It seems like yesterday, or not so long ago but how times have changed. First Born has been communicating with me a lot about how attitudes towards the deaf have changed so much in his lifetime, and it is true. They really have, but there’s still so much to be done to raise awareness.
I remember years ago when I was a young girl, there were a couple of families within our extended social circle that had children with “differences”. I never met them though. I think very few did. This was the way back in those days. “Difference” was to be hidden. To be “different” was taboo and was never acknowledged or spoken about.
As times moved on and the education system changed, inclusion became a hot potato and society was forced to deal with having children like these in and amongst them in mainstream schools. I’m so happy that I’m the age that I am and I didn’t have my son in those times. Society’s views were not moving as fast as those of the government or the parents of lesser abled kids or even the children who had these difficulties. Though integrated into mainstream schools, they were still shunned.
I read a book when First Born was still toddling, “The Feel of Silence” by Bonnie Tucker. Tucker grew up in America in the 40s. She lost her hearing at the age of two and was forced to continue to be aural though profoundly deaf. Her parents never let it be known that she had a hearing problem and her mother went to great pains to teach her how to use her voice. It’s a read I highly recommend, even if you have no ties to anyone with hearing loss or other type of “difference”.
Tucker’s book is a funny, witty and intimate memoir of her life. I remember being blown away by how this remarkable woman got through life in a hearing world without support from others as her deafness was unknown to all but her immediate family. Things I was taking for granted like waking in the night when my baby cried to tend to his needs. Tucker had to train herself to wake and check on her babies intermittently through the night.
She had a successful career as a lawyer, married and had children, divorced and continued to raise them on her own. I take my hat off to this woman and give her every credit for her success. As heart warming as her story is however, it’s not a true picture of how the deaf world can be. She lived in a time when “differences” were hidden away. She survived. Not only did she survive. She has an incredible success story.
Sadly though, mainstream society is fooled into thinking that all deaf people can speak. They assume that all deaf people can lip read. Like it’s some sort of compensation from God….. “I’ll take away your hearing but give you the gift of lip reading”.
No no no no no!!!! It doesn’t work like that!
I used to get so fed up of explaining this to people over and over and over again. You can’t just shout louder. You can’t just make a deaf person hear, or talk. It’s like a double edged sword though however. We want society to change and to embrace difference. But how are they meant to embrace it unless they are educated into what that difference entails. As a parent of a deaf person, or for a deaf person it’s probably worse. The incessant questions are tiresome. I say this is tiresome for deaf people but to be honest, it’s tiresome when dealing with any type of “difference”.
Society is in a state of metamorphosis right now. People are open to being educated about difference and to embracing it into everyday lives. We live in a time now where society is ripe for including all levels of ability – physical, mental and emotional – into what will become “normal” one day. A time where we won’t have “disabilities” hidden away or sectioned off into safety zones. We want to aim for a time when we recognise that;
EVERYONE IS ABLE BUT DIFFERENT IN THEIR ABILITY.
The education of difference must continue.
I can advocate for deafness and some other differences. For instance; I can tell you that how aural a deaf person is depends largely on how profound or small a hearing loss they have, when they lost their hearing. Perhaps they already had speech? More importantly, I can tell you that lip reading is not a given. It is a gift and even then it must be honed and worked on. The same way a person has an artistic skill, they may have a lip reading skill. To an extent yes, it can be learned but really successful lip readers have a gift.
Often I would be asked when I said my son was deaf, “Can he talk?” I would try to explain that because he was so profoundly deaf AND had never heard speech that this was difficult. I would often hear the term “Deaf and Dumb”. This really old fashioned term used to make me so angry. Angry at the person using it, angry on behalf of my son who is in fact one of the most intelligent people I know and I would hear myself screaming inside…
“HE’S DEAF, NOT STUPID!”
Times have changed though. We hardly hear terms like that at all anymore. The movement for deaf people has been amazing. It’s a hard task to do as an individual though sometimes. For a deaf person I imagine they want to experience life, not continually explain their existence and deafness to everyone. I certainly know as a parent I found it tiresome, wanting to enjoy a day at the park with hearing peers and their children but finding myself having to explain “deaf” rather than just enjoy the day.
This is why organisations like SENSE are amazing. They work to raise awareness in society and clear a path so that the deaf/blind/deafblind may enjoy life; rather than explain it and go into the world without fear of ridicule, questions, even a raised eyebrow or slighted glance and just be themselves.
Please help me to help them continue in their plight to offer the support and advice to the individuals, families and communities of people like my son so that they may enjoy the things in life that we take for granted. Click on the Virgin Giving Money link to sponsor me in my 100km walk on May12/13th 2012 in their honour. If you would like to read more about my family’s story and why I’m doing this walk, please click here.
Spread the word, share these stories and let’s see if we can raise the £3,000 target I;ve set to try and raise. In the meantime….. I’ll keep walking in my efforts to train for this event. (If anyone knows a good masseur who’s willing to meet me at the finish line, I’d be most grateful! 😉 )
P.S. If you think lip reading it that easy, put on a pair of headphones, play your music really loud and try to see if you can interpret what someone is telling you. Also, if you ever do encounter a deaf person, don’t be afraid to try to use gestures, even if you can’t sign. Use facial expressions for sure and if you’re really struggling to communicate, don’t give up; use a pen and piece of paper, or type it out on your phone. All deaf people try to follow some lip patterns as well, regardless of how good they are at lip reading. Don’t shout at them. Speak slower and try to emphasise your lip pattern (WITHOUT patronising them). Keep your lips toward them and don’t block your mouth. Have a look at the video clip in the link below.
The deaf don’t want to be patronised OR ignored.
They just want to be heard too!!!
Thank you again to all of you who have been donating and sending kind words of support. If you can’t help by donating just a pound or two, please help by raising awareness of this challenge by sharing, spreading the word or help by raising awareness on behalf of deaf people by sharing what you may have learned today!!!