Twenty Years ago, I was one month away from opening my business. I was 25 years old just a couple years out of college. I was ready to begin a frightening, yet exciting path. I kept in mind my father’s words, “no matter what happens (win or lose) you are going to learn a lot.” This path had barely begun & another path was revealed. The same month, I had my first hearing test. I was having troubles hearing in my left ear & had ringing sounds. As I stayed focused on building my business, my hearing was going fast on my left side. The ringing kept increasing. The right ear soon followed. By my second season, I was completely deaf. I ran around with little notebooks. I watch myself saying the alphabet in the mirror over & over & over to learn how to read lips. I watched reruns on TV or old movies to learn how to quickly read the captioning. Refreshed my ASL alphabet, which I knew since I was 5 years old. I took a ASL night class. Studied ASL mostly through books & the computer. Bought a lip reading program for my laptop. I was being tested for many reasons to cause deafness. I was given medications to try to stop it. The doctors came up with zero answers. No, they did not think the cochlear implant would work for me. (But that is a blog for another time.) Blah blah blah… That’s the short version. The rest of this blog this evening, I wrote a few years ago. How do you reach perfection, when you feel everyone sees you as “broken”.
Society labels my Deafness as a “disability”. Having a “disability”, you always have to prove yourself to others. Society always seems to highlight what you CAN’T do. Society does not give us equal employment opportunities. I feel at times I have to work 10 times faster & better to prove I am no different than anyone else. I work so hard.
Years ago, I was told by another art studio “How are you going to be able to teach, if you are Deaf?” I had explained that I already taught at my shop. They did not want to take the chance on me. When people think I can’t do something, it shocks me every time & makes me work harder for society’s perfection. It bothers me to see people just being lazy at their jobs, because they take it for granted. Having a job is a privilege.
At age 25, I opened my business and began to go Deaf. Too many had said to me, “How are you going to run a business, if you are Deaf?” These people have known me for a long time. My thoughts every time I was asked that question: Do you even realize what you are saying? Do you think I can’t do this? My inner voice would scream inside me… I WILL LEARN HOW!!! No, it was not easy. It’s been 17 years, since I opened my shop. (* 20 years ago) It still isn’t easy, but I give it my all everyday. People have said I am tough. I have to be mentally “tough” to stay motivated to prove that society is wrong.
I read lips most of the time. I’m not around anyone, who is fluent in sign. My ASL is not my first language. It is my fourth language I have studied in my life. Languages have never been easy for me. My ASL level is ok & I do try to keep learning new signs every week. Spoken English is my first language. Lipreading is not perfect for anyone. It is impossible to get the exact reading of words, but you can understand through context of conversation. Each person speaks differently. My mind is watching for two different languages all the time. Simple hand gestures can look like a sign that have nothing to do with the conversation. It can be quite confusing.
People think my world is silent, but it is not. I have constant ringing in both my ears 24/7. The ringing sound is similar to the ringing you might hear after a loud concert, but the volume of the ringing in my ears is about 10 times louder. Some days it feels 20 times louder. Never ending ringing can be distracting for reading lips & mind numbing. It makes my subconscious think I am in a loud environment, which increases my voice volume. I speak all day at work trying my best. There are times my vocal chords are sore by the end of a busy day.
Many people assume ASL is my first language. Once in a while, I meet someone who is fluent. I have to take a little moment to get my mind in ASL mode. I do usually ask for a medium speed. While I sign, I do find it easier to drop my voice. I’m in between worlds. Not born Deaf, not hearing. Both worlds are equally intimidating. I do find peace in ASL. For me, the best is the use of both languages. I have been to an ADA events where an ASL terp & Captioning were both present. I could use both as my brain would tire of one, I could look at the other. I still do not understand why captioning is not present for all public venues & meetings without request. How do they inconvenience you? I do pay the same taxes. Give me the resources to be a part of the community events, town meetings, public groups & councils.
I am perfectly able to meet you more than half way. When I have asked some people to write because they mumbled or whatever, some have said no. They have pushed the paper back at me. It makes me feel incompetent & unimportant, which I know I am NOT. It does not make me want to do business with you. A Film festival has asked to hang poster in my shop. Every year I ask, “Are the films captioned?” I’ve asked for years now. Same response….”I will get back to you”. Have they? No. One documentary director wanted to film in my shop. I asked, “Will every screening have captioning?” They said no, it was not possible. I responded, “I cannot be apart of something that excludes the Deaf & Hard of Hearing.” I remember they said, “It would give you an opportunity to tell your story.” My thoughts….You are part of the problem in “my story”. Our world is full of technology & it is wasted for trendy things (…like Pokemon Go.) People have turned off my alert lights in my shop, because they were bothered by them. That is equivalent to taking someone’s wheelchair away. I’m sorry if they annoy you, but I wonder what if the Deaf person was you?
Deafness is invisible. I explain it until I am blue in the face. It is exhausting. I get comments on my voice a lot. It’s “weird, screechy, too loud, yelling, rude, or too soft”. I am Deaf, which means I cannot hear my voice either. I don’t care what you think of it. Those comments are hurtful. I try my best, but it is not good enough for some people. It does wear me down. I can’t drop my voice, because you don’t know how to readlips or sign. The other comment about my voice, “Oh you speak so well”, is belittling. I am not a child. Deaf “accents” are no different than a foreign accent. Accents do not make a person uneducated. My sarcastic side just wants to respond, “Wow! You speak pretty well for a moron!” But I don’t…. haha (…sorry…) haha
People try to speak for me. I am right here. I can speak for myself. If I am in the room, then you should include me in the conversation, especially if it is about me. I will have people having conversations right in front of me without including me. My thoughts well I’m gonna go, no point in standing here. The best way to describe this situation, let the “adults” speak while you quietly sit there. I do not know one hearing adult who would be able to accept this feeling.
I am not broken. I just listen differently.
People do speak to me, as if, I was uneducated. Some will not let me help them in my own shop. They would rather have a new hearing employee, who has just started learning their new job, help them. There are times I’m excluded in my shop. I have to step back, because they do not want to deal or have patience with my Deafness or my voice. No matter how hard I try. It’s just not good enough for some.
People think saying “nevermind” or ” it wasn’t important” makes it easier. No, it doesn’t. It is important to me. I want to listen to your silly comments. I want to listen to your ups & downs. I want to be there for you.
I am perfectly able to try. I am perfectly able to adapt to my Deafness. I am perfectly able to fall and try again. I am perfectly able to show you I can. We, “disabled”, as you tag us, are able to accomplish tasks without the same physical or mental ability you may have to do the same tasks. Why are we not perfect to you? When I see you unable to do or try the same tasks, which I have accomplished, part of me thinks why don’t you try harder? Why are you so afraid to fall? Who cares if you fall? GO FOR IT!!!
Artists teach you how to “think outside of the box”. Everyone should learn more adaptive skills. Acceptance of differences is what is missing in our world of chaos. No one is “perfect”. We all have “flaws”. It’s important on how you adapt with them. You have to listen to learn what you need or should do.
My Deafness is not a big deal. At least not to me. It is part of who I am. Have you thought that it is you, who are unable to adapt to my Deafness? Does it tire you? Are you worried I will misunderstand you? Yes, I will at times. Do you find it exhausting to communicate with me? Do you get frustrated to repeat or write what you said? How can you adapt to “your” issues of my Deafness? It is an inconvenience for you. Isn’t it? It slows you down. Patience is my “handicap ramp.” I see you roll your eyes. It does make me feel like less of a person.
Pressure of perfection is exhausting to anyone. We, who are “differently able”, keep pushing our limits to show you what we CAN DO! Have you ever thought “differently abled” people were created to teach you patience & acceptance? Everyone in this world is different for a reason. You just have to open your heart to listen to one another.