Ranchos woman lives with deafness
It’s hard to imagine a world without hearing Chopin or Louis Armstrong or the theme from “Titanic” – no baby’s cry, no call of the meadowlark, no sound of rain falling.
But for nearly 30 million Americans, hearing loss of varying degrees affects the ability to hear these sounds.
Milanda Langridge of the Gardnerville Ranchos is among this 10 percent of the American population. At the age of 12, over a period of two weeks, her hearing ability faded and disappeared completely. No one knew then what caused it, although speculations about viruses, loud noises and ear infections did abound.
To this day, her hearing loss is profound, leaving her completely deaf. A definitive answer as to why she lost her hearing so suddenly at age 12 still eludes Milanda and her family.
One etiological hint did emerge with the birth of first daughter Briana in 1989 – she was also diagnosed with a hearing loss and now wears hearing aids to school. Fortunately, her loss is not total, like her mother’s. A genetic connection? Seems so, but finding the causes of hearing loss can be vexing at best.
For Milanda and her husband, Corey, the quest for a better quality of life for their daughters Briana, 9, and Adrina, 7, brought them to Nevada in 1997. The whole family was excited when they learned the girls’ school, Scarselli Elementary, already had a sign language club.
“Both Briana and Adrina can sign well and help with the club,” Milanda said. “At home, we sign all the time.”
One of the most important beings in the Langridge household is the family’s Hearing Dog, Baby. He is a working Hearing Dog and protective of his “employers,” Milanda and Briana.
Baby, a 3-year-old, looks-like-a-Maltese, is a graduate of the San Francisco SPCA Hearing Dog Program, where homeless “pound puppies” are converted into useful, potentially life-saving and definitely life-enhancing working dogs.
These dogs are trained to bark and make physical contact with their owners when they hear important sounds. When a smoke alarm or alarm clock sounds, the dog is trained to jump on the bed and wake the owner. When the phone or doorbell rings, the dog alerts the owner.
The Hearing Dog training is based on positive reinforcement and “sound keying,” where the dog runs from the trainer to a source of sound, then back to the trainer to make body contact.
This Bay Area program has placed 570 dogs since 1978. New owners pay a nominal fee for the highly-trained dogs. Upon graduation, the dogs may wear an orange vest or collar which reads “Hearing Dog.”
In Fremont, Calif., where Milanda previously resided, an estimated 25 percent of the population is either deaf or related to someone who is, largely due to the presence of the California School for the Deaf in that community.
“Because of this, the general population was more understanding when they saw hearing dogs in stores and business establishments and the wearing of the vest was unnecessary. We may need to help educate people here about life in the deaf world,” Corey said, adding that they are considering fitting Baby with a collar, leash or vest to help identify him as a working hearing dog.
Under the “equal access” principal of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Langridge said she is technically entitled to an interpreter anywhere she goes. Having that actually take place is difficult, however.
Now, for example, she is trying to find work to help with family expenses while husband Corey gets his carpet cleaning business off the ground.
In her job hunting, phone calls are almost out of the question. She can use the Nevada relay system and do a “voice carryover,” where a relay operator helps facilitate a conversation, but that is time consuming and more often than not, people she calls hang up before she is able to make significant contact.
If she chooses to instead go to a place of business to inquire about a job, the challenge of having a conversation is frustrating.
An excellent lip reader with very clear diction, Langridge can converse in what feels at times like a conversation with someone who can hear. But lip reading has its limitations as she demonstrated with a simple bet she makes to hearing people.
“I tell them, I’ll give you $100 if you can read my lips and tell me what I said,” she begins. Then she mouths the words “island view,” which looks exactly like “I love you.” She’s never had to give away the $100.
Langridge said she would love to teach signing and can speak eight different sign languages, including Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, Japanese and more.
Langridge said her five remaining senses are so acute that she can even feel earthquakes before they happen. Because she lost her hearing so late, Langridge can “hear” sounds inside her head, she explained.
“When I see a dog bark, in my head I hear it; when I talk to people, I can hear a voice,” she said. “People think, ‘Oh, poor deaf people, they can’t hear,’ but for me it’s not silent.”
Because of the limitations on extensive, wordy conversations, deaf or hearing-impaired people learn to be succinct, she said.
“They are the most honest people and can almost be interpreted as blunt,” she said. “But these are beautiful people. They learn to laugh at life, to appreciate small things and not take things for granted.”
Langridge said deaf people often see the reality in society.
“People don’t realize how much we see,” she said. “Just because we don’t hear doesn’t mean we can’t see. We see a lot.”
Simple things others might take for granted can be a source of frustration to a deaf person, she said. Close-captioning, for example, is limited in its application on television and absent in movies.
Corey, who met his future wife at a roller skating rink when both he and Milanda were 10, said living in a household with deaf individuals can take some getting used to. He signs very naturally.
Newlyweds, the couple’s paths kept crossing over the years until they met last year in a book store, both single.
“When I went out to eat with them and watched Milanda and Briana communicate by signing, I was taken with the love that you could see between them,” he said. They were married last month in Reno and according to the daughters, are a “perfect match.”
To contact Milanda for any information on living with deafness or having a Hearing Dog, you can e-mail her at MilandaLangridge@juno.com or call the relay service at 1-800-326-6888 and tell the operator you want to call 265-2240.
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