STEPH

24, Waiter/Radio Volunteer

Moderate Bilateral Hearing loss

 

"I did a walk up in the Conondale on my own and I was quite nervous about taking the trail. It was the first time I had done a walk through the forest with my hearing aids in. It was such another experience that I hadn’t had before. Ever. There was a sense of grounding. A sense of security. It was the first time I really felt at ease in a natural landscape by myself."

My parents were told I was Deaf when I had just started walking so most likely it was around the age of 1. They suspected a hearing loss as Mum was also Deaf, but at first spent a bit of time looking around for grommets or other middle ear complications. My first recollections of comprehending I had a hearing loss was at pre-school when I went along to the audiologist.

 I remember having a tympanogram; they sat me next to a computer that took up an entire corner of a room and had a tiny green screen. I remember they put a strange probe-like thing in my ear. The memory and feeling of the pressure in the ear canal and the faint buzzing drone is still incredibly perceptible. It wasn’t uncomfortable. The audiologist showed me the graph she said I’d made and it looked like a mountain. And I’m a aid wearer! And they’re beautiful and golden.

My Deafness was no burden, especially when I was younger. I think most people who are told they ‘have something’ don’t always recognise it as ‘other’ until they are immersed in the world as adults or young adults and come up against particular attitudes. I was fortunate as a young kid that I grew up in a small country region and had close friends who’s curiosity in my Deafness went as far as wondering what my hearing aids did. I was also lucky that I grew up in a regional area that also had a fairly significant Deaf community. This meant when I was a kid I went to camps with other Deaf kids and really didn’t find myself too removed from the rest of the mob. 

The closest I ever came to denying I had a hearing loss would be in high school when I just didn’t recognise that hearing aids made an improvement. Being told to wear my hearing aids felt like being told to eat my greens. I felt wearing hearing aids was something adults wanted me to do, mostly because they said it was good for my education. And as most teenagers go, I just didn’t really care enough or see what the fuss was about. So my issue mainly came from adults concern that I wasn’t wearing my aids. I had no issue with being Deaf itself. In fact I liked being Deaf (still do). I think I learnt to be proud of it when I was younger and going along to the camps.

I acknowledge now that my attitude towards my Deafness was largely shaped by a childhood and teenage years where I felt ‘normal’. I have certain people who worked with Deaf communities and Deaf kids in the region I grew up to thank for this, however it’s something I’ve only acknowledged very recently.

A particular event or moment that I identified as a being influential at the time, would be writing a critical discourse essay on attitudes towards Deafness. This was at university and I’d been trying to dig a bit deeper into where Deaf pride came from. It was fascinating and quite liberating. I was introduced to in-depth views about the medicalisation of disability and the alternate modes of viewing the body that mostly arose out of Deaf communities. It was quite galvanizing and I talked about it to anyone who’d listened. I became quite a strong believer that Deafness as a culture driven by community and language was something beautiful and deserved attention and respect.

I had a small number of great itinerant support teachers from kindergarten to year 12 who became good friends of mine. They were different in each of their ways but always incredibly supportive and at times rather fierce about making sure no one at school gave me a hard time or overlooked that I might have a hearing loss. I always find talking to other Deaf people exciting and inspiring also.

I rarely have moments where I’ve not been proud or grateful. I love being able to switch off god awful music they play in supermarkets etc. I’ve also gained a lot of extra interpersonal and communication skills that comes with being Deaf. It makes me a good listener, a lateral thinker and helps me connect authentically with people one-on-one. I don’t sign but have always wanted to, in fact I’m registered for classes which start in a month. I’m really excited to start and I want to be able to support other Deaf kids and help them recognise that it’s not all just a medical malady.

Something I acknowledge now more than I did when I was younger is that my hearing aids really do help. I know without them I would be much more socially uncomfortable when in larger groups and feeling socially inept can be a pretty awful blow to self-esteem. So I wear my aids every day now and get a lot of benefit back.  This is something I would have loved to have learnt earlier. 

Most adults and teachers in high school were encouraging me to wear my aids for educational reasons. If I had recognised how great they are for keeping on top of conversation, not missing out on invites, gossip, stories etc; highschool could have been quite different perhaps. But I have no regrets, it is what it is.

I’m also much better at telling people I’m Deaf (and more patient at explaining that there is diversity in Deafness and yes, I can hear them and, no, I don’t think I’m a master-mind lip reader) and this has helped, especially in workplaces. I feel that people really want to make sure you don’t slip between the cracks because of hearing loss. That said, I also feel that since Deafness is invisible and since I present as a young, (mostly) competent-looking woman I experience the benefit of positive visual discrimination. 

I am conscious of older Deaf women and men who may have the same hearing loss as I do, be four times as qualified to do a job, but having to put up with a less co-operative attitude. This of course interplays with ageism (and in half the case, sexism). The point I’m making is the reality of - mostly involuntary - discrimination based largely on making the mistake that visual cues of physical deviation (wrinkles, spine curvature, wheelchairs etc) from the idealised norm (an abstract idea before anything) reflect mental deviation or ineptitude. 

I can’t deny that I am bracing myself for the possibility that as I get visibly older, my Deafness may become more of a recognised disability in the eyes of able-bodied people and my needs perceived to be more cumbersome for others. But who knows, we’ll see when we get there.   

I wear my hearing aids and I love my hearing aids. I take them out and show them to people if they’re curious. I take the time to talk about what scenarios are difficult for me. And if I care enough at the time or am spritely enough, I’ll invite them to talk about notions of ability and disability and help support a critical perspective towards how we accommodate each others needs. Because we all need a little something from some one else some time.