When I was born, my parents had no idea I was deaf. It was a long time before they could get a diagnosis, and my mother recounts that it was actually very difficult for the doctors to find out why I wasn’t responding to them. It was only until one of them referred me to an audiologist that they learned I was deaf. By that time I was two, and it was already late for me to be learning language. They immediately took steps to make sure I could communicate, such as teaching me sign and learning cued speech. They had to haul out more than 4 thousand dollars just to get me hearing aids so I could hear. At that point, my parents had decided to move to Eugene, Oregon, where took me to a preschool for deaf children.
There, I felt like I belonged. The kind, understanding teachers had us do all kinds of fun learning activities, taught us how to write, and we practiced signing as well. I felt no disassociation from anyone when I was in that preschool. I was friends with everyone, and we all got the attention we needed. Then, suddenly, many new things came into my life. In that same area as my preschool, a new elementary school was built, which my preschool merged with, and we all entered a new stage in life. In kindergarten, I would spend half of the day with my deaf preschool group, and I still signed frequently with my deaf friends from preschool. However, I was also exposed to an entirely different world — the hearing world. The school gave me an interpreter and an FM system, and I started meeting many more hearing people.
At first, it seemed okay. I met new people easily, and made new friends despite the size of the class. I learned how to utilize the FM system and benefit from it. It was small gray rectangular machine with a neck loop, and apparently, it could somehow sync the teacher’s voice to my hearing aids for a clear voice with the background noise drowned. I found it strange at first, and I had a hard time making sure it worked all of the time, but I eventually, I learned how to problem solve for things that might be wrong with it, and I became more successful in understanding things. However, despite having an interpreter and an FM, there were some things that were still difficult for me to dealwith.
One particular case that would resonate with me was when, in second grade, my teacher showed a film about the Arctic to show, and we had to take notes on one of the animals described in the film. The problem was, there were no captions. I had to exert quite a bit of effort to listen and grasp as many details as possible. It wasn’t easy. There were a few things I missed, and I realized it wasn’t my favorite way to learn. When I entered middle school, I found it was a huge, loud place. The walls of the gym and cafeteria seemed to reverberate with the chatting of students, and I did not feel comfortable communicating in that kind of place. It was too loud, and it was difficult to understand the other kids. While I did well academically, it was harder for me to actually work with other students. I could not always understand what everyone was saying, because the FM was centered on one person most of the time. It was frustrating sometimes, and I would always prefer independent work.
Because of my situation in middle school, my parents decided to explore a few other options for my high school education, and discovered A3, a small charter school in downtown that would be close and had a philosophy centered around group work. By that time, my confidence was diminished, I didn’t speak to a whole of people outside of class, and I was incredibly shy. They insisted that it would be a good place for me and that it was small, which would help me. I reluctantly decided to give it a try.
The school was indeed very unique, and while there were no other deaf students either, it was an incredibly open school. The environment of the school felt very inclusive, and it was a good place for those who felt like they had never fit in. Despite my introverted nature, I soon found myself opening up to more people, and communicating more. One of the most special things about the school, I found, were the teachers themselves. They did things like asking me if I could understand them, checking to make sure the FM was working, contacting people when it wasn’t working, and having talks with me about what I could do to make sure I could hear— specifically, self-advocacy. Many of the other students too, were understanding of my deafness. They often made sure to wear the FM system when they were talking, were curious about my deafness and wanted to know more.
I became confident enough to share my own experiences of being deaf and the difficulties I had faced with others at a panel to educate college students in the field of Deaf studies. This was one of the major impacts of my deafness. I gained confidence as a public speaker, and I learned how to speak without any sort of transcript or looking at a presentation. When I knew the topic well, I knew what to say.
While being deaf has set me on a different path, I have never regretted being deaf. I have gained so much from it — friends, memorable experiences, an amazing high school, an identity, and the chance to be a part of a community.