“Mom, when I’m big, I want to be a Vet. I want to help animals,” she signed, eyes gleaming as heart and head agreed on a dream.
In the split seconds between an assuring smile, careful nod and encouraging hug, I couldn’t help debating whether to interject her little dream with a suggestion that yes, she could help animals…she could volunteer at the SPCA, or maybe we could adopt a zoo?
Was it ok for me to affirm her actual dream or even dare encourage it, when as it stands in my country, South Africa, for kids like her, that’s pretty much an impossibility? What do you say to your kid? “Sorry Honey, Deaf kids can’t become Vets, or Doctors, or Scientists, or Engineers or well, anything that needs Physical Science as a school subject? Maybe think of something else?”
Imagine choosing to just pretend for that moment, that becoming a Vet for a Deaf Bilingual child was possible, just to keep that toothless smile bright and excited, and protect that little heart from prematurely discovering the overwhelming reality.
Sure, kids dream of being princesses in castles, super heroes, astronauts and other things that only very few might ever be able to experience, and yes, they even have the freedom to change their adventurous minds fifty million times if they want to. The joy of endless possibilities!
And whilst I’m the first person to appreciate that joy, contentment and “success” need not come from any clichéd career, I still think having the freedom to dream, and ultimately choose how to spend your life, is important.
You know what? Those sensitive hands and heart, would make one heck of a Vet or even a compassionate Psychologist! That enquiring and creative mind would be an exceptional Scientist, Inventor or Leader for that matter. That astute vision and attention to detail – the making of an incredible Designer or world class Architect. The sharp sense of smell and taste – a recipe for a MasterChef!
So, what is limiting our Deaf children? What is snuffing out their dreams for their future?
Early Identification and Early Intervention are critical. Time missed here is critical time lost. This reality is true for most developing nations – that’s the bulk of Deaf children!
Then, the ugly truths of the unequal education opportunities, aren’t often enough declared nor honestly discussed. The fattest elephant is in this room! Where can my child learn Physical Science? There is not one school where she can access, and I mean truly ACCESS this subject!
According to statistics, Deaf children in my country, will leave school with English literacy levels equal to that of a typical primary school child. There’s no chance there of the Psychology degree, nor really anything that will require independent reading for comprehension and study.
It would be so great if more people said that this reality, was not okay. That little Deaf people should have, “I want to become…” dreams too. That moms and dads all over the world wouldn’t need to shatter those dreams early to avoid disappointment later.
Feeling compelled to share the truth and advocate for change, I roped in an incredibly talented friend of mine, Julie Smith-Belton, who helped me created images of a “I am Deaf, and I want to be…” campaign. Why? Because being Deaf shouldn’t mean that you can’t dream. It shouldn’t mean that you are discriminated against through inequity. It shouldn’t mean that broken systems dictate your future. Being Deaf should mean you can exclaim, “I’m different and unique, and I CAN!”
Julie, thank you for sharing your talent with us and for us! Deaf kids out there – you’ve been made with special gifts and for a special purpose- let those little lights of yours shine bright! You CAN! Parents – NEVER settle for 2nd best; comfort zones are overrated! Government – you are losing out on an incredible resource – the gift of our Deaf people in every arena.
Bianca is a South African mom to three extraordinary girls who are all Deaf. Medical Doctor, now National Coordinator of HI HOPES Early Intervention Programme and founder of THRIVE parent support group, Bianca enjoys supporting families journeying similarly.
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