KATE

37, Performing Arts producer

Moderate to severe hearing loss

"I feel that there shouldn't be any difference between wearing hearing aids and glasses. But people do doubt you intellectually."

 

I describe myself as Hard of Hearing or as having a moderate hearing loss (although my hearing loss is moderate to severe, but I downplay that as severe sounds, well, so severe!) I was diagnosed just before the age of 2 when my mother noticed I wasn’t responding to her voice or loud sounds if my back was turned to her. The family doctor at the time thought it might help to have my adenoids removed – which made no difference of course. I was fitted with 2 (analogue hearing aids) shortly after being diagnosed with a bi-neural moderate to severe hearing loss. I have worn hearing aids ever since then and have even grown to love them as I rely on them heavily to navigate through life. I was even known to get quite attached to my hearing aids particularly when being fitted with new ones as a child, much to the chagrin of my audiologists! 

As I was 2 years old, I don’t recall being diagnosed but my mother tells me that I didn’t speak before being fitted with hearing aids and once I had them, my words come tumbling out a million miles and hour and didn’t stop. I never learnt Auslan, but my family learnt English sign language when my younger brother was diagnosed with a profound hearing loss. As I was too young to attend sign language classes (I was 5 when my brother was born) my version of sign language is a bit made up but my brother mostly understands it – though it makes him laugh some times.

I struggled with my hearing loss, particularly in primary school years as other children would tease me for being ‘different’. I think as a result of my hearing loss, I have become quite defensive. Since primary school I have become quite skilled at concealing my hearing loss (and sometimes still do today), which is quite easy to do as I have long hair. I don’t often tell people who I’ve just met that I have a hearing loss until I get to know them a bit better.  People are mostly surprised when I tell them and some have said “but you speak so well!’ (duh!). I’m sure some people have that ‘A-ha!’ moment when I tell them, as they may have thought it strange if I didn’t answer them when they asked a question or if I gave a completely different answer (thinking they asked something else). My Mum invested a lot of time in helping me when I was a young child, getting me to speech and occupational therapists, sending me to a Deaf Kindy as well as a ‘mainstream’ Kindergarten. Mum is the reason I speak so well and she helped me learn the necessary skills to navigate life a bit better. 

Around the same time as I was diagnosed with my hearing loss, our family adopted my Uncle’s dog (a beautifully-natured 2 year old bull terrier cross). She became my best friend and confidante for the next 14 years. When I had a hard day at school, I would often go to my dog for cuddles and comfort. It was this dog that I actually said my first word to. My first word being ‘No’ of course.

As an adult and after the birth of my daughter I have started to accept my hearing loss a bit more as I want to be a good role model for her. I want to teach my daughter that she can do whatever she sets her mind & be whoever she wants to be and nothing should hold her back. She’s not hearing impaired but I think most people have their own challenges.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been proud of grateful of my hearing loss but I’ve recently been volunteering for Hear For You – a charitable organisation that supports Deaf & Hard of Hearing teenagers. Through mentoring these teenagers, I have been proud to be able to connect with them, and support them as they struggle to be a teenager in a hearing world.  It’s one of the few places I feel 100% comfortable to be me.

I think day to day presents many challenges. My biggest challenges probably happen at work or socially. I work in an open-plan office which can get very noisy so it’s often challenging hearing on the phone or focusing on work with all the ambient noise. Social situations can also be challenging, especially when trying to follow or participate in a group conversation when there’s lots of competing noise. In a global sense, I think the biggest challenge hard of hearing / deaf / hearing impaired people face is acceptance from society. We are often thought of as having a ‘disability’. I take exception to that term. Why should we be viewed as or treated differently to some one who wears glasses (the sight impaired)? With more and more people being diagnosed with some degree of hearing loss, I think that there needs to be more education (starting in prep and primary schools) about the different ways to interact with people who have challenges hearing. Thanks to technology, I have a digital streamer which wirelessly interfaces with my hearing aids (similar to a hands-free kit). In social situations, I try and go to places that are quieter – which is not always possible. I have learnt a few tricks along the way (some from the teenagers I’ve mentored) for example, to position myself with my back to the wall and at the head of a table so I can see everyone and try and follow the conversation better. I have also become quite skilled at lip-reading over the years.

I have also come to the realisation just recently, that I am not deaf / hard of hearing – my hearing impairness is part of me.