Kate Rowley: Note to my doctor. I’m ‘alright’ and my son’s ‘alright’

Posted on April 9, 2016

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I have just got home from a lovely ride in the local country park with my deaf son who, apparently, is not ‘alright’ according to the locum doctor.

He seems perfectly fine to me so I am not sure why anyone would think there’s anything wrong with him.

This label came about on a routine visit to the doctor.

It was one of those days where one of my kids was ill. This time, it was my hearing daughter, so off I trotted to the doctor and on arrival, I was told the locum doctor would see me.

‘Here I go,’ I thought … something about my deafness would surely come up. I have been subjected to endless questions about my deafness whenever I meet a new GP.

The questions vary but the answers are always the same.

Doctor: You’re deaf?

Me: Yes I am.

Doctor: But you speak so well?

Me: Er, *smiles awkwardly* … thinking … ‘what am I supposed to say?’

Doctor: Can you hear at all or do you just lipread?

Me: Erm, yes I can hear a bit but yes I lipread too …. *Silence* Erm, anyway, I have come here to discuss my problem.

Doctor: Oh, yes of course. How can I help?

Other times it goes like this:

Me: Hello.

Doctor: Hello, I see from your records you are deaf?

Me: Yes I am.

Doctor: Your family is deaf too?

Me: Yes, my parents, my sister, my son.

Doctor: Wow, so it’s genetic?

Me: Yes, I have Waardenburg syndrome so yes my deafness is hereditary.

Doctor: I have never heard of this before. Oh, your eyes are a different colour, wow!

Me: Yes, it’s part of the deaf gene.

Then the conversation steers towards methods of communication, sign language and so on.

Getting back to my daughter on this occasion, the locum doctor said to me, with a shocked expression, “you’re deaf?”

“Yes,” I reply.

“But your daughter, she’s alright isn’t she?” she asked.

“If you mean, is she hearing, then yes she is hearing.”

Grr, I think. What am I then? Not alright? I think I’m perfectly fine, thank you very much.

Next time, I visit the doctor along with my deaf son. Again, we meet the lovely locum doctor. On seeing my son’s hearing aid, the locum doctor gasped with a look of horror and pointed to his hearing aid.

Doctor: He’s deaf?

Me: Yes, he is deaf.

Doctor: But your daughter, she’s alright isn’t she?

I’m fuming. She says this in front of my 9 year-old son who looks confused.

Me: Yes, my daughter is hearing, but my son is alright. There is nothing wrong with him. Yes, he is deaf but that doesn’t matter to me, I can communicate with him just fine.

The conversation goes on for a bit, and finally we come round to sorting out my son’s earache or virus.

Luckily my son doesn’t seem to be too affected by what happened, but I am furious.

I thought I should make a formal complaint but then I think, ‘what difference would it make?’ Hearing people out there don’t understand that people who are culturally deaf are happy as they are.

My life, in many ways, is just the same as the lives of hearing people. I just face more barriers and prejudices.

Kate Rowley is a sign language researcher and is most passionate about deaf education and deaf children. Her main ambition is to ‘change the world’, to make a real difference to deaf children’s lives. Kate grew up in a deaf family, and went to a deaf secondary school. Her favourite things in the world are watching TV series, reading, spending time chatting and debating with other deafies!

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