Sounds Like Nothing

Plant editor Tyler Finigan shares his experience of being deaf and mute for a week-long experiment.

My thoughts are louder than thunder yet nothingness fills my ears. Everything smells better, looks better and I’m longing for the sweet taste of my meatball sandwich. Everyone’s opinion is shut out, everyone’s laughter is all I see. The teacher singles me out with her finger then waits with a smile. I whip my head back to my book and then swiftly returning to my teacher, I smile. I plead with my eyes and I beg in silence. It’s too late to turn back, I’ve but only just begun. I scroll my pencil down the margin of the loose leaf then in between the lines I write a few words. Reluctantly, I hand the page to my girlfriend sitting next to me and she reads it aloud, “Tyler can’t respond to you because he’s deaf and mute.”

During the week of November 1, I began a five-day documentary/experiment on how it would feel to be deaf and mute. For this to happen, I embarked upon a rigorous engineering discovery and came up with… large, sound-reducing headphones.  I believe that we take our basic form of communication for granted and with this project, I anticipated a simple challenge. Instead, what I endured was a new found respect for basic communication through an alternate sensory experience. This idea came to me in my communication studies class. We were told to build a website around any idea and be able to communicate it through multiple mediums. I figured if I took the communication aspect out completely I would eventually use different mediums to communicate.

According to the Canadian Association of the Deaf (CAD), there are “310,000 culturally Deaf Canadians and 2.8 million hard of hearing Canadians,” and according to there are over 33 million people living in Canada.

Put it together and that’s around one person that has a hearing defect out of 11 Canadians. With such a high concentration, I was curious as to how a deaf student would manage inside a normal everyday classroom. So, because I was short of deaf people, I decided to undergo this experiment myself. At first my friends and family felt that I was over my head and should have thought it out a little more than I had.   “I swear I thought I was going to be hanging around with a vegetable.” Ashley Couillard, my girlfriend said.  My mother wasn’t too keen on the project either and so like any mother, Ashley worried that I’d suffer some sort of ear trauma throughout the experiment.

Despite their worries, I was excited to start my experience but was in no way ready for what was to come. The following quotes were taken from my blog and are a catalogue of my five day experience.

Day 1:
“It’s the end of the first day of our five-day documentary, and I’m exhausted. All day I’ve been mouthing words, jotting down notes and playing charades just to communicate.  The headset I’m wearing is quite heavy and every time I raise my head from my paper to recap where I was, it weighed on my neck. The experiment is already not as I thought it would be. I thought it would be a little more fluid to communicate without speech, yet the difficulty in doing so has been my main concern in and out of class. Class is probably the hardest part of the day. I do hear some of what my teachers are saying but most of the time; I’m just reading lips and writing notes.”

Day 2:
“Two days down and three more to go. The headphones are starting to pinch my ears and by the end of each day, I’m glad to rip them off and go to bed. The experience so far has been quite unique. I thought it would get easier as the days go by but with a different day came brand new mountains to climb. Today I drove into school. All I was able to hear was the vague rumble of the engine and the distant tune on the radio. It was peaceful. I was so fixated on the road and turning my head quite often to position myself properly, that I didn’t pay much attention to my speed. It’s hard to gauge your speed when you can’t hear the car ‘rev’, so I was driving at around 130 km/h on average. I know I shouldn’t be dubbed a speed demon because I’ve seen maniacs fly down the highway at 150 WITH their hearing. Today’s classes were ‘Newspaper Writing’ and ‘Gym: Resistance Training’. Being an editor for the school newspaper is already a busy job. Without being able to talk to the writers or listen to any of them was tiring. Several times, I passed notes and mouthed words across the room. I’m known for my talking in class so I’m sure it was a lot quieter for everyone else as well. Gym couldn’t come fast enough. The day was long and all I didn’t need was to lift weights or sweat with this equipment on my head.”

Day 3:
“The week is at a turning point. It was the hardest day for me so far. Because of my communication problem, it was a pain to accomplish any work whatsoever. It was long and boring and to be perfectly honest, it’s not worth writing about. The experiment is taking a toll on my overall physicality. I’m sleeping less, but which college student doesn’t.”

Day 4:
“Today and yesterday I had the delight of travelling in the wonderful gas chamber called the metro. It is so hot during rush hour that when I left my seat, I left it darker then it was before. We usually tune out the sounds of the metro with our iPods, or we let the metro rock us to sleep, but when all goes silent, the metro can be one of the most relaxing places on earth. There’s no annoying conversation going on next to the poll in front of you. You might not be able to hear where the next stop is but it’s worth it, because I don’t have to hear that dreaded woman speak to the metro’s populace like my oily, ‘toupeed’ high school principal.  As this experiment went, I’ve learned to respect how much we use talking and hearing on a daily basis. They say that you don’t know how much you need something until it’s taken away from you, but no one has ever said anything about taking it away yourself. I put these headphones on and I’m in my own bubble. The only things I can hear are my thoughts and how loud my chewing is.”

Day 5:
“It was the last day of the experiment! I was in a very happy mood and couldn’t wait to remove the headphones later on. I got up and learned through my email that my only class of the day was cancelled. So, I spent the whole day at home like a kermit in his shell. Due to this unintentional house arrest, I decided to do a few things that people with full hearing capacity normally enjoy doing. I watched a movie in silence with subtitles. It was awkward having to read all the dialogue and not having the luxury of background music or any sort of ambiance at all during the movie but I did realize one thing; I was watching a story. It sounds a bit ‘off’ but what I mean to say is that the experience was much like reading a book with pictures.

I sat there reading every word while glancing at the pictures move on the television. The only difference between the movie and a picture book was that the movie had a selective menu.”  When it was all over, I took the headgear off and it was as if the world was keeping a secret from me and then all at once, yelled the secret into my ear. I was able to hear   at full capacity and appreciate every second of it. Through this experience, I gained respect for the importance of communication. I learned that communication comes in many different forms, whether it be speech, visual media or even audio communication.

It’s with communication we can create and destroy nations, it’s with communication that we are able to survive as a community and most people take our basic forms of communication for granted.

We need to embrace these ways of communication or else we will be lost in a world that sounds like nothing.  For short videos of my experience, visit my blog at


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