I’ve been doing alot of thinking lately about me, who I am, what I want for myself and what my future holds. Without a second thought, what seems to pop up in my mind is my hearing loss. My hearing loss is the first thing I think about when asked “who are you?” My hearing loss shapes almost everything I do in life these days.
Although I grew up in a hearing world, lost my hearing at the age of 19, resisted wearing hearing aids until I was 42, focused working the majority of my professional career in the field of deafness, Deaf, and hearing loss all chosen without really much thought, unconsciously because of my own loss. I learned to sign because it was the only “thing” available to help me communicate with other “deaf/Deaf” people and make an attempt at finding another social life outside my hearing world. A Sign Language Interpreter was also the accomodation I asked for when I needed to know what was being discussed in large staff meetings at work.
My problem was, I just did not fit in with the deaf/Deaf community. I wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t my world. I was trying hard to be a deaf person, not a hard of hearing woman when in truth, I was and am a woman with a hearing loss who lives in a hearing world. I was very comfortable in the hearing world and I’m very proud of the fact that I became extremely skilled at reading people. ASL taught me to be very aware of body language, facial expressions, the movements of the mouth and of course, the eyes tell me a great deal about a person as well as what they are saying to me about the individual.
It wasn’t until closed captioning and CART came along that I finally stopped to really think about who I am? Most recently, CART and closed captioning has given me a great deal of hope and brought me closer to accepting that I have truly found my comfort zone. I became more involved with SWC (SayWhatClub) and met many people like myself over the years. Then, I recently became involved with CCAC and realized that between these two major groups, hearing impaired individuals really do have a culture of their own.
According to Websters dictionary, the definition of culture is: ” the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time <popular culture> <southern culture> the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization”
Hearing impaired and late deafened people share so much common ground that we can almost predict what the individuals’ experience has been whether it’s buying a hearing aid, going out to a restaurant with friends, or feeling isolated and lonely because hearing people don’t understand hearing loss.
CART and captioning and the English language are my form of communication (receptively and expressively). My comfort level is with hearing and non hearing people whether Deaf/deaf or hard of hearing. However, I do not belong to the Deaf community and once I accepted that and stopped fighting to be in the community and denying my being a woman with a hearing loss who needs CART or closed captioning for meetings and entertainment purposes, I felt my world opened up. Of course we also need hearing people to understand hearing loss better in order to communicate with us.
The Deaf community is a wonderful place but its not my home. I was not born into it. ASL was not my first language but I am happy to have the skills to explore the culture and ethnicity of the Deaf community. My friends once told me, if I ever lost all my hearing, they would learn sign language for me. I felt so lucky when they told me this. However, I now realize that my friends will do whatever it takes to keep us together and communicate and I’ve decided, if I should lose additional hearing, we will do our best with whatever it takes to communicate. Afterall, I am who I am, a woman with hearing loss.