Below is my experience and journey with my deafness, and how I found my Deafness. If you would like to skip that, I got you. The explanation will be in bold “deaf vs Deaf” near the bottom.
I was born deaf. I have mondini dysplasia which is a malformation in the inner ear. Basically, the cochlea never fully developed. We also don’t know why, which basically makes me cool as hell since I am a complete mystery. Who knew, that this little cochlea, would shape and define my entire life.
I was fortunate enough to have a family that, initially was shocked and scared when the doctor said “your daughter will never live a normal life,”… was ultimately very open and receptive to the deaf community. They learned sign language and allowed me to chose. Of course I signed, but as I got older and a little more self aware in elementary school… I wanted to speak. I had an… awful teacher for the deaf at my elementary school. (One time in kindergarten I believe, we were given an assignment of coloring inside the lines of this turtle. I, the creative genius I am, wanted to draw waves under the turtle. She took my drawing, yelled at me and called my parents for ‘not listening to directions. Yeah.) My stubbornness hated feeling limited by my deafness and inability to speak when all my peers could. This would lead to me drifting away from the deaf community entirely and never being around another deaf person until high school.
Middle school was probably the most difficult period of my life. Everyone of course struggles with their awkward years of puberty, crushes, identity, and kissing… For me though, I was the only deaf person in my entire middle school. My ability to speak clearly made people ‘forget’ that I am deaf, and treated me as such. I was interested in sports and music. I learned cello, and honestly did very well at it, even getting section leader. But the common denominator for why I was so miserable and insecure was… my deafness.
I covered my hearing aids with my hair. I refused to use interpreters or microphones. I refused any help, anything that made me stand out as ‘the deaf girl’. I felt incredibly lonely, as everyone spoke so fast and I could not follow. I was seen as the quiet, shy, deaf girl. People had no idea how much I loved to speak and joke around too, but when you can’t follow the conversation, how can I join? I was deeply depressed and anxious because of my hearing loss, and my self identity was completely utterly skewed. I hated my deafness, I blamed it for everything.
Freshman year of high school came. On my first day, in my first class, I saw (who would eventually become my absolute best friend) two girls signing wearing hearing aids using an interpreter. I felt floored. I don’t remember if I came up to them at all, but I remember the thought consuming me: …I’m deaf too.
Except I still identified and saw myself as hard of hearing, not deaf. I always said I was hard of hearing, because saying deaf made me feel like I was limiting or hurting myself.
When I graduated high school, my favorite interpreter said I started so awkward and shy girl and devoid of any deaf identity… and ended a confident and proud Deaf woman. I became proud being the Deaf girl who was section leader of cellos, the Deaf girl in my classes, and sports. My deafness is a part of me, but it does not limit me like society likes to push that idea into my head.
Deafness is a tragedy to so many. Deafness is a handicap. Deaf people will never live a normal life. Deafness needs to be fixed. These were all things I was told by the world and believed. I am now Deaf CSUNian’s president, an active member of the deaf community, and a huge deaf activist and supporter. I am studying psychology so I can help deaf people.
If you are a deaf person reading this, I would love for you to reach out to me and share your story.
So, what is deaf and Deaf?
This website explains it clearly, but this is what I understand it to be.
Many people, I think, do not understand the difference between hard of hearing, deaf, and Deaf. It’s understandable, I know many people will groan and say “you’re just hearing impaired, stop trying to make it deeper than it is.” I would have said the same thing in my teenage years.
Hard of Hearing: This is probably the most difficult one to explain, out of these three. Typically it means not involved with the deaf community, but the person still can be. It is usually tied to whether or not a person can hear with hearing aids. It can mean:
- A person who needs hearing aids due to aging… i.e. your grandma or grandpa.
- A person who (like my story above) did not want to acknowledge that they are deaf, and is not involved with the deaf community.
- A Deaf person can still say they are hard of hearing, if they wear hearing aids.
deaf: The official term for someone who has a hearing loss to a degree where they cannot hear as a hearing person would.
*People who identify as deaf, typically are not involved with the deaf community.
Deaf: This is strictly an identity and cultural term. This is someone who is involved with the deaf community and accepts their deafness. They find pride in the communities culture, language, history, and people.