What it’s like to be really, really, really ridiculously deaf.

September is Deaf Awareness Month. Last year, I wrote about the awkward questions hearing people frequently ask deaf people.

This year, I wondered whether I’d have anything to add to what’s already been put out there. It’s not yet October, but already, fun-sized treats are on the grocery store shelves. What can I share about deafness before everybody can go back to being unaware of the existence of deaf people?

Over the past three weeks, the message that has been put out by other members of the deaf community has pretty much been: “Totally deaf people are so rare, so we might as well pretend they don’t exist.”

Well… I exist.

If you gave me a pair of hearing aids capable of amplifying sounds by a million, I would still hear nothing. My last audiogram is from the 80s, and it shows that I am off-the-charts-deaf. (Update: I got an audiogram done in October 2019. Click here if you’d like to see it.)

Shortly after I recovered from Meningitis at the age of three, I was taken back to the hospital for further examination to see whether I’d qualify for the cochlear implant. My parents, like so many parents, figured the cochlear implant would give me more opportunities.

A three year-old Laura in a leopard print Halloween costume and fuzzy white bear claw slippers is seated next to a giant jack-o-lantern. Her left arm appears to be wrapped in a half-cast, which is actually an IV port. The arm of an adult is grabbing her upper arm.
Dressed up as Pebbles Flintstone at BC Children’s Hospital. Not sure if I was deaf yet in this photo. That’s an IV port on my left arm.

But I did not qualify. My cochleas had ossified completely in an extraordinarily short time. What was unlikely to happen, happened. I had turned into a mythical being, as you can see in the above photo.

Yet, this did not put me at a greater disadvantage compared to deaf kids who benefit from hearing assistive devices. I couldn’t be forced to rely on the little hearing I had left, which sometimes results in language deprivation for deaf kids. I learned sign language. I figured out workarounds for communicating with hearing people (gestures, writing, using my phone to text, etc.). I became more conscious of the activities happening outside the centre of my vision. I learned to recognize emergency situations in public places based on people’s behavior.

In short, I adapted.

The disadvantage I have over deaf people with residual hearing? Prejudices society has about deaf people like me. These prejudices exist within the deaf community, eg.

“I couldn’t live without my hearing aids! I would not be able to get a job!” 

I frequently come across online fundraisers for hearing assistive devices/the cochlear implant surgery set up by well-meaning people who have a dramatic idea of how catastrophic it would be if their friend/relative were to lose every bit of hearing they had left.

“I couldn’t live without music,” might be something only hearing people have ever said to my face, but the sentiment is shared by many deaf people online. I can read, you know, and I just read that. It’s not like I was left with no hobbies and interests after I lost my hearing. If anything, I have too many hobbies!

On Twitter, deaf people with excellent speech bemoan how irritating it is to have their speech complimented by hearing persons. This typically spawns a thread about how hearing people end up overestimating deaf people’s ability to hear based on how well some deaf people can speak. While this is a valid complaint, it’s not one to which I can relate.

When I was a child, and starting to learn how to communicate with people who were unable to sign, my father would frequently remind me that I could communicate by paper and pen. “Easy!” he’d tell me.

Now that my dad is deaf himself (occupational and age-related hearing loss), I watch him struggle to understand when spoken to. Not once have I seen him follow his own advice and ask the person he has difficulty understanding to write down what they’re trying to say. It’s more palatable to cup one of your ears and grimace, I guess?

I already know hearing people aren’t keen on the idea of having to use another method of communication (they like to pretend they don’t send their hearing friends text messages all day long), but when other deaf people avoid doing it too? Ouch.

“Hearing people think that being deaf means one cannot hear at all!”

This is a misconception deaf people have about a misconception hearing people don’t have. As someone who cannot hear at all, I can tell you that hearing people do not believe this.

After letting a hearing person know that I cannot hear, they don’t just shut up. Rather, they start speaking louder. How the fuck would I know this? Hearing informants! If I’m out and about with a hearing friend, you bet they’ll let me know when they overhear people make comments about me, or when goofy hearing people think they’re being accommodating by shouting at me.

It would be great if the deaf community could quit reminding hearing people that deaf people like me are rare. Hearing people already don’t think about people like me! I also don’t wish to minimize the challenges other deaf people have, but can I please not be the worst-case scenario?

It’s strange being a part of the deaf community, and still not being able to relate to much of it.

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