Are you proud to be deaf?

Are you proud to be deaf?  (Or proud to be hard of hearing, if you prefer a different terminology?)  No, I thought not.  I would guess that almost all the followers of this blog are people who have experienced hearing loss in adult life (that’s apart from the readers who can hear perfectly well, of course – hi there, hearing friends).  I don’t think we adult-onset hearing loss people feel at all proud.  Frustrated?  Certainly.  Tired?  Often.  Fed up?  Sometimes.  But proud?  No, I wouldn’t say that.  I try to be proud of how I handle the situation, but that’s a different story.

But one of the good things about writing this blog is that I’m slowly starting to learn more about the very different feelings of people who identify themselves as Deaf (with a capital D).  Usually (but not always) deaf from childhood they are vocal about the pride they feel in their Deafness and their Deaf community.  They sign.  They talk about a Deaf sense of humour and Deaf way of seeing the world.  They often regard deafness not as a disability, but just as a different way of being, involving a different language.

(Contrary to common belief, by the way, there is no medical definition of the difference between deaf and Deaf.  Many Deaf people have some limited hearing.  The difference is a cultural one, not one you can necessarily see on an audiogram).

The Deaf world is not a world I’ve known much about in the past because I have spent most of my life hearing quite well.  I grew up with no hearing problems that I’m aware of and sailed through school and college.  My problems started in my mid-twenties (see About this Blog) but I didn’t have hearing aids until I was forty and managed my entire working career without much of a limitation from my ears.  I wore increasingly powerful digital hearing aids but my deafness never held me back.  My current significant problems with speech (in particular) really only date to the last five or six years, after I stopped working.

In short, I’ve spent more than half a century living comfortably in the hearing world and so, of course, I’ve had no wish to leave it.  But I can imagine feeling quite differently if my deafness had affected me before I’d lived a huge chunk of my life as a person who could hear.  Reading about the Deaf community online has brought that home to me.  If you are interested try a search on “deaf pride” or “proud to be deaf” but if you want to read just one thing try this, by Mark “Deffman” Drolsbaugh.  (NB ASL is American Sign Language).

Can you see his point of view?  I can.  Especially the bit where he talks about not knowing the answer to questions at school because he couldn’t understand what the teacher had said, or about having his mouth pushed into various shapes (BA – BA –BA) to make sounds.  I can completely imagine a different Vera as a deaf child, feeling as frustrated as Mark felt at the endless hours of learning to speak a language I couldn’t hear.  I can imagine the delight at finding a language I could completely understand and discovering that there were other people just like me who lived perfectly happy lives, communicating easily with each other and getting along just fine.  I think I would have joined that community in a heartbeat.

I would possibly go further than that and admit that the Deaf community sometimes makes me feel a bit wistful.  In October, Charlie Swinbourne, editor of the Limping Chicken, produced a short film, Found In Love, which tells the story of three deaf people who fall in love and, through their new partners, discover the Deaf world, sign language and a new sense of identity.  One of the participants, Lesley Reeves-Costi, first met her husband Memnos when he was a presenter for the BBC programme See Hear.  At one point in the film, she and Memnos are chatting about their lives and the point at which she fully “adopted” sign language, having been brought up as a lip reader.

When I watched it I felt………well, better if I copy you the response I posted on the website immediately afterwards.  Sometimes things written on the spur of the moment express things best.

I said “I loved this film.  As an adult-onset, severely deaf, fully oral 63 year old I found myself wistfully envious of Lesley Reeves-Costi when she talked about the joy of understanding “everything” in sign, and not missing “anything”.  It wouldn’t work for me, in my hearing world with hearing husband, family, friends and acquaintances but, goodness, I could relate to the sentiment.”

That just about sums it up for me.  I’m staying firmly in my hearing world.  My husband is there.  My friends are there.  My life is there.  English is my language.  But I can see why people who have never lived easily in that world would make a different decision.

 

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15 thoughts on “Are you proud to be deaf?

  1. HI there Vera – first time caller here.
    I trained as a secondary school teacher in my 30s and despite being HoH, I stubbornly refused to go to Audiology and get HAs. It was only after many embarrassing incidents of mishearing in the classroom that I took the plunge and was fitted with two HAs.
    As soon as I was confident in school, I decided to really go for it. I ordered red HAs and red moulds. As I had short hair, my HAs were clearly visible and I didn’t see any point in hiding them.
    I was completely upfront with my students about my hearing loss and whenever I had a new class, I would always explain the situation to them and made sure that there was as little embarrassment on both sides as possible.
    I often had inquisitive children asking me about my hearing and asking how my HAs worked and I was always open to questions and happy to have them take the p*** from time to time. Several children in the school where I worked told me that they had seen me being “proud” of my situation and that had helped them to get over their fears and worries – this was possibly my proudest moment!
    Unfortunately, my school management were ignorant and continually failed to support me in the classroom – I was once left alone in a classroom during a fire-alarm because no-one thought to come and find me!

    One of the best experiences? Being able to lip-read comments made by students at the back of the classroom – it scared the life out of them! 😂😂

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    1. Hello Keith, and welcome. I’m massively impressed about your red hearing aids. I was happy to hide mine for years, when my hearing loss was less severe, and liked it when people said they “couldn’t tell” I had them. It took me a long time (and the effect of worsening hearing) to “come out”, have my hair cut short again and actually quite like it that people can see that I have two aids. How much better just to be upfront and unembarrassed. What a good lesson for the children you taught, too.
      Very best wishes

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      1. Thank you Vera, I think everybody must have their own “out” moment when they say to themselves “Do you know what? I’m not going to hide this any more.” Some earlier, some later than others.

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  2. A quick question for Vera and her followers! Has anyone solved the problem of hearing in the car? Today I had a short journey with a couple of friends (old friends, whose voices I know well). I wasn’t driving but I couldn’t make out any of the conversation. Frustrating and embarrassing. I have tried and extra rear view mirror in the past but those are probably lethal! Any suggestions?
    Thanks,
    Sue

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    1. Hi there Sue.
      The only thing that works for me now is the Roger pen (see posts under Gadgets). Even that is no good if I’m driving (except maybe for short instructions – “turn left here”) but as a passenger it allows me to lip read the driver AND get enough sound to make sense of speech. Nigel and I have found it a real breakthrough. I’ve not tried it with a car full of people though.
      A few years ago, when my hearing was slightly better, I would try to sit in the front seat for short journeys with 2 or 3 other people, so that I could turn round and lip read other passengers in the back. That would get uncomfortable for long journeys, though, so I would explain to everyone I could only “hear”/lip read the person I was sitting alongside, and often sit in the back (so the person I was next to could turn their head to look at me). If there was general chat I would then ask that person to fill me in now and then. Exhausting though, and I’ve never shaken the feeling of embarrassment when it just proves impossible to “get” something. And indeed the loneliness sometimes. Sitting looking out of the window when everyone else is chatting is quite hard. So yes, I totally symathasise with “embarrassing and frustrating”.
      All best wishes. Hope you get some more responses.

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  3. Proud to be deaf? Err, no. Proud that I can carry on without a great deal of difficulty at work thanks to my wonderful NHS digital hearing aids, then yes. Proud that I can live an almost normal life despite my hearing loss, again yes.

    I agree with you Vera that a lot of “Proud to be Deaf” and Deaf Pride is borne out of deaf culture by deaf people who perhaps have been deaf all there lives and have lived in a “deaf world” from a young age, through the education system etc, being active in there local deaf clubs or are active members of national associations such as RAD, AOHL etc.

    To those of us who became deaf or hard of hearing as adults then we may perceive things differently as our slide into deafness may take a gentle pace over several years, unless we suffer a sudden severe hearing loss, then quite often denial comes first before acceptance.

    Best wishes to all

    Ian

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    1. Hello Ian. Yes, and I’m quite happy with the terms hearing “disability”, “hearing
      loss” and “hearing impairment” too (although I prefer “deafness”). For me, I HAVE lost something, my hearing HAS become impaired and it certainly feels like a disability. But we’re all different, with different ways of seeing things. I like to explore what the other point of view might be.
      Take care, and thanks for commenting

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  4. Being deaf or you mean hard of hearing can be isolating? I ran a youth club for the hard of hearing many years ago and although the hoh speak very well and hear better than the deaf but I saw the hoh were more isolating.

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    1. Hello Elaine. Thanks for getting in touch. I suspect myself that how isolated we are depends on many factors. Personally, I’m really grateful that my hearing loss has been so gradual and that it didn’t start (in a serious way) until I was in my forties and well-established with home, career and friends. It must be so much harder to cope with such a thing in your teens and early adulthood, when you are still working out who you are.

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  5. Hi Vera
    Thank you yet again for your blog. When I discovered it in December I felt so supported and ‘at home’ with you & other readers. Being deaf can be so isolating, mostly in the sense that few people truly understand the degree of deafness and the attendant difficulties that brings. You have also been of practical help – I am hoping to sort out New Generation Text soon. So thank you, and keep on writing. I hope your recent problems have been sorted & that you can ‘hear’ again.

    Best wishes – Jennifer B

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    1. Hi Jennifer and thanks for your comment and good wishes. Yep, I’m “hear” again now and very good it feels too. Good luck with Next Generation Text. Nigel and I are staying in a holiday cottage at the moment (builders doing dramatic things in the house) and NGT doesn’t work here (long story). It has been sobering to have to go back to having him make essential phone calls for me. He does it willingly, but it’s not the same. Being without it has reminded me how much of a liberator it is.

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  6. Hello Vera.
    Hope your blocked ears have fully recovered?
    I do enjoy and admire your blogs – they generate a sense of community which must feel very similar to the Deaf community you speak of in this latest one.
    I have worn hearing aids since my late teens (getting on for 50 years – terrifying!) and come from a family of deafies. My mother, my sister, 2 brothers and one of my nieces have all had various degrees of deafness. None of us has learnt to sign but all of us have coped well with living in the hearing world. Yet I have found a huge sense of relief reading your blog (similar to joining a lip reading class)….here are other people in just the same boat!
    I have a very tolerant and long suffering husband and a happy gang of children and grandchildren, so am extremely lucky, but occasionally there is a real frustration in not being able to hear as they do, so it is wonderful to be able to connect to a deaf blogging community.
    Please keep up the good work!
    All the best
    Sue.

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    1. Hello Sue. Yes, I’m almost fully back to normal and functioning “normally” in the world again. Hurrah!
      What lovely things you have said about the blog. When I started it I had no idea that I would enjoy it so much, or that it would indeed start to feel like a bit of community, albeit with cyber friends rather than flesh and blood ones. It’s so good to know there are other people out there, experiencing just what we are experiencing. And even better when they leave comments! Thank you.

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  7. Hello Vera. How are you? My world is also the hearing world. It is a world where all my friends and family and loved-ones are. i don’t want to leave it either. Yet, i can understand feeling envious of those who have always lived in the deaf world, and how they don’t miss anything when they are signing. I have realized that when i meet with my best friend, i am really struggling to hear everything she says, My boyfriend has actually picked me up on a few occasions, and asked me if i have heard what he has said – he told me off when i was pretending I’d heard him!! I think, what we can be happy about is that we know about sounds. We know how great music can sound, and we have heard the voices of our friends and family and the sounds of nature. We are lucky for this. Even if these sounds aren’t the same anymore, at least we were able to experience them.
    It’s really nice being able to speak about these kinds of ‘deaf’ experiences, as I’m sure that anyone with a hearing impairment can relate to your words.
    Take care 🙂 Carly

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    1. Hello Carly. I agree with you. The fact that I could once hear birds singing, or a favourite piece of music, helps enormously in making sense of my world today. Also, my brain has adapted and “remembers” when I’m watching birds or playing a favourite old CD in the car. That’s worth a lot.
      Welcome to the world of loved ones twigging that you’ve not actually heard what they said. They can almost always tell, but it doesn’t stop me sometimes deciding just to wing it and pretend. (Sorry Nigel).
      Thanks for following and very best wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

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