Deaf Life: Get to Know It

Event planned Sept. 21 at Old Soul Brewing in Fort Myers during International Deaf Awareness Month

Mike Schmidt, 57, is constantly aware that he is probably missing something.

Talk too fast, and he might misunderstand you, turn your head, and he most likely will miss part of the conversation.

Schmidt, who opened Old Soul Brewing in Fort Myers with his sons six years ago, is nearly deaf.

“Sometimes we’ll have a band and a hundred people in here, and I miss a lot,” he said. “I’m deaf, but I read lips and hear a little; it helps.”

When he was in his 30s, his ears started ringing. By age 40, he had hearing aids. At age 51, he had a cochlear implant in his right ear, a small, complex electronic device that can help provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. Now he says testing shows he has about 4% hearing in the ear without the implant, and goes from deaf to hard of hearing on a daily basis.

“I’ve met people who went deaf instantly,” he said. “My hearing degraded, and I was able to deal and adjust.”

Schmidt thought shooting guns in the Air Force and as police officer may have damaged his hearing, but audiologists have told him that was not a factor. “Some people are just genetically destined to have poor hearing, like some people have a bad heart,” he said.

Even though he can hear a little with the implant, he’s an advocate for use and teaching of American Sign Language (ASL).

On Thursdays at Old Soul Brewing, deaf and hard of hearing patrons and people who know, teach, want to learn ASL are invited to gather informally. He spread the word about the casual weekly meeting through meetups and social media.

“By word of mouth,” Schmidt says, chuckling. “I guess that’s something we don’t often connect with deaf events.”

During International Deaf Awareness Month in September, Old Soul Brewing is holding a first-ever event called Deaf Life: Get to Know It on Sept. 21 with the Sally J. Pimentel Deaf & Hard of Hearing Center, an organization working to improve the quality of life for deaf and hard of hearing citizens and their families through services, education, advocacy and community involvement.

Face painting, awareness activities, speakers about deaf culture and ASL classes are planned at the event. Anyone of legal drinking age who learns how to sign their name in ASL will get one free beer. A beer release is planned for a bourbon barrel aged stout called Grateful Deaf.

Donations will be taken for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Center, where Schmidt has been taking ASL classes.

“It’s really an event for hearing people so they can understand the nuances a little bit,” he said. “I would like hearing people to see what it’s like to be deaf and understand the benefits of learning sign language. It’s difficult to empathize with something you don’t understand.”

When he first started losing his hearing and told people, they would laugh it off saying they were couldn’t hear well, either. “The biggest challenge is getting other people to understand,” he said. “It’s hidden. I don’t have a cane or something visible.”

When people do understand, it makes life less challenging.

For example, when Schmidt checked-in for a doctor’s appointment, he notified the front desk that he was deaf so they would physically send someone to get him from the waiting room. During his exam, the nurse made sure he could see her face when she spoke.

“It was the best experience,” he said. “When people have some training, it’s great.”

Yet, sometimes not even hearing family members understand. Shockingly, 70% of hearing family members with deaf family members don’t learn sign language.

“It not the deaf person’s responsibility to communicate. It’s our mutual responsibility to communicate with each other,” he said, “Even if you only know just a few signs, it’s a start to communication.”

Deaf Life: Get to Know It begins at noon, Saturday, Sept. 21 at Old Soul Brewing, 10970 S. Cleveland Ave. in Fort Myers. The event is free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted for the Sally J. Pimentel Deaf & Hard of Hearing Center. For information, call 239-334-4334 or visit Old Soul Brewing’s Facebook page.