I had a pretty unique upbringing in an environment where disability couldn’t be ignored. My Mum has had hearing loss since birth. She communicates well through lip reading, hearing aids and British Sign Language (BSL).
The first vacuum-tube hearing aid was invented and patented by Naval engineer Earl Hanson in 1920. By the 1930’s hearing aids evolved using patented technology created by Mulitone of London. In 1948 the first wearable hearing aid was created. The technology has continually evolved supported by many patents. Now in 2015 Siemens have invented a hearing aid that pairs with your smart phone, well of course, there’s an app for everything these days.
My Dad has also had a hearing loss all of his life but it wasn’t his biggest hurdle to face. In his twenties my Dad was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) which is the name given to a diverse group of inherited eye disorders that affect the retina. RP causes gradual sight loss and can also be associated with other problems which explains the hearing loss.
Coupled with my Mum’s disabilities you can understand how this made for a unique family life.
Gadgets, gadgets and more gadgets
Because of our unique situation we were often invited by social services to take part in various gadget related experiments. First on the list was the flashing doorbell. The visitor pressed the doorbell that activated the opposite effect on the lights (yes, all the lights) in the house. They only returned to their usual state upon release of said button. This little gadget was a great source of amusement to the neighbourhood youths especially when the only way to tell them off was to get to the door quickly. Try doing that in complete darkness. Luckily my Dad was quite used to a world of darkness so he always got there first, they played this little trick on us for years!
A number of gadgets followed, the flashing light telephone accompanied by a huge industrial sized bell. Flashing lights weren’t really an issue for my Dad neither was the industrial sized bell for my Mum but my brother and I were less amused. Alongside flashing and ringing items, there were talking items. A talking calculator, a talking alarm clock and a talking wrist watch, all providing an equal amount of annoyance to my brother and I. So things flashed, chimed, talked and trilled all through our childhood.
Imagine being woken by a device that violently shook your head? We were never late for the school bus! On dark wintery mornings our Dad would accompany us to the bus stop waving his white cane from side to side. Often taking out an unsuspecting old lady venturing out for the morning paper. Word to the wise, if you are heading towards a well built man waving a white stick, move out of the way, you will not win! Incidentally, if the white cane is displaying any red it means that the user is also hard of hearing so muttering obscenities is basically a waste of time!
As Mum struggled to use the telephone, you can imagine the excitement when the latest gadget arrived, the minicom (textphone). We all huddled around and watched in awe as the demonstration took place. My Mum could communicate! For her, it was ground breaking and started a new chapter in her life. The introduction of the minicom played its part in my mum qualifying for a hearing dog. No amount of bleeping smoke alarm is going to alert a deaf person that the kitchen is on fire, especially when she is merrily typing away to a friend, but, it seems a dog can. The arrival of Salsa opened up a whole new chapter in my Mum’s life. The gadgets were replaced by a gorgeous little beauty who became my Mum’s lifeline.
Salsa alerted my Mum if the phone rang, the doorbell, the alarm clock and most importantly the smoke alarm. No more kitchen fires for us!! When myself and my brother were older and getting ready to flock the nest, Salsa provided my parents with much needed independence.
For the future
I look back on my childhood with fondness, we may have been a bit different but we were never bored. Unfortunately Dad couldn’t see me in my wedding dress and he will never appreciate the true beauty of his grandchildren. But now, thanks to advances in technology and new gadgets like smartphones and Siri, he can keep in touch with ease.
I can’t have a conversation with Mum on the phone but text message has changed our lives. This brings me back to where my idea for this blog began. At 2:30am I look at the monitor with a vibrate function (which allows my Mum to babysit when my husband and I need some time out) and I think to myself, isn’t innovation amazing?
[Feature photo 'Vintage Sonotone 700 Vacuum Tube Hearing Aid' by Joe Haupt on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons]