Bright smiles plastered on all the little first graders faces, thrilled to end class with a game, Ms. Kamen called “Telephone”. We were all circled up, waiting for the whispered message to be passed along to us so we could pass it to the next classmate. The message reaches me. My friend leans over and I feel her hot breath reach my ear, but she whispers no message to me. I remain leaned over for a long period of time, willing her to deliver the message to me. Perhaps she forgot what she was supposed to say? I notice all pairs of eyes on me from around the circle, eagerly waiting for me to pass the message to the last two people in the circle. There are 30 seconds left on the bell. I desperately ask if maybe she can repeat the message to me again but my teacher explains that is against the rules of Telephone. I am literally at a loss for words. The final bell rings, everyone leaves exasperated with me for not finishing the game. I wait outside of school for my mom, head hung low and feeling defeated, not being able to do the one thing I was asked.
Many people have misconceptions regarding people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some assume because you are deaf you are automatically less intelligent, or once you have a hearing aid your hearing abilities are fully restored and equivalent to some one who possesses normal hearing, or even believe that just because you are deaf you automatically know sign language. None of these assumptions are true. Stereotypes like these can be highly offensive to anyone in the deaf community, including
myself. I live today with a fully functioning left ear, but virtually no hearing in my right ear. This has immensely impacted my life in both negative and positive ways.
My doctors found out I was partially deaf immediately after I was born. They conducted an audiological exam and noticed I wasn’t responding to any noises perceived in my right ear. I don’t think it was until I was about six-years old that I fully understood the severity of my disability. I always knew I couldn’t hear on one side but I guess I had assumed everyone heard the world like me. Gradually, I would pick up on minor differences between myself and others. I noticed people would hold their phones up to either of their ears, I observed people as they would plug both their ears to block out loud or obnoxious noises, as opposed to one. It was these slight difference that brought my impairment to my knowledge.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I received my first hearing aid. My audiologist recommended a cochlear implant, that he believed would best benefit me. Soon enough I was undergoing invasive surgery. Recovering from my surgery was a lengthy process but in good time I was fully healed and back to the doctor’s office to receive my hearing aid device. My mother had to assist me with putting it on because my head was still very sensitive from surgery, but I knew that exact moment it was on, without anybody having to tell me.
Teachers would tell my mom I needed to pay more attention because I missed a lot of information. It took awhile for my mother to realize I wasn’t disregarding my teachers, but was only hearing bits and pieces of discussions due to inadequate placement in the classroom. I was regularly asking people to repeat their sentences and gradually they started saying “nevermind” because they grew tired of repeating themselves. Encountering these things every day, I began to nod my head and smile while in a conversation, even if I didn’t hear their full sentence. I grew great embarrassment about my defective ear and decided I would much rather travel through life and have people assume I wasn’t listening or didn’t care, than face the inevitable fact that I was physically unable to perceive what they were saying.
I never realized how loud offices really were. You can walk down the hall and hear the clicking of keyboards behind closed doors, the air rushing through the vents, the buzz of the vending machines, the thud of hard sole shoes hitting the carpet as people walk by. That day I discovered all new noises that I never before had known even existed, just by walking from the doctors office to the parking lot. Once we reached our car, my mother wanted to have a little fun of her own. She asked me to plug my left ear, always referred to as my “good ear”, which typically would leave me with no hearing whatsoever, even with someone talking two-feet away from me, but I now had a hearing aid. I plugged the good ear and she whispered very faintly into my right ear, “Whitney, this is so cool,” I smiled big and she knew, I could finally hear her.
Growing up, I have and still today have had to endure many inconsiderate and disrespectful comments from people, sometimes even from my close friends and family, but I know it is only because people don’t understand what it is like unless they themselves have experienced it. Although being partially deaf has brought many inconveniences into my life, I would never change that aspect of my life. It has helped shape me and has forced me to see things in a different light. Sure, it initially was a bumpy road but I now hold my head high and view my impairment as something that sets me apart from everybody else. I now fully embrace and take pride in my “defective ear”.