31, Contemporary Dancer/Second English Teacher
I don’t consider myself to have a hearing loss. I was born profoundly deaf, so if I never had hearing in the first place, I never lost anything. I was born into a hearing family who had no contact or knowledge of Deaf people at all. My mother noticed something ‘was not quite right’ and that sometimes I didn’t react to sounds and noise. We were living in Lismore in Northern NSW and she took me to the doctor for a test. The doctor said I had a significant hearing loss but needed to go to Sydney for more tests. I was 6 weeks old, which is extremely rare in those days for a diagnosis to be picked up so early. After further tests in Sydney, it was confirmed I was profoundly Deaf. I was 6 months old.
I was given hearing aids straight away (one of those very chunky things which I kept pulling out). The doctors in Sydney wanted to give me a cochlear implant but because I would have been the first baby in Australia to be implanted (that was 1984) my parents were reluctant and decided against them. I never wanted a cochlear implant as I grew older, so I haveworn hearing aids all my life. I don’t wear them as much now as they give me massive headaches and are very distracting and are not that helpful for me at all. I use Auslan as well as spoken and written English to communicate. I have signed since I was a baby but that was Signed English. I didn’t know about Auslan until I was about 5 years old when my aunty noticed that the sign language used by Deaf adults in the local community was different to the one I used. I started learning Auslan from when I was about 10 from the Deaf community.
I think it was when I was about 3, 4 or 5 years old I realised that not everyone was Deaf like me. I did not quite understand that concept. My family all signed so I thought everyone was the same and signed and couldn’t hear. Then I realised I was the only Deaf person in my family and I struggled with that, even though my family always accepted me for who I am. I questioned why it was me who was born Deaf andnot my brothers. I continued to struggle with my Deafness in my teens, but remember going to a Deaf camp in Brisbane when I was 13 and having the best week. I remember telling Mum when I got home that I liked being Deaf and it wasn't so bad after all. Looking back, it’s the other Deaf kids I went to school with who helped me accept it. We were very tight knit, smart and cheeky kids who stuck together. I am very grateful to them and they played a big part in my journey. I remember when I was about 10 years old, I was out in Byron Bay having dinner with my family and we saw a Deaf couple. I just stared at them. I was in awe and thought the signing was so beautiful. That is when I had a moment of pride in being Deaf. Going to the Deaf camps was also great for identity-building.
My aunty became an Auslan interpreter and played a big role in my life and encouraged me to be proud to be Deaf and to learn about my history (education of Deaf people etc). I lived with a Deaf woman in Byron Bay who was, and still is, a big influence on me. She is a fiercely proud woman who knows her rights and taught me a lot about the Deaf community and about discrimination etc.
There are also the everyday challenges Deaf people experience . They are so ‘normal’ that I don’t really notice them. Which is scary. For example, we want an appointment with our accountant to do our tax return. No interpreter? Well that’s ok, we will just write things down. Access to interpreters for education and work and community participation is one of the biggest problems Deaf people face. It is a constant struggle. It never ends. For example, I need to do ongoing professional development in dance but who pays for an interpreter? Yes, me of course. I then have to organise funds to be able to pay for an interpreter.These things take a lot of time and organisation whereas hearing people just need to click the ‘register my interest’ button whenever they see a PD opportunity they want to do.
I always feel proud and grateful for my deafness. It has helped create the person I am. I am proud to be part of the Deaf community and to use Auslan as my main communication mode. My Deafness has given me many opportunities and experiences in life.
I started dancing when I was 6 years old until I was about 13 years old. I blame teenage rebellion for stopping. I also didn’t believe that I could do dance as a career. I started dancing again when I was about 20 years old and realised how much I loved and missed it. I did a Bachelor of Dance and the rest is history. Moving to Melbourne has been wonderful because there are so many smart and talented and interesting Deaf people around. Most, if not all, my friends sign. My partner is a CODA (child of Deaf adults). Communication is not an issue. But in the dance world, I experience communication barriers and it’s really frustrating because I often feel like I am missing out on information.
My deafness is a big part of my identity and has a significant influence on my dancing and my arts practice. It makes me feel alive. It’s exhilarating. And I am a movement junkie who loves being physical and pushing my body to its limits. But dancing is also nurturing and replenishing. It keeps my mind sharp, my senses heightened, my muscles and bones strong and toned, it calms my heart, and it keeps me sane. Music and sound has its place in dancing and performance and so does silence. In most of the dance projects I have been involved in we create material/choreography without music and add it later. I enjoy music and going to warehouse parties and clubs where I can feel the bass and move to the music. Though this is a totally different experience from being in the dance studio where I don’t feel the music as much. It is very important for me to be able to feel the music in performances. While I cannot hear the nuances in the music such as specific instruments or lyrics, feeling the heavy beats gives me energy and keeps me connected to the choreography and the act of performing. Dancing is now my career and my dream has come true.
Don’t let Deafness deter you from your dreams and talents. There will be barriers for sure and sometimes you will want to give up, but if you are on the path you are meant to be on things will flow. It is a lifelong journey with so many bumps, bends and uphill treks. But lots of flat road as well for easy walking.