Last week, I attended a deaf convention. It was for an organization that claims to focus on people with adult-onset hearing loss (late-deafened adults, LDAs). I attended a few of their other conventions in the past, but it’s been five years since the last one. I wasn’t sure how it would go. I had talked with LDAs and had always felt like the bulk of them spend 99% of their time trying to stay in the “hearing world” and “fix” themselves. I don’t see my deafness that way. When I lost the last of my hearing a long time ago, I accepted that I was then completely deaf and I went about joining the “Deaf world.”
Anyway, I thought it would be a great experience. I thought I would meet tons of people who signed and, at the same time, knew (and accepted) what it was like to be both a hearing person (in the past) and a deaf person (in the present). That wasn’t what I found though. Instead, I found CIs galore, amplified telephones, and people talking to each other a mile a minute. It didn’t take me very long to realize that I didn’t fit in there. And this upset me greatly. Seems that organization has followed the trend of such groups as Hearing Loss Association of America, and it was just a bunch of people who tried to pull themselves of as Hard of Hearing at best.
When I moved to West Michigan ten years ago, I went about trying to find the Deaf community and meeting people. I have met many, many wonderful people in the process. But one thing stands out, and that is that I did not grow up here, did not go to school here, and am not really part of the cohesive group here. Part of that is circumstantial (in general, the Deaf crowd grows up together and stays pretty close) and part of that was my own darn fault (I am extremely shy and self-conscious, so I don’t jump into groups and make friends easily). However, the fact remains that I’ve met so many great people in the West Michigan Deaf Community. I thought this other organization would be even easier.
I figured, here are people who grew up hearing or hard of hearing and learned to speak before deafness. But this group wasn’t full of “deafies.” Far from it. And, because I am a deafie, it was isolating and painful.
Trying to find out where you fit in in life and groups can be a very painful process. Sometimes things go your way and it’s easy, but most of the time you have to have some real cojones and a ton of resiliency….things I do not possess. So where do I fit in? Where do I go to find people to bond with and grow with and have fun with? Am I so scared of my surroundings that I give off an aire of witchiness? Is there something about me specifically that turns people away? Or do I just have a very poor ability of finding the right people? Not sure.
But I do know that I am Deaf. I am bi-cultural and bi-lingual and I accept that I will never hear again. I need Sign Language to communicate and do not possess lipreading skills that are worth very much. I use a Video Phone and teach ASL and hang out watching captioned movies and talking in places with good lighting. I am Deaf. And I’m OK with that. I don’t want to be “fixed.” I just want to be accepted.