September 21, 2008 begins Deaf Awareness Week in the United States. Whether this is an outdated concept or not, I thought I would reflect on my personal journey towards Deaf awareness.
My general nature is to be rather oblivious until forced into awareness by a change in my circumstances. For example, once I became pregnant I suddenly noticed pregnant women everywhere. Where had they been hiding before? After my son was born and I started pushing him around the neighborhood in the stroller I noticed that the sidewalks were in terrible condition.
Regarding my hearing loss, it's possible I had been experiencing it for years without realizing anything was wrong. Naturally I just assumed everyone heard the way I did. But not hearing an emergency door alarm that everyone else could hear jolted me into awareness that something was wrong. Thus began my journey into Deaf awareness.
As a child I learned how to fingerspell "hello". That's all the sign language I knew before 2007. Taking an introductory sign language course taught me that ASL is not "English in the air" but a beautiful language all its own complete with regional signs. Attending a deaf theatre event I learned to wave my hands in the air to signal approval rather than clap. Going to church services that offered deaf interpretation, I discovered I love to sing praise songs with my hands.
I began seeking out movies with deaf characters. My favorite film of all is Beyond Silence. The scene where the song "I Will Survive" is signed by Tom to Lara gets me every time. This film is German and is subtitled. I was able to order it through my public library and I recommend it highly to you. Other movies I have enjoyed are the better known Children of a Lesser God and Mr. Holland's Opus.
In addition to seeing films, I also wanted to read books with hard of hearing and deaf characters. You can find reviews of some of these on my blog. One book that totally tore me up is In This Sign by Joanne Greenberg. Words fail me on it but you can read reviews of it at Amazon.
I went online to learn more. A wonderful source is DeafRead where d/Deaf bloggers/vloggers write or sign about their personal experiences. I have learned so much there! For example, deaf and Deaf are not the same. I am proud to be included as a blogger about the experience of a late deafened person.
Before I became late deafened/hearing impaired/hard of hearing/fill in your own label, I thought that to be deaf meant someone could hear no sound at all. Total quiet. Now I know there is a spectrum of deafness with degrees ranging from mild to moderate to severe to profound hearing loss. But the underlying reality is that to be deaf means to not be able to rely upon one's ears to accurately comprehend speech. A hearing aid, an assistive listening device, a cochlear implant, or sign language are needed to enable successful communication.
Sadly, I've learned on the Deaf awarness journey that some people will use my difficulty in hearing against me. To fight this, I've learned to use humor to my advantage. It's okay to laugh with me, believe me my life produces lots of humor these days, but don't laugh at me behind my back! Most importantly, I've learned that life with hearing difficulties doesn't stop communication. There are many ways to connect with others and it's vital to stay in touch.
Where the road leads next I do not know. I have so much more to learn.
Photo by CATeyes. Used with permission.