53, Teacher Consultant for the Deaf
"Differences should be celebrated not discriminated against."
Both my parents have a medical background and they suspected something was 'wrong with me’ when I was a baby. I was formally diagnosed at 3 months old and I’ve worn hearing aids since then. I hated them at first, always chucking them out and hiding the moulds or the cord.
I always knew about other Deaf people since starting school where an OD class (Deaf class) was available. I was not encouraged to use this, following medical/educational advise given to my parents who were told signing was 'primitive'. As a result I was 'integrated' all my life and didn't have my first formal 'signed english' lessons until 22yrs of age at Meadowbank TAFE under Betty Bonser.
I didn't think about my hearing loss at first as I thought I was 'normal'. Eventually I realised I was the last to be told things in family conversations, or discussions in my presence often excluded my participation.I found family discussions particularly difficult . I was the last to be told a joke (which didn't sound funny when told to me, as they ran flat by then) or had the brief version of stories passed on to me. My mother was overprotective as times, especially regarding 'rough sports’.
I started to feeling a bit left out - an outcast of society around pre-school years. Integration was a constant struggle - not knowing my positive Deaf identity during my youth, and constantly being made inferior since 'able-bodied normalisation' was society's viewpoint. I disliked hearing aids in formative years but knew they assisted understanding of the larger world around me. Meeting like-minded Deaf people made me realise I was not alone with this negative 'medical model' interpretation of Deaf people. The introduction to formal Deaf social groups & Deaf Studies politicalised me & my early Marxist viewpoints raised my consciousness towards Deafhood.
People who helped me to accept it were school teachers who were willing to write salient points on the board, spoke when their face was visible to me and school friends who accepted me despite being profoundly deaf. I realised it doesn't take much for others to include me in social discourse or group activities, only requiring mindfulness of 'others having different needs to their own’. Meeting socially aware Deafies like Paddy Ladd, Clark Denmark, Craig Crowley, David Jones, Dot Shaw, Nola Colefax & Carol-lee Aquiline activated my own sense of Deafhood. I felt comfortable communicative-wise in Deaf social events as compared to Hearing events where lip-reading especially in dim rooms was a constant nightmare.
There are plenty of times when I have felt grateful and proud of my hearing loss. I benefited when I wanted to see my favourite TV cartoon shows as a young child, being mum's favourite. I would chuck a fit if my older siblings were watching their favourite talkies TV show such as 'Mr Ed' (about a talking horse) & I always won due to mum enforcing the 'shared TV' times between us four kids. It also helps with my sleep/quiet times - no distracting noise! Being deaf also meant not hearing the ugly rumours going around school/local community or listening to negative attitudes. Being able to communicate across a fair distance or between cars or under water was a massive advantage! Using sign language as a code in group sport/games/activities gave some advantages. Even loud events didn't stop us Deafies from communicating! I feel proud to be a part of the strong, rich bonds when the whole of Deaf community get together.
Being left out in group discussions at work is one of the biggest challenges (informal chit chats gives you a pulse of social issues currently happening or an insight of the personalities of the speakers). I hated school due to lack of communication support available in the late 70s/early 80s, especially English classes. I always had an inability to submit homework by deadlines due to not understanding what the teacher was talking about. My high school performance was poor due to not having any support provided in class. Strong hegemonic hearing norms is also a challenge (auditism - reliance on sound is frustrating for me, like hearie informal group chitchat, public announcements over speakers, use of music, dependence on mobile phones, privacy walls (Hearies can gossip across walls but deafies can't...)
Supporting Deaf students in an unequal, 'hearing' society is full of daily struggles as I find each individual has unique socio-educational barriers to overcome.
The worst of all: the attitudinal disability of others who think they are above others ('superior') and the negative medical model view of Deafness. Dominance of audio verbal communication tools inhibits the promotion of sign language and other visual tools.
Having Deaf friends has helped me overcome these challenges. We are always involved in social discourse as we can understand each other...Technology such as email, text messaging/video-chat social media networks has also helped, as has Deaf friendly accommodation such as flashing lights for door/phone/baby crying, and open plan housing. Other things that havehelped overcome challenges is Awareness of Deafhood, identification with Deaf Culture, mingling with like-minded kind souls and giving Deaf Awareness training to 'ignorant souls' and highlighting the positive cultural side of being Deaf: Deaf Pride. There are Deaf friends all over the world. Deafies help each other, for the greater good of Deafhood.
I have a dream of a universal language that is not just spoken, but signed as well and a universally designed world, where all participate as equals, and all are treated fairly, with love and without prejudice.