I’m a former hearing person. I was born in Canada, and grew up in a middle-class hearing family. I’m also white, straight, and cis. This means my life began with pretty much just one disadvantage: being female. Oh, and being an infant, but I outgrew that horrid phase.
Then I got deathly ill.
Do you know what happens when a cute little blonde three-year-old gets sick in Canada? Everything that could possibly be done to save my life, was done… and at no expense to my family. In the process of saving my life, though, the drugs that were administered destroyed my hearing.
From that point on, I could never expect to have the things I would’ve otherwise had as a hearing child. I had figure out how to navigate a world that was largely inaccessible to me, when I was too young to understand why everything had suddenly gone silent. I thought people were playing games with me when they’d move their lips, and no sound would come out. I couldn’t make sense of why the sound had also disappeared whenever I tried to speak.
I even had to re-learn how to walk as my cochleas had ossified completely, ruining my balance. (Fun fact: I cannot get dizzy. I can spin around endlessly, and still be able to run in a straight line.)
Without sounds to guide the natural development of speech, my parents hired a speech-language pathologist in an effort to preserve my ability to speak. I was child who spent her Saturday afternoons training for the hearing world, instead of chasing after assorted sports balls like other kids. These lessons worked, but did not stop a “deaf accent” from eventually surfacing.
When my parents took me out trick-or-treating the year after I went deaf, a woman refused to reward me with candy because I was not responding to her questions. When my mother informed her that I was deaf, she not only withheld the candy, but also slammed the door in my face.
Maybe it was because I didn’t make a convincing sad clown, but it was most likely because I was not convincing as a hearing person.
In my professional opinion, Deaf children deserve more candy: all the caramels in the world couldn’t stop us from coherently expressing ourselves in sign language.
But, not everybody knows sign language. In the past, whenever I needed to communicate with somebody who did not sign, I would attempt to speak to them. I was sharing a part of myself that I was unfamiliar with–my own voice–to a stranger. By doing this, I was accommodating them, but it was rarely seen that way. If I couldn’t make myself be understood, they usually wouldn’t try to understand.
Now that I feel more comfortable with writing, and don’t feel that people generally appreciate the effort it takes for a deaf person to speak–and even go as far to make fun of our “deaf accent”–I accommodate hearing people by scribing my thoughts on paper, or by tapping my comments on the phone. Still, this is often perceived as being onerous for hearing people; people who only need to spend a tiny fraction of their day communicating in writing. For me to have to communicate in this manner 99% of the time for the rest of my life is simply reality.
Indeed, there are people who find it preferable to wait to ask a question verbally than to get an instant answer from a deaf person if it requires a different kind of interaction. Strangely, many of these same people have embraced text messaging.
I am expected to accept this. I am expected to be grateful that I was allowed to live. People I should expect support from often feel that it’s a better use of their time to remind me that people are ignorant, rather than educate those people. Apparently, that’s my responsibility too.
To be better understood by people, this blog partly serves as a way to share my experiences as a Deaf person. I even have a space for comments for those who aren’t bothered by having to type out their questions.
But, I won’t tolerate the intolerant. I won’t even tolerate the out-tolerant*.