Several months ago, I found out about something that would change my life. It was something I had only imagined.and suddenly, it wasn’t only a hope,wishful thinking,or a fantasy -it was becoming a reality! I waited for months,just as if I was expecting a baby, filled with anticipation, dreaming and planning, for the day that I would finally hold Ava.
The day came, just an ordinary day.when an email arrived “Are you ready for Ava?”
My eyes filled with tears.my hands shook and I whispered, “Finally” before bursting into a dance of pure joy and exclaiming, “YES! YES! YES!”
AVA is an acronym meaning “audio – visual accessibility” and it’s an incredible new app that allows for deaf and hearing impaired like me to finally participate and understand group conversations, by linking smart phones in a network that enables spoken words to become readable text.
So, unless you’re deaf or hearing impaired,or know someone who is,then you may not even know about Ava or understand my excitement.
Well, why don’t you just step into my cowboy boots and walk a mile or two in them
and,maybe,just maybe, you’ll understand what Ava means to me.
I’ve depended on lip reading since I lost most of my hearing at the age of 4. It’s been an adventure of misunderstandings.of wild guesses,of struggles and triumphs,and being left out,ignored, and unheard,of keeping quiet when I longed to speak but didn’t because of fear of interrupting or repeating what had already been said. I’ve spent my life receiving the “readers digest” version of conversations when I longed for the novel-the whole story-uncensored,unaltered,complete.
My hearing loss,though,has also been my greatest blessing. It has served me well, giving me a keen intuition ,an unwavering awareness of my body and soul connection, and heighten my other senses as well as instilled in me a fierce drive to overcome and succeed.
My deafness also does does something else that I’m so grateful for-it’s an useful tool. It weeds out the garden of relationships, leaving only the best to take root and bloom. Since it has always taken a bit of extra effort to communicate with me, people that truly want to know and be known by me accept me with all my “complications”- they learn to sit close enough to be touched, to look straight at me and talk a bit slower, to step out of that so called “personal” space loop that hearing people stay in and to embrace the place that I understand best at. My circle of kindred spirits know that darkness is a thief that steals my ability to read lips and understand them so when the shadows get long and the sun goes down,they grab my hand and pull me inside to the light -where I’m included and able to understand.
It took years of soul searching for me to realize this,though, and during those years, I struggled and yearned to be just like everyone else- to hear the small talk between strangers in line, to eavesdrop on conversations at a coffee shop, to sit in a meeting and catch the presentation, to be on inside instead of always just pretending to understand or ,even worse,pretending I didn’t care about what I was missing.
That’s what holding Ava does for me. Now,when my friends and family gather around the table for dinner or games,we all turn our phones on AVA and,while I still read lips and hold eye contact, this gives me a back-up,an edge that I’ve never had before by giving me and everyone else a record of the stories,the jokes, and the intimate details of shared moments. Now, I can hold up my phone in triumph and declare, “You really DID say that!” when someone suggests I misunderstood.
Ava has already made such an impact on my life. I’m the owner of a massage studio and usually I only see one client at a time but occasionally I do couples massages with another therapist. I simply sat Ava on my thigh while the four of us discussed the session and Ava caught the words that each of us spoke,giving me the greatest sense of satisfaction since I wasn’t straining to twist and turn to read lips and stay connected to the conversation.
I’ve held Ava during church services and was finally able to understand what the pastor was saying.
I’ve held Ava at restaurants to feel a part of the banter between my friends and the waiter. I’ve held Ava while checking into the doctor’s office and while placing an order at Starbucks for my Americano and oatmeal.
I’ve held Ava while standing in my kitchen,eating cheesecake with friends and I’ve laid Ava next to the pillow of the elderly man that I’m doing hospice massage on which enabled me to catch pieces of the conversations between his daughter and his nurse that were sitting just feet away.
Ava takes away the sting of the dark,because when,it’s too dark to read lips, I can still look at my phone screen and understand. I can finally sit around the campfire and feel like I’m a part of things instead of an intruder. My friends won’t have to choose between enjoying my company and enjoying the stars in the sky. I’ll simply hold on to Ava and snuggle up in a warm blanket and be content.
Holding Ava is like holding hands with a beloved companion. There’s times when Ava doesn’t work just right and there’s times when Ava seems to be hit-and-miss but holding on to Ava gives me clarity and hope,it brings me understanding and a sense of belonging, it fills a void and enriches my life.
And you know what else ? Ava opens the door of communication and accessibility, while closing the door of isolation. Ava will increase my circle of friends,of clients,of relationships because it will increase my understanding and my ability to reach out,connect and touch others.
Ava isn’t just for those of us that are deaf or hearing impaired, Ava is also for those that care about and love the deaf and hearing impaired. Ava is an answered prayer,a heartfelt wish and a precious gift of that blows my mind and, I’m so overwhelmed with delight at the wonders of it all and,I just can’t wait to let you hold Ava,too!
Feel with both hands, Jeanna’