It took me a relatively long time to realize why my mother sometimes didn’t hear me when I talked to her, and why my father always told me to face her when I talked.
My mother was severely hearing impaired, and only understood what I said because she knew how to read lips. I was six or seven when I understood this, and knew my mother was deaf. She didn’t use sign language, and it wasn’t something brought up often, or in a way a very young child would understand and appreciate.
After I understood though, when I was out with my mother and my father wasn’t with us, I would (and still do) consider it my responsibility to let someone trying to speak to my mother when she was preoccupied know that she was hearing impaired and needed to see them to speak to them. Of course, while these days I use the terminology ‘hearing impaired,’ when I was very young I tended to use different terminology. I said the same thing my little brother and sister say when they talk about our mother’s disability.
That she’s ‘death.’
It takes a while for the difference between the pronunciations of death and deaf to sink into a child, and most of the adults luckily understand what is meant and both take that fact into consideration and get amusement over the mispronunciation.
As I got older, I started to think about how my mother’s life must have been. Born deaf, but now people only realize she’s deaf if they see her hearing aid, are told she’s deaf, or recognize the ‘accent’ that many orally-deaf people tend to speak with. She speaks and follows along with conversations just as if she had no hearing issues; which is why it took me years to know she did have hearing issues. Thinking about what her childhood must have been like, I began to have greater respect for my mother, thinking about the simple fact that she could speak. Hearing children learn to speak by imitation. My mother simply could not do that. She learned how to read lips, along with learning how to hear with hearing aids, just so she could communicate. While most children learn one thing, to speak, she was learning how to ‘hear’ in two ways, both with hearing aids and with lip-reading, and how to speak, in ways that were unconventional-especially at the time. Small wonder it took her years longer to get a complete vocabulary.
If you’re a hearing person who isn’t quite sure why learning how to speak without hearing would be so hard, try this. Explain, in words, how to make the sound ‘ow.’ And then think about somebody giving you that instruction and trying to make that sound when they’d never heard it before.
In fact, my mother’s long process of learning how to speak resulted in my aunt getting the name she did. My Grandmother wished to have a name for her youngest daughter that her eldest could pronounce. They went through lists and lists of names, my mother vetoing each and every one before they came to ‘Deborah.’
What also impressed me about my mother, the more I thought about it, the more I learned from my grandparents, was that except for three years, my mother went to a regular public school not a school for the deaf. Something my mother told me, which was true at the time (though I would not know about today,) is that schools for the deaf tended to be several years behind the curriculum of “normal” schools because there was so much else for the schools to teach the students.
My mother attended the Montreal school for the oral deaf when she was very young, but in about grade three transferred to regular elementary school upon the family’s moving to Toronto. In grade nine, when considering whether to go to a deaf school, or continuing in public education, she ended up faced with a choice. Either feel lonely and friendless in a school geared towards the hearing, or to stay far behind in her schoolwork in the deaf school, where how to spell rainbow was grade-nine level. She made the choice to stay in public school, and to stay at the best level she could academically.
You might wonder why I’m talking about my mother-who has been deaf from birth and did not become deaf after exposure to loud sounds on a consistent basis. I want you to think about what I’ve told you, how hard it must have been for my mother to be able to essentially act as a hearing person-to be able to communicate with us, and not have to deal with a lot of the problems many deaf people have no choice but to deal with.
Now-I want you to think about a hearing person, having to deal with hearing loss at a much older age. Think about yourself, in university, in a fast-paced workplace, starting a family, in whatever situation you hope to be in after a few more years. Now factor in learning how to lip read, or learning sign language and having to start learning a whole new language, while you’re still trying to do everything else. Imagine learning how to act, how to cope in a world that is no longer geared to you, that you have to become geared towards, re-learn how to exist in it.
It’s something a lot of people can’t avoid, it’s hard work that they have no choice but to go through. But this site is trying to show how many hearing people can preserve their hearing, and not have to go through the experience of losing their hearing and having to learn how to deal with the world all over again. Think about the things advised against in order to preserve your hearing. Is playing your music a bit quieter that hard? Isn’t a little bit of caution now worth having your hearing for longer?
Hearing is a gift that not everyone is born with-shouldn’t you value it enough to try and keep it?