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.