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I'm Grateful for 2021

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

Sound Advice By Ruth Bernstein

Ruth Bernstein, Hearing Access Advocate

I’m sure the title strikes my readers as an oxymoron. How could anyone be grateful for a year that has been so difficult? I agree. It would be much easier to say, "Forget 2021!" It was a lost year, as many people tell me.


Although coping has been difficult, I have lots of things to be grateful for. The remarkably fast vaccine development and new assistive hearing technology have made it possible for me to stay healthy, connect with family and friends and pursue the activities I love. Here are some of the experiences I'm most grateful for in 2021.


Being Well


First and foremost, I am alive and well, thanks to everyone who worked to create and distribute the vaccines that protect me from Covid-19 and its variants. Although I was sick in bed for two days after I had the Pfizer shots in February, that was a small price to pay to know I am protected from an illness that could, potentially, have made me very ill or even put an end to my life. Luckily, I only had a sore arm after the booster and flu shots.


Staying Connected


I am grateful for the technology that keeps me involved and communicating with the people and activities that are important to me, and for those who help me to use it to my advantage. I often think about what life would have been like if the pandemic had occurred five years ago, when much of the technology we have today was not available. Feelings of isolation and loneliness would have overwhelmed me. I am amazed at what we can do now and pleased new, helpful technology continues to be developed all the time.


Masks are an ongoing problem because I can’t hear clearly and miss the facial clues I need. Although I have tried clear masks, I have not found one I’m comfortable with. I use the Otter or Ava apps for transcription. The microphone on my iPhone also is useful for transcription. CHC’s How to Cope With Masks offers helpful tips.


I'm celebrating the second year of being a cochlear-implanted, bionic great-grandmother. My brain continues to learn how to process the sounds it is hearing from my CI, while my great-granddaughter is discovering the wonderful world she lives in and begins to walk and talk.


My Continuing Education

Jade Lam, instructor for Ruth's Chinese Art class, shows the work of Wang Xuetao

Online learning continues to keep me busy every day. Zoom takes me to art classes: Carter Burden for drawing and Chinese painting, the Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) for painting, the Princeton Art Museum School for watercolors and pastels and the National Gallery in DC for twice monthly discussions of one work of art. Some sessions are captioned. Otter and Ava provide online transcription where necessary. In October, I returned to in-studio painting classes at NCJW. We celebrated our return after eighteen months with my homemade pumpkin cake, which everyone appreciated.

Ruth's interpretation of the painting

Online captioned exercise classes at the Jewish Community Center keep me moving. Zoom visits to art museums and galleries all over the country, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Volunteer organization, are much appreciated. The Met is welcoming visitors to the museum. I’m anxiously awaiting the time when we volunteers can go back to work.


Hearing and Communication Resources


The Center for Hearing and Communication offers many resources to help you cope with hearing loss in this very difficult time. Check out 10 Tips for Managing Face Masks and Hearing Loss, Making Virtual Gatherings Hearing-Friendly this Holiday Season, and Tips for Celebrating the Holidays with a Child with Hearing Loss. A recent addition is CHC's Guide to New York City's Hearing Accessible Venues.

HLAA live-captioned meeting on Zoom

The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) also offers online webinars. Check their calendar for upcoming programs. The HLAA-NYC Chapter, where I am a Board member, presents well-attended captioned talks. Topics this year included How Your Smart Phone Helps You Hear Better, What’s New in Cochlear Implants, and The Psychology of Hearing Loss. Click here to view recordings of past meetings and learn about future meetings. Attending HLAA NYC live-captioned meetings is easy on Zoom.


Meetings and Gathering with Family

My table at home set for Seder, iPad connects me to my son’s Seder

In addition to visiting and eating outdoors at picnics and restaurants, I use Google Meet, Zoom and FaceTime to chat with friends and family. When Passover arrived, I was not ready to join an in-person Seder, so I attended on Google Meet.


At the end of the summer, I went to my grandson’s and granddaughter’s weddings in Jersey City in person. Everyone was vaccinated and had a wonderful time celebrating the young couples at the wedding halls, both of which have wraparound terraces. I used Otter to hear conversations in the noisy halls, a positive change from the problems I had at my grandson’s wedding on December 31, 2018.

My son David leading the Seder in Queens. I’m at the upper right

I observed the Jewish High Holidays praying online. At Chanukah, I lit candles online and hosted a small party for family and friends at home, the first time I’ve entertained a group since the pandemic began. All my vaccinated guests were happy to see each other. At the party, I used Ava to understand the multiple conversations people were engaged in.


For phone conversations I use InnoCaption, Ava, Google Meet and FaceTime on my iPhone and iMac.


This Life is a Gift


I was hoping, with the arrival of 2022, I would be able to participate in a lot more in-person activities, like recently seeing the open caption version of West Side Story at my local AMC. (It’s a good movie that is too long. The open captions are a treat.) That is not going to happen as fast as I would like it to because of Omicron, which I call OY! Please join me and stay connected by using the hearing accessible technology available to us.


I hope you will think about the ideas that come from the Yogi teabags I use: "What can you appreciate in this moment?" "Be kind to others, but always be compassionate to yourself." And my favorite, "This life is a gift.”


Best wishes for a healthy, happy and successful 2022!


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