You don’t look deaf

What do you mean? What does deaf look like? Is it because I can talk? How about with my hair up? Do I look deaf enough now?

I have been told this many times in my life, and every single time, I wish I had said something back. Grrr…

Telling me that I don’t look deaf suggests deafness is bad, something I should be thankful I don’t look like! It suggests that I have done well to look ‘normal’, like everyone else, like you.

It insinuates there is a way to be deaf. All my life, I have felt in the middle of two worlds: the hearing and the deaf. My hearing aids allow me to move through life appearing normal, yet all it takes is a dead hearing aid battery or a lost ear mould to feel deaf again. The term ‘hearing impaired’ felt wrong, it felt like I needed fixing. ‘Hard of hearing’ felt like I was falling short of the norm again. Yet, I also know I didn’t fully fit into the Deaf world. I don’t use sign language, my parents and friends are hearing, and I didn’t grow up immersed in the vibrant Deaf culture.

It also reminds me of years of my life when I consciously and unconsciously tried to not look deaf. Throughout school, I have had different Teachers of the Deaf who would support me, my parents, and my teachers to help provide an accessible home and learning environment. I remember feeling embarrassed to be taken out of class to see them, and to have to explain to my friends where I went. I was given various assistive listening devices (or radio aids) to help transmit a teacher’s voice directly into my hearing aids, and would have to hand this over at the start of every lesson. However, I stopped using these as I struggled with calling attention to myself and then having to explain to teachers and peers why I needed them. I remember early in secondary school, I was asked by my Teacher of the Deaf why I don’t wear my hair up, and if this was to hide my hearing aids. I was annoyed she would even suggest that, but in hindsight, I think she was right.

Growing up, deaf looked like old white men on TV commercials, who struggled to hear their grandkids – this didn’t look like me! It is only recently with social media that I have started seeing more diverse deaf representation, and I met my first deaf friend at uni only this year (hi, if you are reading!) I am working towards feeling proud to be deaf, and there is still so much I have yet to learn. But I know there is no one way to look deaf.

So here is to a whole day of wearing my hair up!

Ashna x

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