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.
(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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org)