Changing Perspectives: A New World

For as long as I can remember, I grew up with the impression that deafness was a disability, and that I was the one who had to change—to work harder than everyone else—in order to “integrate” into the mainstream hearing world. I had to take years of speech therapy, one to three times a week, and go to mainstreamed schools, and wear my implant all the time. I remember having my mom as a transliterator in church and at youth group events. For many years, I just didn’t think much of it.

I mean, it was all I’d known, and the biggest things I had to worry about in middle school were squabbling with the boys I found annoying– which, in retrospect, were all of them. When I turned 13, things started to shift. I kept telling myself I was just a loner and preferred to go my own way, and to some degree, that was true. Over time, though, the feeling of isolation just got worse and worse. It got a little better in high school thanks to Emily, who opened my world just by being this shining example of kindness and grace. More than anyone else, she showed me how to be a friend.

Even so, the friends I’d made in middle school started finding new circles in high school, and while we still hung out, I had no idea where or how to find new ones. More than that, I couldn’t deny my growing identity crisis. On one hand, I was becoming more painfully aware of how my deafness bled into everything, even with people I loved. There was always, always this gap, and I didn’t know how to close it. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be shunted into this “deaf box,” where everything I did and became was all about deafness.

Before I entered college, I was skeptical about Deaf Culture, especially since I was hardly the “ideal” Deaf person: I grew up with an emphasis on spoken and auditory communication, I have a cochlear implant, I used Cued Speech rather than American Sign Language, and I saw deafness as more of a nuisance than anything else.

And then I took ASL classes at UWM, and met many Deaf people, and gradually my perspective changed. It wasn’t this cloistered community that I’d expected. People had no problem with the fact that I used a cochlear implant or Cued Speech (most were quite curious about Cued Speech, actually) and could just get by with a smattering of Signed English at first. For the first time since I left the Montessori school in Mount Prospect, I was on equal footing. For once, deafness didn’t factor in communication at all. I didn’t have to work so hard at it, and if I didn’t join in on a conversation, it was of my own volition. I didn’t have to “default” to a passive listening role out of fear of embarrassing myself because I couldn’t follow the entire conversation. I understood everything—or close to it—and chose to not participate. And to be honest, I found the Deaf
Culture’s perspective of deafness– as a variation in the human condition rather than solely a medical deficiency– to be quite redeeming.

I still cue. I still talk. I still use my cochlear implant. I still use American Sign Language (or, really, a Signed English variant, but I try to get as close to pure ASL as I can). I have a pretty even mix of deaf and hearing friends with a wide range of communication styles, but that doesn’t matter; we find a way to make it work, and we learn things from each other. In the end, I decided that I’m Hannah, I’m me, and while deafness and all the issues contained therein are a part of me, they don’t have to be all there is to me. Life’s too short to think about deaf or hearing, ASL or English. There’s a whole world out there, and I wanted to go see it.

5 thoughts on “Changing Perspectives: A New World

  1. Hi, my name is Lindy. I am profound deaf, too. I was born deaf. I am native Cuer myself, too! I I learned Cued Speech through my adoptive mother. She taught me English by Cueing. She is fluent in Cueing! I had no barriers to communicate with her . I had a Cueing family! We Cued together all the time. We never used ASL at that time. I wanted to learn ASL when I was a young kid. I was curious.. I have always looked in the ASL book. My adoptive mother and I took ASL course once when I was young girl. I had trouble learning ASL. It was hard for me. I told her that I rather use Cued Speech. So then we dropped ASL Class afterwards. We continued using Cued Speech until I transferred to Deaf School in 1988 ( When I was in 8th grade. ) I started taking ASL class in order to communicate with other deaf peers. I only used Cued Speech with my mom on weekends. After graduation from high school at Deaf School in 1993 I stopped using Cued Speech because I was hanging out with Deaf Culturally friends. I have never mentioned to them about Cued Speech. In 1994, my adoptive grandma asked me to get CI but I refused to. I told her that being deaf is normal. But then in 2012, I ultimately decided to get CI for myself. I had CI surgery . At last, my CI is very successfully. I am very delighted to have CI. I relearn my Cueing again.. I read that you cited that Deaf people have no problem with the fact about CI and Cued Speech. Well, that is your perspective. I respect your opinion..But as for me, I have my own perspective about their Deaf Culture. I have my own opinions. We view differently. In fact, a lot of Deaf Culturally people do not like Cochlear Implant and Cued Speech but some do like. I have some Deaf Culturally friends that do not like Cochlear Implant and Cued Speech. However, we respect our own perspectives. People are different. Your story is very riveting! I enjoy reading your amazing story! 🙂

    Native Cuer, Lindy

    • Hi Lindy,

      Thanks for sharing! It’s always good to hear from other cuers. I may contact you sometime about doing an interview for a blog post.

      “I read that you cited that Deaf people have no problem with the fact about CI and Cued Speech…” Well, to be precise, the d/hh people I met at UWM didn’t. My experiences outside UWM varied, although most of it was still positive and accepting. The ones that weren’t, I’ll discuss those a bit in later blogs, hopefully with fairness and tact. (Won’t be naming names, either.) I should probably tweak this comment for a separate post too, come to think of it…

      I think several factors helped at UWM:

      1) Diversity. UWM had a very diverse community of d/hh students; many came from a mainstreamed background but we had several students and teachers who attended or graduated from residential schools for the deaf. We also represented a wide range of communication styles, from pure ASL to Signed Exact English to Cued Speech, and many of us used hearing aids and cochlear implants too.

      2) Age. I do notice a very strong generational gap, starting around 1990, between what I think of as the “old school deaf”– raised in residential schools, used ASL as their primary language, had bad experiences with the auditory-verbal approach– and younger deaf people, more of whom tend to be mainstreamed and/or implanted, and with much better educational approaches too. The latter tended to be much more open-minded and accepting.

      3) Mutual Respect. Pretty much right away, I took up ASL– I got many compliments about how fast I’d improved– and started learning about Deaf Culture. I always tried to show respect and appreciation for others’ perspectives, even when we disagreed. I think that made it much easier for others to show me the same respect and appreciation in return.

      • You said, ” I always tried to show respect and appreciation for others’ perspectives, even when we disagreed. I think that made it much easier for others to show me the same respect and appreciation in return. ” Yeah… I agree with you! You are absolutely correct! I have some Deaf ASL Culturally friends are still my friends even we disagree with my opinions about CS and CI. We still remain friends and respect each other. I respect their Deaf Culture as well. You are right. But others do not want to be my friends because of my CS and CI. That is their opinions. That’s fine. People have good and bad experiences with other people for a variety of reasons. I embrace my CI Community, hearing World, and Cued Speech Community! As you mention about wanting to have an Interview with me is that what you mean? Where? Thanks for the response to my comments. Hope to hear from you soon!

        • Re: the interview, Aaron Rose used to have “Conversations with Cuers” posts on his blog at http://aaroncues.blogspot.com/. He would interview cuers and post his questions along with their responses on the blog. You can see some examples in the archives.

          Aaron has other demands on his time right now, so we’ve discussed my continuing those interviews here. Interviews would most likely take place over email or Skype, depending on the interviewee’s preference. Does that make more sense?

          • Oh,I know Aaron! I recall that about his Interview with other Cuers before. Okay, thanks for the response to my comments.

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