Growing up as a deaf person is never easy. It doesn’t matter how much you can or can’t hear – because its not really about sound, its about society and reactions, service provision, discrimination, barriers that we have to knock down. It’s about how you approach things and your attitude towards life. It is also about having role models, people who are trailblazers and have gone before us, or are doing things now that inspire you. Growing up, I’m not sure who my role models were. I think I saw certain writers as role models, people at Chickenshed, older deaf people in the years above me. Going through mainstream school, in a sea of hearing people, does make you feel as though you’re swimming forwards on your own, that you have to be strong.
It was hard and isolating, because outside school (secondary/high) I was a different person – more alive and happy, performing on stage at Chickenshed, reading and making new friends. Whilst at school I became a withdrawn, quiet and observant person, someone who tried to keep her head down, but who, paradoxically, was known by everyone by virtue of being a deaf person! There weren’t that many of us deaf people, and there must have been about seven to ten of us at any one time, scattered through the different year groups. It was a huge school, so it did feel very scary at times, and very lonely. I worked really hard – I succeeded academically (mostly due to extra reading and stuff) but the social situation was far from ideal. I felt really strange, being two different people at school and outside school, as if I had a split personality!
The same thing happened when I did my first degree at York – I was the only deaf person on my course, and in my halls of residence. The first year was better than the last two years, because at least there were some people in my flat who made the effort and were good friends. Then I moved out of halls for the second and third year – and it just kind of went downhill and I become much more isolated, lost some confidence and generally spent a lot of weekends either in Scotland with my boyfriend or in London with my family. Again, I did really well with my degree, I’m proud that I managed to get a 2:1, in a subject I loved (Sociology). I also fell in love with York – such a brilliant place. The support at York was also brilliant – at least I had support for every seminar and lecture, unlike at school where service provision was stretched to the limit between different year groups.
When I left University, I had no idea what I wanted to do. It all felt a little vague, and I think I felt quite lost going home and not knowing what I wanted to do. I had an idea of doing an MA, and eventually decided to go back to York for a year to do Women’s Studies. It was a much better experience – I think I felt more of a whole person, and the department was so special – the people on my course were from all walks of life and different generations and since the department was smaller, it was easier for me to follow and make sure everyone became more deaf aware. My dissertation really pulled me out of myself – research into deaf women’s autobiography – and it was amazing to have deaf women share their experiences with me. I felt that everyone had a story to tell.
Anyway, today is Blogging Against Disablism day, and I thought I would write about this because today I was really inspired by a video that was posted on The Limping Chicken. It was filmed by Ted Evans and features some inspiring deaf role models, sharing their stories. It made me feel like so much has changed since I was a teenager – and I hope that the next generation can find more deaf role models out there. There are so many of us, who have had to fight and keep on swimming to get to where we are now – but I know that its possible to get there. Take opportunities, don’t take no for an answer. Do what makes you happy, not what other people push you to do. Don’t see deafness as a barrier – see the barriers for what they are, things that can be changed and adapted, that can be knocked down.
My sensitivity, my poetry, my inner being, my true style all come through in the spatial word-dance of sign. ~ Emmanuelle Laborit, The Cry of the Gull.