Emma Sharrock: Why I am proud of my Deaf sister

Posted on November 26, 2014

Ever since I was two I have grown up being an older sister to a deaf sibling.

My parents found out that my sister Sarah was profoundly deaf just after she turned one, though it was deduced that she had been deaf since birth.

Around that time life was pretty difficult and due to recurrent meningitis resulting from an inner ear deformity, she was in and out of hospital for over a year.

All of my memories as a young child are from going to the hospital with my grandfather to visit my mom and sister.

Up until recently I never fully understood how nail-biting the situation was back then and it has completely opened my eyes to Sarah’s personality and how her life has shaped her.

Emma and Sarah

Emma and Sarah

As there was no possibility of my sister ever using hearing aids and cochlear implants, we all had to learn sign language, a skill that has given me a love of languages and an openness towards other cultures.

It also meant that growing up, my sister and I were incredibly close as it was through me that she had the possibility of mixing with hearing children of the same age.

At Brownies and our local Swimming Club I would have to listen to the leaders/instructors and then translate to her as I could not listen and sign at the same time.

If we wanted to go to the cinema we had to go to a subtitled screening which round where we live, is not widely available. Nonetheless she would always help me learn and improve on my sign language and be there as a shoulder to cry on whenever necessary.

School was a place where she could flourish and start becoming such an independent spirit.

Our local deaf primary school has become a gem of a school which has impacted both on mine and my sisters’ lives in more ways than one.

As well as giving us a brilliant support network, seeing how happy my sister was there helped to influence my future life and career by giving me the decision to eventually become a teacher for the deaf.

When she left to go to boarding school and then college, our close relationship and home environment did change. Instead of constantly signing to each other we now end up signing and speaking.

It gets tiresome but since going to school and college – and myself to university – it has become rather difficult knowing what Sarah is signing as she is rather quick and using regional signs that neither myself nor my parents understand!

Hopefully with the level 2 BSL qualification I am currently working towards under my belt, Sarah and I should be able to re-forge that relationship that I have tried for so long to protect. Even so we still pride each other on the fact that every obstacle can be dealt with regardless of its severity.

The sisters today

The sisters today

Being forced to mingle with the hearing community at home presents us with such obstacles.

Not many people understand that she has no hearing at all and thus they treat her with indifference and ignorance. Only a handful of my friends growing up could communicate with her and include her in our activities.

I always hated it when she was excluded as it made her upset and frustrated. This still happens now as apart from when she went to school and now to college, she is surrounded by hearing people all the time, and my parents and I have to fight to get some recognition and even tolerance from those around us.

This even extends to our wider family because apart from the four of us, the rest of the family doesn’t properly sign or even attempt to communicate without having to go via myself or my dad.

As both my sister and I find it hugely frustrating and infuriating, we always end up having our own conversations and no longer enjoy family gatherings as we feel isolated.

It was fine when we were little because we could run off and play with our toys, but now that we are older, people always think that we are being extremely rude if we leave and do our own thing.

Be that as it may, this does not stop my sister being proud of who she is, proud that she has fought through life’s problems and continues to be strong.

Forced to be very independent, she doesn’t allow ignorant people to get her down or stop her from living her life to the full. She is an inspiration to me and to others she meets, and she has opened doors to career paths for me that without her, would have forever remained locked.

She is who she is and I am proud to call her my sister.

Emma Xx

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