Shattering stereotypes

Courtesy of Kerri OBrien Photography

Courtesy of Kerri O’Brien Photography

“So you’re disabled, huh? You don’t seem like it.”

  That’s not a compliment.    

I’ve heard quite some ignorant sayings pertaining to disabilities, specifically a hearing disability, as I have grown and met people from all different backgrounds, genders, age, and races. Surprisingly enough, you would think in the 21st century, people today would be conscientiously aware of what they say and/or do to someone who has a disability or even just aware about disabilities today in general. However the truth is that in most cases this does not happen.

I was born with hearing loss and I don’t have perfect speech even after taking years of speech therapy. I acquired language 1.5 years after the average student and was behind in school when I first started. I’ve had multiple surgeries throughout my life and got hearing aids around the age of two. In light of my past, I hope to bring light about this issue for the future.

 These following quotes are true sentences spoken to me by other people from the general population that consists of strangers, an old boyfriend, close friends, or even a family member.

“You’re stupid.”   

  Intelligence is not linked to deafness or hearing disabilities. Just because I didn’t hear you after the second or even fourth time, that doesn’t mean my IQ is lower.

“What are those in your ears? Those are ugly…ewwwwww. Those are so nasty.”

  Now this quote was from a child from a lower socioeconomic status, who attended a school that didn’t have great disability education or he just didn’t have exposure to hearing aids. He insulted something that at the time was something I was very insecure about and proceeded to shove his finger in my ear multiple times as I tried to explain to him what they were. He ignored me and continued to loudly point them out in disgust. I will always remember that day in Charleston, SC when it was so silent as everyone stared at the scene wondering how I would take it. I was so utterly embarrassed. Eventually someone stepped up and led the kid away from me to distract him. I’m not berating this child, but people today, adults, act in a similar fashion, and that is what I’m addressing. It also wouldn’t hurt if parents would dedicate time to educate their children on different disabilities.

“Can I touch it? Can you take it out? Can I try them on?”

  My hearing aids aren’t toys and they aren’t clothing items or accessories. They are a very expensive mechanical devices. They are my crutch. Furthermore, why would anyone in the world want to try on some nasty, old hearing aids? It disgusts me. It’s nowhere as sanitary as sharing earplugs because hearing aids enter the ear canal by almost an inch. Also, sharing earbuds are not even that sanitary.

“Aren’t those only for old people?”

  Just no. That’s the same as saying guide dogs are only for the blind, which they aren’t. Saying this to someone who has a disability is almost the same as discrediting them because (most likely they’re not elderly) so you imply they do not have the disability because only old people can. Everyone knows as you grow older, your hearing worsens. So please with all the life in me, never say to someone who has hearing loss: “So when you get older, will you be deaf?” or “Guess you can’t get much worse when you get older, huh?” Never do that. It’s so very insensitive.

“I bet you can read lips well.”

  That’s a stereotype, but reading lips and facial expressions can help people like me understand context or what the actual word being spoken was. I rely on facial expressions a ton as I create a list of possible words I heard and mentally cross out the words that didn’t match with the way their lips moved or their facial expression.

“What are you, deaf?”

  Someone close to me used this as an insult when I couldn’t hear them talking to me. I cried. A disability is not an insult. Do not use it as one. Deafness is not something to be ashamed about, but using it as an insult encourages someone who is deaf to be ashamed of their disability. In reality, a disability is a sculpting tool that helps mold you, but it’s not the clay. It’s not who we are, because we are more than just that.

“When you don’t want to hear something, you can just turn off your hearing aids!”

 Hearing is more complex than that, but after hearing this statement I wish I could, so I could turn you off. People typically say this as an ice-breaker or a joke once they learn I have a disability. I’ve heard this so many times and if anything it just makes things more awkward.

“Don’t people with disabilities get paid? I wish I had a disability.”

  This was from a classmate who didn’t know I had a disability as he talked about this until I said something during this conversation because of the ignorant comments he was making. No one wishes to have a disabled life. Whether is psychologically disabled, physically disabled-this statement completely minimizes all the struggles people with disabilities go through. Take off the rose colored glasses please. Open your eyes. Disabilities are not something you wish for.

“I wish you could hear normally.”

  My old boyfriend said this to me on a date when I couldn’t hear him say something. I heard that. My best friend and her boyfriend did too. I excused myself because I couldn’t face him after such a hurtful comment as my friend scolded him in the restaurant. Doesn’t he know I wish I could hear normally myself? He doesn’t even know the half of it and he says that because I didn’t hear one thing. My hearing loss was a large insecurity to me and he poked at it and highlighted that one deep dark thought I would sometimes think to myself. It was later I found out why my hearing degraded even more during that time. It was because of a cholesteatoma. It was my second one. It’s a growth inside the ear that can grow and destroy surrounding structures and almost completely block off the ear canal.

 These sayings were spoken by people I knew or complete strangers who talked to me and most of the time these interactions didn’t go over all too well.

 When I was younger, I used to never wear my hair up to avoid people’s eyes and invasive questioning. I felt ashamed of myself and my disability and tried to hide it as I grew up because of how others treated me and others like me about my hearing loss.

  Looking back at these quotes and reflecting back on these events has caused me to realize how poorly educated people are about disabilities such as hearing loss. Today we should make a point in educating children and adults about disabilities so that future generations of disabled children will not have to face experiences like I had and many others have.