“There’s an interpreter here for you,” the receptionist told me.
An interpreter? I didn’t think I’d booked one. I’d assumed that as I was attending an audiology appointment that I wouldn’t need one, seeing as they’d be so used to dealing with deaf people… right?
But anyhow, we had an interpreter. After a short wait we were ushered into a soundproofed room and with awkward hand movements gestured to sit.
It had been a while since I had set foot in a place like this and I felt nervous. It reminded me of years ago when I’d been urged to ‘please listen carefully’ in an attempt to improve my audiogram result. God knows how hard I listened…
Settling down now to lipread the audiologist, I realised she wasn’t actually speaking to me but to the interpreter. And so I waited for her eye contact and exaggerated my clear, emphatic response hoping she received my telepathic message to speak directly to me. I was, after all, the mother of the child being tested.
Truth be told, my partner and I didn’t really want to bring our little boy here. We already knew he could hear. But seeing the doubtful looks from health professionals as we reassured them “yes, he responds to sounds,” we decided to put their minds at ease and ‘follow protocol.’ After all, our son does have two deaf parents.
And so the testing commenced. The little one sat on his Dad’s lap and I was instructed to move to the back of the room so as not to be a distraction. Watching our son’s innocent little eyes as he scanned the room, obediently responding to sounds, I choked up with unexpected emotion.
I hate hearing tests, I thought. I always have. It’s the one test I can’t revise for, cheat on or ever do well in. I’m doomed to fail.
And seeing the earphones attached to my little boy’s ears caused memories of my own to flood.
The anger at being given hearing aids, the isolation I felt being the only one at school with wires hanging out my ears and mostly the overwhelming sadness that I may have been a disappointment.
I used to believe it when the doctors told my parents how ‘sad’ they were to relay that I had a hearing loss. And I felt I was letting others down as they groaned that my hearing had indeed “dropped again.”
I’d lose myself in daydreams as the doctors spoke to my parents and wonder how I could possibly hang on to hearing that was slipping away from me. I could never wait to get out of there. For people that knew so much about the ears, they hardly knew what it was like to be deaf.
Even today, audiology departments aren’t so deaf friendly. Take my local one, for example. They still call my name out in the waiting room. None of the audiologists sign. And worst of all it seems as though they prefer to speak to me via somebody else. If not my Mum then with an interpreter I didn’t even request.
I suppose it’s not entirely their fault. They’re not taught at medical school that most Deaf people don’t like to think of themselves as ‘lacking’ in something. They don’t understand that we don’t always want to be fixed or our deafness focused upon.
They can’t see it’s not our hearing ‘loss’ that sums us up, but what we’ve gained from it that makes us who we are.
I get that now. But as a young girl, I felt nothing but a failure when I was told my hearing was ‘less than satisfactory.’ That’s why I feel the medical view of deafness isn’t supportive at all to our self esteem. And words such as impairment, profound and loss can quite frankly be very damaging to a young, insecure child.
So when the audiologist declared at the end of our son’s test that they were ‘happy’ to tell us he had ‘perfect hearing’ I couldn’t help but loathe her choice of words.
Our son was perfect, regardless of his hearing level and actually, we would still be happy with him even if he was deaf.
Rebecca-Anne Withey is an actress, sign singer and tutor of performing arts. A black country girl at heart, she now resides in Derby where she works in both performance art and holistic therapies. She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.
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