I had worn hearing aids all my life but seven years ago I was subjected to some awful abuse that destroyed my confidence and drove me away from the hearing world.
The fact that I wore hearing aids and used sign was the reason my abusers targeted me. My abusers held vibrating mobile phones to my head. They shouted in my ears while I was wearing my hearing aids. They even pushed me in front of cars when I waited to cross the road.
I got so frustrated at the situation I wanted to smash my hearing aids into a thousand pieces. I ran away from the bullies and took my hearing aids out. I haven’t worn them since but I still have them, in the same box, untouched. I learned to be me, as nature intended, with no aids.
Now seven years on, I wanted to go back to using hearing aids again even though that I’d grown up and learnt to be me, deaf me. I lived so long pretending not to be deaf when I was younger.
There is a big deaf world out there and being part of it gave me a purpose. I only wish I discovered it as a child because maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone. I grew up in a wonderful place but pushed a lot of people away because I couldn’t understand them and just didn’t know how to tell them.
That was then and this is now. I’m going to take that step again and try hearing aids again. The world is a different, more accepting place.
I was so excited to be going to my first audiology appointment in years. I was almost dancing on the way there, imagining meeting some other deafies and enjoying a chat. I’m not naive. I know that deaf people need interpreters in hospitals but not in audiology, right?
‘So, you don’t sign?’ I signed at the three ladies at the reception desk. They all stare blankly back. I’m wondering if I’m in the right place but one lady points to another lady sitting next to her and suggests I speak to her. ‘I’m here for my deaf test’ I say. ‘Hearing test’ that receptionist replies. ‘No, I’m deaf’ I couldn’t help myself from saying. Their faces were a picture.
A nurse appears but I can’t see her face; I saw the doors open but she stood the other side of the wall. She pokes her head round and mouths very slowly ‘AMANDA’. Oh Lord, Mother of all Cakes, I’m thinking.
She was a sweet lady, really tried to make herself understood and pointed to her name and then towards the doors. I was introduced to an almost impossibly young male audiologist, but still, no one can sign.
During the test I sign and speak at the same time and the young audiologist looks confused. Looking away from the computer screen he broke from the normal script. “Why do you sign? Your speech is good for someone with your level of hearing loss” he said.
“I’m confused” I said. “Why don’t you sign if your job is working with deaf people.”
“I’m a scientist” he replied.
“That’s not what I asked” I said.
He looked back at the screen without answering. I sat with him and asked him why he is an audiologist if he doesn’t understand deaf people and their ways or language. He can’t sign and only tries to fix people rather than learn more or embrace and teach. I hope I gave the young chap some food for thought.
I was so naive to think just because I had grown into my Deaf skin that others will understand or that the world has changed and kept up with deaf awareness or sign language.
I thought that with today’s knowledge of the importance of integrating peoples, cultures and languages, British sign Language would actually be our second language here in the UK by now.
We would have deaf staff in places like audiology departments or at least people trained to use sign language. But no, in fact it is the opposite and that’s something I find extremely sad.
When the time came to collect my new hearing aids, I was blown away at the choice of different devices and the colour range too. This time, I met a different audiologist and she was super at her job, but again, no understanding of BSL. Not even the basics.
In fact, to communicate with me, she programmed some other aids very quickly and popped them in my ears to explain what she was going to do. She wasn’t to know I hadn’t worn aids for over seven years.
And there, at that moment, I sat in tears because her voice was the first I had heard in all that time. Signing or not, I got what I came for.
By Amanda Jane Richards is a photographer, actress and sign language teacher. She’s also a mum of three and can be found talking about her life in Ted Evans documentary From Us To You
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