I have an unpopular opinion. You see, the deaf community won’t see me as “deaf” and politically speaking, I’m not. I’m hearing impaired, hard of hearing, or “speaking.” I relate more to the hearing world. I am unbelievably grateful for my hearing aids and wouldn’t change a thing, except I wish I used sign language. It’s a beautiful language, but that’s another topic.
I want to discuss the paradox of being hearing impaired. I am not deaf, I do not immerse myself in deaf culture, or sign language. I love it, and I would love to sign more often. I teach my kids sign. But I chose to be hearing.
I was born with a “moderate to profound” hearing loss. My mom was positive for GBS, or group B Strep. It is common practice now to test and treat GBS before a baby is delivered, or in my case induced. It’s a classic lawsuit that we probably could win. I was in NICU for 2 weeks and nearly died. My poor mother. I can only imagine the panic and heartache, all of which could have been prevented.
My hearing loss was discovered, or diagnosed, when I was 3. I wasn’t speaking, but they didn’t suspect hearing loss since I would respond to noise. My mother, who is very insistent of finding the answers and not afraid to disagree with doctors, didn’t give up until she got her answer. The audiologist casually told her that her daughter had profound hearing loss. Her heart sank. She had no idea what that meant or what to do. She did lots of research, which wasn’t “Google” in the 1980’s. I wouldn’t change any of her choices. She considered all options. I was fitted for hearing aids at age 3. I had a bracelet that stated my name and “if lost call…” This was pre-cell phone era, and I can only imagine had they lost me, running home and waiting and praying for the landline phone to ring.
My parents sent my to Utah’s deaf school for the Deaf and Blind. I rode the bus for nearly an hour, there and back, to go to this school. I was one of 6 students. I remember our daily routine of testing all the students hearing aid batteries. There was one time my teacher was dumping everyone’s batteries when she realized it was the battery checker that was broken!
I loved my class. I had a “Magic School Bus” education. My teachers name was Miss Riddle (sounds like Miss Frizzle), 6 students and a ton of field trips! We went to the State Capital, the zoo, the State Fair, even got front row to the ballet Nutcracker! Every year! We even rode a short bus! All like the television series. I would argue that I had a terrific education. While in this class, they did not promote sign language or deaf culture. It was frowned upon and would “handicap” our potential. I even got punished for trying to teach my friend, Wendy, who was profoundly deaf AND had a heavy Czechoslovakian accent, sign language. My hand was slapped and recess was taken away, my parents were called. It was a big ordeal. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong! I knew sign language because my mom wanted to make sure I was immersed in both worlds, and would take me to an after school program every week that was for my church and for deaf and signing children. I was “mainstreamed” to public education at age 8. By MY choice. My parents were told I was “high functioning” and the top of my class. At the time, I was spending most of my time in my deaf class while immersed with the “normal” kids for math and science. They proposed that I go to my main school and do the opposite having only one class with a hearing specialist or speech pathologist and all of my other classes be mainstreamed. My wise mother again, felt it was MY choice to make. From a child’s perspective, I wanted to ride the bus and go to school with my neighborhood friends.
I wonder what my life would be had I chosen to stay. Would I have been top of my class? Popular? Full ride scholarship? More leadership oriented rather than shy, insecure and feeling lost.
There are some things in public school that were not appropriate, like facing me to a wall while my peers watched a educational film. Why not just turn on closed captions or just ask me if I could hear and understand it? The education system in Utah during the 90’s was definitely not at its best. I experimented with the FM system, a black box hung around my neck while my teacher wore a microphone. I remember when the class sat in a circle for reading time, and everyone passed the mic as they read. The kids loved it! They were great for a while. Until that age when being different was bad. Then I was teased, insecure and often left out.
I definitely had my perks being “the deaf girl.” Even though IEP’s were obnoxious, and patronizing, I got extensions on deadlines, extra time and precautions for testing. Once a counselor even asked if I could participate in gym! I almost lied but my mother spoke first and said yes. No fair. Needless to say, it wasn’t all bad. I graduated with honors, even got 2 scholarships, one specifically for excelling through personal hardships. I went to college, graduated and worked as a Medical Assistant. (I aspired to be a nurse, but I quickly learned my license would be constantly in jeopardy in a “He said She said” scenario with my hearing and it wouldn’t be worth my constant worry and doubt in my abilities.)
I wouldn’t change my education. Public education failed me, but I turned out alright. I had note takers, FM systems, a private tutor slash speech pathologist but honestly, I think my hard work and dedication paid off. I chose not to be a victim of circumstance. I wanted to prove everyone wrong. Statically, Deaf adults average about a 9 year old reading level. At least, that’s what I was constantly told from peers and the public education system. When I graduated high school, I tested at above grade level in reading, speech, writing and pretty much every category but math. But who needs math! (I married my math tutor!)
I had a great time at college. Worked full time, probably should have asked for assistance but I tackled college “normal” and without assistance. None of my professors knew about my hearing loss. I had to retake some classes multiple times, and it definitely was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I was the first woman in my immediate family to graduate college, and I did it with hearing aids.