Striving for ability with a disability

Story by Devanshi Chhabra

People with hearing loss make up a broad spectrum. Some people are born with it, a few develop it later in life, many are rendered deaf from an accident, and more. As someone hard of hearing, I don’t belong to the D/deaf community, neither do I identify as someone from the hearing community. There’s a gap between the two. It’s a gap I’m trying to create awareness about. Hard-of-hearing is a term used for a person with a hearing loss ranging from mild to severe.

I was 5 years old when I suffered from a disease named Measles. It led to an infection in my ear that affected my hearing ability. I was too young and hardly remember anything that happened. Until high school, I was the odd one out. I got weird looks from my classmates. I always sat in a corner & every time I turned away someone would laugh or ridicule my speech. I gradually became very self-conscious whenever my hearing aids were on display. Of course, it was hard to ignore them. At a time like that, I wanted to fit in the way everyone did. So, I'd take off my hearing aids.

Being treated like an outcast in my first school wore me down. I changed schools for my 12th grade. I had spent a whole 13 years in a school that made me feel different, even when I wasn’t. To my astonishment, people at my new school treated me like family. My peers were very endearing and hardly reacted to my speech or hearing aid. I looked at their acceptance with admiration. The atmosphere at my new school was a breath of fresh air, and I did everything to make my time there worthwhile, I bunked classes, made amazing friends, and stayed at the hostel, making sure I had the typical high school experience.

Eventually, after graduation, I started advocating for the D/deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Just like everyone else, I faced criticism along the way. It was inevitable. I was asked, Do you know sign language? Are you even deaf? - the list goes on. They told me to leave the hearing community and learn sign language, but every individual has different communication strategies. I was still told I didn’t fit, forgetting to acknowledge people like me that make up the gap between the D/deaf and the hearing community.

By the time I was diagnosed with a hearing loss, my speech had developed. My ability to speak is a part of my individuality. Since my loss of hearing is sort of a hidden disability, every time I tell people I have a hearing loss, I’m hit with you don’t even look deaf. How I communicate with people is equally bewildering, along with the misunderstanding that my hearing aids restore hearing loss. It’s a popular myth. In reality, they only amplify sound, leaving me with low clarity in a busy environment. 

I’ll soon move abroad to complete my Masters in Special Education. It is a motive of mine to create an inclusive environment for people with disabilities in schools and colleges. We want accommodations and accessibility to help us lead a productive life. We want captions on our TVs and in movie theatres. We want to hear even if it means ‘hearing’ through captions in an emergency room, at a lecture, or on an airplane. I strive for inclusivity and social cohesion for us, and I trust that humanity is capable of it.

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