individual and racquet sports: Individual sports include running, cycling, or swimming; racquet sports include golf or tennis. Cycling allows the athlete to easily wear a helmet. Racquet sports may be a little more difficult, but a headband may be used to both keep a hearing device in place and also protect it from sweat. Running may prove a little more difficult as well because the constant motion means the constant jostling of the hearing device. However, a headband may be able to help with this issue.

Swimming and water sports: These sports, including swimming and diving, prove to pose the greatest challenge for the deaf athlete. Currently, there are waterproof hearing aids or cochlear implants. Some have tried situating waterproof bags under swim caps, but this is not recommended.

Check out her full article here.

As a deaf running back for UCLA, Derrick Coleman understands the problems Bleckly discusses. To alleviate some of these issues with his hearing aids while playing, he wears two wave caps. He wears one cap under his hearing aids to prevent them from being damaged by sweat; his second cap is worn over his hearing aids so they do not come out or get damaged when he gets tackled. Coleman’s example proves that with a little extra effort, playing with hearing loss is possible.

Using an Interpreter

Although wearing hearing aids can help athletes, they must also be prepared to rely on lip reading, visual signs, or sign language in order to compete. If athletes choose not to wear hearing aids while competing, they will have to heavily rely on interpreters to receive their instructions. However, because the athlete will have to constantly look back and forth between the playing field or game and the interpreter, he may find this rather challenging.

Some athletes may choose to use both hearing aids and an interpreter. This strategy has worked well for people like Emily Cressy, a former midfielder and forward for the University of Kansas women’s soccer team. While playing for the Jayhawks, Cressy was able to rely on her interpreter and her teammates and coach for instructions.

Discrimination against Deaf Athletes?

Although there are many ways that deaf athletes can overcome their hearing loss and compete in sports, some coaches and teammates may discriminate against these athletes. The story of Pierce Phillips brings up the issue of discrimination. On May 3, 2011, Joseph Santoliquito published an article about Phillips. At the time the article was written, Phillips was a senior baseball player for his high school team in Blackwood, New Jersey. Phillips’ parents never let his deafness define him. They familiarized themselves with deaf culture and learned sign language. Because of this parental support, Phillips had never felt hindered by his deafness and participated in many sports and activities.

Phillips’ senior year baseball stats were impressive; he was batting .425. His grades were strong as well; he carried a 3.7 GPA. With such athletic and academic success, one would think that Phillips would have had a strong chance of playing college baseball. However, this is the point in the story where the Phillips family said that they experienced some ignorance. Whenever he was invited to college camps or asked about by college coaches, their interests disappeared after finding out he was deaf. His parents expressed their frustrations at the ignorance of the college coaches, and his high school coach expressed the hope that some college would realize Phillips’ potential and be willing to work with his hearing loss.

Click here for the whole article.

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