Jenn Hearn: What I wish the hearing world could understand about deaf people

Posted on April 13, 2015

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Jenn Hearn

As a small child at a mainstream hearing school, I remember sitting around the lunch table while my hearing peers told stories. I could not follow what was being said, so I just laughed when they laughed and frowned when they did.

After years of speech therapy, I still felt totally isolated. Even then I knew that it was not fair that I had to work so hard to learn to speak like a hearing person, only to be isolated by my deafness in social settings.

Sadly, this is a very common experience among hearing impaired people. We often wonder, shouldn’t communication be a two-way street?

I finally got the opportunity in high school to attend a School for the Deaf. Ironically, once I learned American Sign Language, it was then that I felt the least “deaf” and “impaired” than I ever did in the hearing world.

With the communication barriers broken down, I felt like I finally truly belonged somewhere. My personality flourished, and I got to see that while quiet and shy around hearing people, I am vibrant and outgoing around Deaf peers.

Some Deaf people are angry. Only a small percentage of us are born into the Deaf world, the rest have to struggle with our identity and communication barriers throughout our lives.

Growing up, some of us are subjected to years of embarrassing and tedious speech therapy, only to be made fun of for our voices that we worked so hard to acquire.

We master lip-reading, only to be left out of conversations repeatedly. We are given cochlear implants as if it is the cure for all of our woes, yet we still are, and always will be, deaf.

Some of our Deaf peers have been brutally beaten or even killed whenever officers misinterpret our signing as an attempt to resist arrest, or mistake our hard-earned clear voices as a sign that we can actually hear their demands as well.

Some of us have been treated as inconveniences when we pull directly up to the window to order our food or coffee. Some of us have been misdiagnosed with metal health issues we do not have, and in some cases we are given medication for the wrong conditions, locked away in mental health hospitals for years, or denied treatment altogether for conditions we DO have.

This is partially the result of diagnostic tools being designed for patients with spoken language and administered by those who are not well-versed in Deaf culture norms.

Some of us are still denied accommodations or given unqualified interpreters in educational, legal, professional, and medical situations, sometimes with far-reaching or deadly consequences which can change the course of lives and the lives of our loved ones.

We Deaf are less likely to be given leadership roles or denied the jobs we apply for. Yes, some of us are angry.

We are born into a world which we are not completely equipped to fit into, a world designed for those who can hear. Even so, we are amazing.

Jenn Hearn

Jenn Hearn

We have our own unique collectivist culture and Signed Languages. We have fellow Deaf peers in the White House, or working as dentist, authors, physicians, lawyers, engineers, and professors.

We are great mothers, fathers, friends, and any other role that can be found in the hearing world. We have a unique perspective on life and a richness of character that comes from our years of struggling with communication barriers and our identity. If only the hearing world could understand this.

The hearing world can do many things to make our world more Deaf-friendly. They can take the time to learn how to accommodate us, and follow through with it. Know that our ability to speak is not always an accurate assessment of how much we can hear.

Police officers and other professional organizations need to make Deaf sensitivity training a part of their core education. Hearing parents of deaf children, help your child find his/her own identity instead of assigning one to them.

At the very least, please do not teach them that those who sign are failures, or that those who choose to learn speech are less Deaf. Take the time to learn about our culture and language. Doing these things is a great start toward making the modern Deaf experience into a more positive one for us.

Jenn Hearn is a Deaf mom of two adorable little boys. She works as an adjunct instructor of ASL and SLI/ASL lab coordinator at University of Cincinnati.

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