Everyone I see gets all teary-eyed when a baby with a cochlear implant hears for the first time. Everyone thinks its such a wonderful thing. Sorry to burst your bubble. In the Deaf community, it is looked at like being fixed or being cured. Sound familiar?
For those who do not know, I was born Deaf. The three bones in the image, I was born without. The Malleus Incus and Stapes. These bones help produce sound in the inner ear.
I was sent to a Deaf school to learn how to communicate. I had no language before going. I was having meltdowns and working through frustration myself because I could not express myself. I was learning American Sign Language (ASL). I was not allowed to use ASL outside of school otherwise it would leave me open for more abuse. The school was like a vacation for me when I was a child.
Before and after school, I went through intensive speech therapy. Not only did I have an hour of speech before and after school, but I also had speech in school. Through this, I learned how to lipread. It is not as easy as it looks. Some sounds look the same as others. For example, Bah and Pah look exactly the same. My parents wanted me to speak. If I did not make progress, it was an excuse to be abused.
When I was about 4, I had surgery. It was an experimental procedure. It was where they took synthetic versions of the bones in the diagram and put them in my ears. I was 4, I had no choice. My parents wanted to make me “normal.” They insisted I would not be Deaf and they would fix me at all costs. I thought for a long time that I was broken. I know now that is not true.
I do not remember much of the hospital but I do remember hearing for the first time. I was scared. I did not know where all the sound was coming from. I was overwhelmed. I started to rock and flap my hands. I was screamed at to stop. Then I started crying and covering my ears. Then I heard my mother actually say.”Why can’t you be normal?” The first sentence I ever heard. Hearing for the first time was horrific. I cried because I wanted to not hear anymore.
I started speaking about one year after surgery. Was it due to my being autistic? Was it due to me being Deaf? I do not know and neither do the doctors. It really does not matter.
The surgery left me Hard of Hearing. I cannot hear some high pitched sounds and some people I cannot hear their speech. Most people have to speak very clearly for me to hear them. Remember, slow speaking does not mean easier to hear. Sometimes it makes it more difficult.
After the surgery, I was pulled from my safe haven and put into a typical school. I was told I needed to be “normal and go to normal school.”
In Deaf Culture, it is very similar to Autistic Culture. We do not want to be cured. The cochlear implant and surgeries to “fix” hearing is frowned down upon. Just like the Autistic people want to be respected and accepted, so do the Deaf people.
When I met my husband, he was eager to learn sign. We taught our kids. This is what acceptance looks like. This is what accommodation looks like. This is how you make your Deaf loved ones happy.