How Social Networks helped me to embrace my deaf identity by Michelle Hedley

Being deaf in a hearing world can be easy at times, and at others, it can be blooming hard. Although I have very little hearing I was brought up, first in a mainstream school with an attached “unit” with support, and then from the age of 10 a mainstream school with no support. So most of my life I haven’t had any deaf friends. There were the various attempts to join deaf clubs, both as a child and as an adult, but as I had clear speech and didn’t sign at all (not our choice but was the policy of the education authority at the time) sadly I found myself excluded and shunned. Thus I rarely came across other deaf people as I was firmly entrenched in the hearing world. I would rely on my parents to be my ears and communicate with the world. I could not (and still cant) make telephone calls thus I had little freedom socially.

The advent of mobile phones became a marvellous invention as I was suddenly able to communicate with my family via text messaging. Then this went further as the ability to access the internet at home became readily available. This meant that I could have conversations by email, although again limited to my family. It was the appearance of social networks (mainly Twitter and Facebook) and the introduction of smart phones that really had the potential to change my life. All of a sudden I was able to embrace the changing technology and use this to my advantage and communicate with the wider world. Online contact via email, tweets or Facebook posts became socially acceptable by companies and organisations and I was able to, for the first time, deal with my own affairs without relying on others. I can now make my own doctors/dentists appointments, arrange meet ups with friends, buy tickets, chat online (instead of a phone call) and resolve (many) issues myself. I also learn and absorb more facts online than I do when involved in verbal conversations, so being online can enhance education wise as well as socially.

Through Twitter and Facebook I started to explore the wider world and I was soon able to meet online other deaf users. For the first time I interacted with the deaf community regardless of whether they signed or not. Through Twitter I found that I was able to feel equal to other hearing tweeters. I don’t mention in my profile that I am deaf, merely because I don’t consider it relevant. Others don’t say in their profile that they wear glasses, or have red hair etc and I am the same with my hearing loss.

I wish to be thought of as Michelle, or that Geordie, rather than ‘that deaf girl.’ Other people prefer to state outright that they are deaf, and that is fine by me. Whatever works for them – there is no right or wrong in my view. At the same time I don’t hide it – I do tweet about deaf issues regularly and expect most of my followers probably work it out at some point!

Twitter allows me to talk to other people who share the same interests as me without being judged. One of my main interests is musical theatre and Twitter is a haven full of people with similar interests. For me Twitter goes one step further and even enables me to talk to those who actually work in the theatre profession from the ensemble right to the leading roles. The anonymity of Twitter allows me to talk to others without any pre-judgements made or misconceptions about my hearing, or entitlement to any views on music and the stage. My Facebook world has also developed as my “friends” extended from being just family to others I met through through twitter or indeed other friends.

I also use social networks to increase awareness about issues that affect the deaf community, such as subtitles in theatres, cinemas and online and this has met with some positivity. Hopefully, in my own way, I am slowly raising deaf awareness as I develop my relationships online when my followers slowly begin to realise I am deaf. As we have already been chatting, they don’t have any preconceptions that could affect the beginning of a friendship.

I now have “met” many others who have varying degrees of hearing losses, some who sign and some who don’t. For the first time I can embrace being deaf whilst living and working in the hearing world and I have been able to share my experiences and learn from others. Previously, in “real life” this didn’t happen, and so the ability to meet and communicate online has proved to be really invaluable to me in many ways. In a way you could say that I now have a deaf identity which was something I didn’t have before despite being born deaf. It has also improved my confidence in so many ways as I have tackled tasks that I would never have normally considered.

There may be times when I use my phone too much, but the advantages way outweigh this and I can honestly say that my social life is 100% better as a result of social networks and smart phones. Of course we do need to be careful on social networks as it is very easy to become a victim of trolling or bullies. But that cautiousness doesn’t need to spoil our interactivity and socialising. After all we need to sometimes exercise caution out on the street too so it is not limited to online.

Social networks have become a huge part of my life as it acts like a bridge between hearing and deaf people and allows me to participate in the wider community. As well as socially, social networks becomes my news and radio station filled with gossip and facts and allows me to learn and improve my knowledge.

We may all be strangers fundamentally, but we are all linked by a desire to talk and chat to other like-minded people. I have “met” so many people and have gained friendships, both deaf and hearing, that would never have happened were it not for the medium of twitter and facebook. I strongly believe that my life is so much better as a result as I have access to so much more than just my immediate family. Although there is still room for improvement, I now have access to a much wider community, indeed a global community and surely that has to be a good thing. Social networks may not be everyone’s cup of tea (and lets face it, the world would be boring if we all agreed with each other!) but for me personally I LOVE IT 🙂

You can find me on Twitter as @Shelle02 and on Facebook as Michelle Hedley