I am finding that telling people, “I am deaf.”, nets so much more understanding and accommodation than any of the other descriptions (hard of hearing, hearing impaired, et al.) I have tried over the years. Before joining the SayWhatClub (SWC), I would have felt like a fraud using “deaf” to describe my severe/profound hearing loss to others. I have never felt entitled to use the word. I guess I thought “deaf” was reserved specifically for those who have no hearing at all?
When I first started losing my hearing, as a child, I wasn’t even aware that I did not hear the same as others. My speech developed somewhat normally, and as I gradually lost more of my ability to hear, I gained ability in other areas to fill in the gap. I had enough understanding and hearing that it never would have occurred to me to call myself “deaf”, or anything else, for that matter. Heck, I usually didn’t tell people of my hearing loss at all, unless it was absolutely necessary. However, the skills and confidence that I possessed in my younger years began failing me, and I found myself constantly struggling to hear in most situations, which is what led me to the SWC. Once a member of SWC, I participated in many online discussions and learned I don’t have to be completely deaf to use the word “deaf” to describe myself to others. I learned there are many levels of deaf/Deaf, so I started trying it out, using the word, quite awkwardly at first.
I recently went shopping for sheets and a quilt for the queen-sized bed I downsized to. I was standing, looking through a sale bin of quilts when the sales lady, from far across the department, up on a ladder, stocking comforters, said something. I didn’t really hear her and was not even sure her attention was directed toward me, but the movement on the ladder caused me to look up. It turned out she was speaking to me, trying to tell me about the sale items I was looking through. I called out to her, “Sorry, I didn’t hear you, I am deaf.” She then commenced to perform an improvisational sign language/pantomime (still on the ladder) that really was quite good, as it became perfectly clear to me that she was trying to tell me that the sale items I was looking at were 50 to 60% off of the already reduced price. Still searching for exactly what I had in mind for my new bed, I navigated closer to where the acrobatic and dramatic sales lady was standing and asked for confirmation that I had interpreted her charade correctly. She assured me I had understood her perfectly and complimented me on how well I hear for being deaf. I smiled.
Owning “deaf” doesn’t mean all of my days go as smoothly as the day I went shopping for bedsheets, as not everyone is as free in their expression, when trying to help someone hear and understand, as the sales lady on the ladder. Days such as that day continue to build my confidence and seem to make the fact that I can’t hear a minor inconvenience to my day, instead of an insurmountable disability that I am always striving to overcome.
I still have my days where little goes right, days when it seems I am going through life in a bubble, understanding almost nothing that is said to me no matter how much time or effort someone puts into trying to help me understand. On those days I find myself slowly shrinking away until at day’s end I feel but a speck of dust in the great vastness of things. Usually, though, it is my lack of confidence that plays a big part in the slightly bad days spiraling into much worse days. Sometimes all it takes is one embarrassing misunderstanding, one rude person, one simple mishap to start the ball rolling that strips me of the confidence I need for my day to go smoothly, but happily those days are less, and the good days are more, and continue to get better and better because of becoming more comfortable with myself and with telling others what they need to know about me–I am deaf.
If there was no other benefit in joining SWC than learning to own the word “deaf”, that one thing would be enough of a reason. A simple thing really, but sometimes it is the simple things that don’t occur to us.