Vibrations – The Words of Youth with Hearing Loss

In April 2006, I was invited to St. John’s, Newfoundland to present at a special weekend symposium for hard of hearing and oral deaf youth, hosted by the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, Newfoundland & Labrador chapter.  The youth were transitioning from high school to the big world beyond and  I was supposed to share my expertise as a ‘mature’ person with hearing loss.   It was a transformational weekend for us all.

On the opening night, I performed Unheard Voices, my dramatic depiction of life with hearing loss, and the kids were pumped at this ‘walk through their life’, as one young woman put it.   “Ok, now tell me how you feel”, I said, giving them a sheet with three simple questions:   What do you like about being deaf or hard of hearing?  What sucks about it?  What’s a memorable experience – positive or negative – about living with hearing loss?

They scribbled, chewing on pencils, absorbed in memories and feelings. That night, I stayed up late reading their thoughts and had only a little time the next morning to pull it all together.

At the final banquet that night, the kids were wired because they had spent a weekend with other people with hearing loss, most of them for the first time.  When asked if anyone was brave enough to talk about how the weekend had affected them, an 18-year-old girl came forward, reluctantly.

“I didn’t know anybody here, because I’m from way the other side of Newfoundland. I was really nervous, but I wanted to come and my dad finally said yes. We drove all the way, almost 1000 kilometers, and our car kept breaking down. And Dad kept fixing it.  The second time, I said, “Dad, it’s OK, I don’t have to go, the car won’t make it.” But he said, pounding away with a hammer, “No! (Pound!)  Dammit, you’re going! (Bang!) You’re gonna get to this friggin’ event (pound-bang!) if I have to carry you on my back!” And we made it and this has been the best weekend of my life, ever.”

Then, I gave them this spoken poem.  They cheered and pounded the air, because this was their poem in their own raw and powerful words.

VIBRATIONS

(Using the Words of the Hard of Hearing and Deaf Students)

 

I don’t hear very well.

I’m hard of hearing

And me – I’m deaf.

We all have hearing loss

But we feel, and we understand

As well, or better than most.

We just need a few simple things

To help us begin to understand what you’re saying!

 

You ask,

Do we like being hard of hearing, do we like being deaf?

Sometimes no, sometimes yes.

Would we rather be hearing?

Don’t ask us that,

It has no bearing on the way things are.  They just are.

 

But if you ask us a question that makes sense

Like what bugs us most about being hard of hearing

Now that’s something we can tell you – have you got a few minutes?

Here we go, here are our words

For the years of being deaf and hard of hearing.

 

It bugs me when:

Hearing people pity me, feel bad for me

People mock you about your hearing loss

And sometimes don’t even talk to you, just because you’re deaf

When they stare at us when we have our hearing aids on.

 

And it REALLY bugs me when:

They treat me as less of a person, thinking that because of my hearing loss, I can’t do certain things, or that I have no capabilities whatsoever.

 When I was young, some people made fun of me and thought I was stupid because I was Deaf.

It bugs me that hearing loss does define who I am!

 

It’s the little thing that can really bug us:

Fast and slow talkers

Not hearing the alarm clock

Watching TV, and other people tell me it’s too loud (that’s SO embarrassing!)

Not getting the little sounds that mean so much to others!

 

Most of all, most of all, MOST OF ALL!:

You feel alone because you’re the only person in the school with hearing loss.

Making new friends is harder at first.

It’s harder to…oh, you know…connect because WE CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING!

We get left out of conversations because we can’t follow that fast.

Everyone talks at once.

The background noise makes us crazy.

The topic changes, but you don’t know that.

And the jokes – we don’t get the jokes. Right away, or ever.

So we just shut up.

And no matter what we do…We. Stand. Out.

 

BUT! BUT! BUT….

There are good things about being deaf, being hard of hearing:

It’s easier to sleep (and we love sleep!).

We can avoid arguments.

And we can avoid other things by ‘turning off’…

Turning off the teachers, our parents and the noise!

It’s easier to be positive.

We are better listeners.

We look people right in the face – because we have to!

There isn’t anything good…oh, yes there is!   Having the language of signing… because it’s part of me… and a very effective way of communication. That’s a good thing I forgot about.

And hearing loss gives me a good excuse not to listen to other people …that’s a good thing too.

Feeling different but feeling unique. My classmates want me to tell them what the teachers are saying when they leave on their FM!

 

Hmm, what else is good?

Meeting other hearing-impaired students like me…and communicating with people who understand you!

We’re more sensitive…to vibrations, to sights.

It’s peaceful; we have fewer headaches than hearing people.

I love to tell my story about how I came to lose my hearing and how I have lived with the loss.

You know you have people with you every step of the way!

If you ask us what is the most memorable thing in our lives of being deaf or hard of hearing, we will tell you. Some good. Some bad.

Getting my hearing aids.

I had surgery on my ear and  I could hear for a month and a half. But then, it got worse again.

In Grade 7, people stole my hearing aid, that was memorable.

Having conferences for deaf and hard of hearing people!

Learning sign language!

Nothing is memorable.

When my friend took my FM and ran through the school talking to me through the system.

A speech pathologist told me I was incapable of being in the public school system. Ha!

Meeting all these terrific people this weekend.

In hearing school, I was always alone. They would talk, I would sit and read. Then, I moved to NSD (Newfoundland School for the Deaf).

When I first went to cadet camp, no one had ever met a hard of hearing person. I got a LOT of attention.

Friends, deaf friends, hard of hearing friends, who made me grow as a person.

When I got my hearing aids, I heard the rain for the first time.

 

Say, do you have any more questions?  Because we have a lot more answers.

 

(If you would like a graphic pdf version of ‘Vibrations’, contact me at gdhannan@rogers.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

8 Comments

  1. I love the last statement in Vibrations: “When I got my hearing aids, I heard the rain for the first time.” (and birds, clocks, etc.). It was beautiful.
    Being HoH since birth, I only got my first hearing aids at ten years of age! I must have been an excellent lip reader (or a great bluffer). I am a voracious reader to this day. And I “managed to survive” in the public school system, also. And I made some wonderful friends who are still with me, to this very day, 40 years later…
    And — “A speech pathologist told me I was incapable of being in the public school system. Ha!” Don’t let them ever tell you that, ever! We HoH are “invincible” ;)
    Thanks for this article, Gael. We still have a long way to go, yet.

  2. This is really lovely Gael and brings back memories for me as I was privileged to be a small part of that workshop as well. It was dynamic, powerful, emotional and life-changing for many who attended. The poem has a lot of powerful messages for anyone who wants to really listen to what’s in there. We hope to see you back with us (again) soon! We send you lots of hugs and love from NL and Happy Valentine’s Day. Bye for now

  3. They didn’t mention it, but it’s a great excuse for not doing something that you don’t want to do. You just tell the person (your mom, the teacher, etc.) “Oops! Sorry, you must have been talking to a deaf ear! I guess the battery must have died.” :-)

  4. Very touching article, Gael. We all know how cruel kids can be, and for a child with hearing problems, social life can be something really close to a world of pain. It’s beautiful to see how they deal with their condition in their own words, but it’s also painful, mainly because they seem too young to face life with hearing loss on their own. That’s why I’d like to share this article about hearing loss and school (bit.ly/WREedG), because this topic needs to become more popular and has to be debated in order to eliminate every trace of bullying activity from our schools.

  5. this brought back so many memories. this poem still makes me cry. youth vibrations grew so much from that pilot project. we now hold it every second year and we partner with the dept of education and bring levels one to level three hard of hearing and deaf kids from all across the province to experience the most amazing week end. some of them experience their first visit to a city, all of them get to visit the local university and check out the services available for students with disabilities. they get to experience a panel of professionals and role models who can give them information about living a life with hearing loss and transitioning from school to post secondary. they get to experience and participate in workshops such as becoming a self advocate and self esteem builders. they get to find out all about the latest technology for hearing loss and to meet professionals and even manufacturers and ask questions. most of all they get to learn they are not alone with their hearing loss and that it does not own them . there is lots of fun too and i am so lucky that they love having me around and i get to share my experiences as a person living with hearing loss and we have the most interesting discussions. the dept of education sends along the itinerant teachers and even some of the decision makers. it has become a week end of empowerment for all. everyone is eagerly waiting for 2014.

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