Dude, joke’s on you, I read your lips.
A couple months ago, I had an unusual experience at the TEDxUGA conference. I requested to sit in the front row of the auditorium so I could read the lips of the speakers. Upon arriving, I met two sign language interpreters for a wonderful deaf man. When the lights started to dim, we took our seats and they began the conference with a video…without subtitles.
To the left of me, there were all these hearing people who were effortlessly listening to every word of the video and to the right of me, was that man who was nodding in agreement with the help of his interpreter. Even as I’m writing this, it seems so trivial. Why was I so worked up about this? It was because in that moment, I was stuck between two worlds. I am a person with a hearing aid and a cochlear implant who isn’t fluent in sign language and piecing together with whatever words I managed to grab from the video. I am deaf but I am also hearing. You can’t say one without the other.
I just finished my first year of graduate school in the Master of Public Health program at UGA. Remember this blog post? Well, change came like a hurricane.
And it was hard.
It wasn’t so much that people tested my strength as it was myself. I’ve always been open about my hearing impairment, in fact, I embraced it. Then I entered into a new territory.
After a professional referred the faults of my hearing impairment as a “glitch”, having my cochlear implant yanked out of my ear and missing projects that were assigned verbally by my professors, I scoured through the Internet to find books on how to handle disability in higher education, in the workplace and in my personal life. Then I spent late nights wondering what career would be right for me. What job could I pursue without my deafness getting in the way? Would my clients hang up on me after consistently misunderstanding them over the phone? Would I have a boss who has pity plastered all over their face when I inform them of my disability? Would I be lucky enough to have co-workers who don’t get frustrated when I ask them to repeat what they said?
Or would I be tucked into a corner with just paperwork because they find that to be the easier way? If you ask me, I want to be in a place where I can shake hands with the world and be unapologetically myself.
While I was challenged mentally, academically and professionally this year, I also grew in those areas. I’m convinced that the universe doesn’t give us hardships without silver linings. My silver lining is that despite everything, I can hear. I am one of the lucky ones to have parents who saw it fit to give me ears. I have two amazing pieces of technology that makes me feel like a superwoman every morning when I wake up. I am part of a fierce generation who is shaking up the narrative that the deaf can hear and we are here to stay.
I mean, how’s that for a silver lining?
The best thing here is that we are all learning. We’re learning there is more than one way to hear just like there is more than one way to communicate. We’re learning to diminish our ignorance and become more innovative with our solutions. We’re learning to turn our frustrations into a learning opportunity.
Like when children, being the honest and curious little humans that they are, point at your ear and ask, “What’s that?” You bend down to their level and you show them your “toy”. Before you know it, more children start to gather around you and their eyes beam when they see how the device magnetizes to your head. Curiosity fills them as they gently try to wrap it around their ear only to discover that it doesn’t work on them. Then they think you’re the one with superpowers and scream, “That’s so COOL!!!”
It is pretty cool, isn’t it?