Today, from two different sources on Facebook, I was made to feel inferior and not able to call myself “deaf”. Worse still, those comments were made by other deaf people in the so called deaf “community” and as a result are quite hurtful. I might expect ignorant comments to be made by members of the hearing community, but from other deaf people?
I was (probably) born deaf, having finally been diagnosed at 3 years of age, and for the first seven years of my education until I was 10, I attended a mainstream infant and junior school in a nearby town that had a “unit” with deaf children attached. Thus I was integrated with both hearing and deaf children whilst getting speech therapy. At that point in time, sign language was frowned upon by those in the education authority (early 70s) and thus I was taught to talk and lip-read. For me, I was unaware of any other way to communicate in my early years of childhood.
When I was 10 years old, due to a family move to another part of the country, I was plunged into the unknown as the education authority’s policy there was to place the child into mainstream schooling with no support. Thus I became the first deaf child in the village and the schools I consequentially went through to the age of 18. This meant that I had no contact with other deaf children (or adults) and continued to develop my lip-reading and speech skills. I was lucky in a sense, as I loved learning and I loved going to school! I also loved the English language and had a reading age far advanced of my actual years.
My parents then became members of the NDCS and this meant that I started to engage with other deaf children again. However this was short lived as most of them signed and I was unable to communicate with them. I went to various deaf clubs in an attempt to socialise with others, but soon discovered that because I didn’t sign, that I was not considered “deaf” and was shunned by them. Despite trying to learn some sign, I was ignored and after this happened so many times, I made a decision at the age of 18 to no longer be a part of the deaf community. It did not mean that I did not identify with being deaf, just the fact that at that time the community felt unable to integrate with deaf people who were not able to sign for whatever reason.
Years and years passed and I remained firmly in the hearing world with no contact with other deaf people. Despite having speech I still had the usual difficulties that are associated with being deaf by not being able to make telephone calls, follow group discussions, follow TV without subtitles and so on. Despite being “excluded” from the deaf community I still fought battles with organisations for equal access with some successes.
It was not until I became more familiar with social networking a few years ago that I started to socialise online with other deaf people on both Facebook and Twitter. I became more involved with activities and campaigns and slowly started to integrate back into the deaf community. I was still painfully aware though that there was still a division between BSL and Non BSL users. Last summer, as a Big Brother fan, I became a daily blogger for Limping Chicken following Sam Evans for 13 weeks reporting as he eventually came to be the winner of the series! This resulted in my being invited onto See Hear to be interviewed for TV! This was such an exciting time to travel down to London (from Northumberland) in order to share my experience of following Sam throughout and the deaf awareness that it helped to create. That excitement was dulled somewhat when after it was televised I received comments that as Sam and I both didn’t sign, that we didn’t represent the deaf community and were not really deaf!! Coming from adults in this day and age I was frustrated to find that perhaps the deaf community had not changed at all since my teenage years. Nevertheless I managed to recover from those comments and continued to embrace my deafness and took part in several campaigns to benefit others such as the recent Lovefilm/Amazon and Sky.
Those feelings came to the fore again today when on both the Love Subtitles Facebook page and Treehouse Facebook page, comments were made referring to BSL users and Oral deaf and again implying that deaf people are bsl users. One poster on the Love Subtitles page said “I do remember feeling ‘teed off’ when Eastenders showed Ben last year to be a normal speaking boy. How did he lipread when looking away? That does not represent a hard of hearing person does it, let alone a deaf person.” David Buxton, Chief Executive of the BDA said on the same subject “I Vividly remembered a sense of joy when we heard Phil Mitchell’s new born son being diagnosed as deaf. I envisioned future episodes of Eastenders featuring deaf children growing up in a gangster family and using BSL. Sadly I was totally mistaken! His son wore a hearing aid, spoke fine and went to prison!” I was shocked to read that sort of comment from someone in that position and that he appears to not accept that deaf people can talk and lip-read and yet still have the same issues that arise from being deaf just like BSL users do.
Time and time again I see comments about little d and big D and implying that deaf means BSL. When a deaf character appears on TV and doesn’t sign, the snipes are always there about BSL and that “real deaf people do not talk”!
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against BSL at all. Far from it. Just like speech is right for me personally, I also know that BSL is the RIGHT way of communication for many of you. All I ask is a bit of consideration and remember that we are all in the same boat. Remember that some of us from older generations had no choice about how they learnt to communicate at school. We all have different hearing losses, mild to severe/total (I have a severe hearing loss in the high frequencies), with our own ways of communicating. Some of us may be able to communicate in more than one way. There is no right and wrong way, we must all do what is best for ourselves as individuals. But PLEASE be considerate of each other and remember we are all human and have feelings. Do not make the same mistake that hearing people make of trying to put labels on us all and make us fit into the same boxes with our very different needs. Whether we talk, lip-read, sign BSL/SSE or a combination, we all face the same issues our deafness creates in this society and together we can share our experiences and advice.
I have really had to stand back and ask myself whether I wanted to be a part of the so called community that chooses to exclude certain individuals based on what communication method they choose to use. I realise that none of the comments today were directed at me personally, but I still am affected by them as an “oral deaf” member, and the insistence to put labels on ourselves doing exactly what we hate hearing people to do to us! I am hoping this is just a blip and nor the norm as it were. Lets embrace each other and celebrate the fact that we are all different but united in the one thing that bonds us all together – the need to communicate by whatever method we can to get by in this world.
– Michelle Hedley.