CARLSBAD — One of the worst things about being hearing impaired for Teresa Barnes is that most people around her are not aware of her condition.
“People are unaware that I have it, so therefore they think I am being rude or bored or arrogant or I’m just not paying attention,” she said. “Most of the time I am trying to process what someone has said to me.”
Barnes said it is much easier to identify a person in a wheelchair as someone with a disability, but not so much for the deaf or hearing impaired, which can at first be an invisible condition.
She has made it her mission to change all that by establishing HearCommunications. The organization addresses the problems of the hearing impaired, of whom there are 660,000 people in San Diego County.
Barnes grew up hearing impaired and did not get a hearing aid until she was an adult working as the RN overseeing the emergency department at a hospital.
“I could hear birds chirping for the first time,” the Carlsbad resident said. “A whole new world opened up for me.”
Still, she and others like her have had dangerous, accidental run-ins with people and their equipment.
Barnes describes an “ah-ha” moment after she was nearly run over by a skateboarder at Mission Beach and being nearly plowed down on the slopes by a snow skier from behind.
When she complained to a friend, she told Barnes, “They can’t see you have a hearing loss.”
Ah-ha! She realized there had to be a way to let people know, at a distance, that a person is hearing impaired. She came up with a logo that can be worn as a lapel pin or applied as decals or patches to attach to a variety of items such as clothing, hats, car bumpers, anything that would let someone know they are dealing with someone who is hard of hearing.
Her current passion is getting businesses to become “Hearing Friendly,” and also getting them to realize that one in five of their employees and customers are hearing impaired.
If a person agrees to make their business Hearing Friendly, Barnes tests their site for decibel numbers and if they are high, teaches them how to lower the noise.
Her program includes training on how to recognize someone who is hearing impaired.
“I teach them how to communicate with them,” she said.
When a business is pronounced Hearing Friendly, a decal is placed somewhere in the front of the building that signifies the decibel level is comfortable and the owner and staff have been trained to recognize and communicate with the hearing impaired.
“It says their salespeople have been trained to talk 45 miles per hours instead of 95 miles an hour,” she said.
Barnes, 67, said she worries about young people who are 18 and even younger who work behind the counter or as wait staff of area businesses that have loud, throbbing music with decibels as high as 109. She said if a person is exposed to more than 85 decibels for more than eight hours, their hearing can be permanently damaged. A safe number of decibels are about 72, she said.
She also offers a program aimed at human resources at any business that can be taken online to help correct that problem.
Barnes said she knows of a local woman who was let go from her job due to her hearing loss after signing a document promising she wouldn’t sue.
“That wouldn’t happen to a wheelchair person,” she said.
Since the whole month of May is better hearing and speech month, she is looking for businesses who want to be designated Hearing Friendly.
Barnes will visit the businesses and determine what needs to be done in order to get the decal and be designated as such.
Daniel Edward Powell, owner of the Village on Cedros, has already had his business designated a Hearing Friendly business.
“It is the correct way to serve your employees and our customers,” he said. “I would not operate any other way.”
Barnes has a book about to drop titled “Sound Advice: Tune into Hearing; Does your market hear you?”
The book is about helping businesses connect with the hearing impaired to increase their inclusion, while increasing their businesses’ productivity, revenue, relationships and retention of both employees and their customers.
Barnes does not do this alone. She has an advisory board to offer assistance. And she gets support from the community. Last March she was honored with proclamations for her work from the mayors of both Carlsbad and San Marcos.
To learn more about becoming a Hearing Friendly, business reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (760) 717-8190.