The Unspoken Shame of Being Hearing Impaired: A Failing Society

Since I was 18 years old, I have been consistently attending jury duty dutifully every 3 years. It is truly the most hellacious experience I can possibly envision, but I did it because I felt like it was my civic duty.

Now, as a 37 year old aging woman, I am not the picture of health I was in my younger years. I do not clutch on to that sense of civic pride as I once did in my youth. Grappling with anxiety and depression, struggling to find ample work, and being profoundly hard of hearing since a young age have all affected me greatly over the years. My hearing loss, and lack of proper health care to provide me with the appropriate intervention I need, has made me suffer so much with low self-esteem and has severely lessened my chances of finding productive work. Living in poverty for most of life mixed with lack of proper health care, I never received the proper services including getting a hearing aid or even learning sign language. I have learned to adapt and evolve and have gotten by in life by learning to read people’s lips and watching what other people do and mimicking their actions, but that does not always work. I have missed important information in my work place that has gotten me into trouble numerous times in the past and have missed important information with my family that could have had serious consequences if I had not asked again to ask for clarification. This has been a stigma I lived with my whole life. It has even effected my job prospects in major ways.

Because I do not own a hearing aid and do not know sign language, what can a woman with profound hearing loss do to make a living? I have remained in the bubble of substitute teaching for many years because it was truly the only thing I could do, being hard of hearing. I didn’t have to answer phones, I didn’t really have to interact with the students much aside from giving their assignments and taking attendance, etc.

The fact that I am 37 years old with profound hearing loss, I have faced several hurdles. There appears to a serious lack of empathy and compassion that has become rampant in this country. People are quick to dismiss others with genuine disabilities. They are seen as lame and worthless. They are seen as liars and crybabies. When did our country become so callous and cold and incapable of exhibiting genuine warmth and care towards our fellow citizens? This is not the America I was raised in. I was born and raised here and right from birth we were raised to respect the flag, to be patriotic and to give others a helping hand where needed. Since when… since when is it alright to be rude and disrespectful to others who have a genuine disability that has plagued them their entire lives?

I remember early on in childhood always being hard of hearing and my classmates and teachers being purposely cruel and talking low on purpose because they thought I was lying about not being able to hear. I remember the months of recuperation when I would be completely 100% deaf after suffering horrible head colds. During one of these periods, I had given my high school teacher a doctor’s note to explain that I was deaf due to excess fluid build up in my ears and to kindly skip over calling on me for that day in class. I wasn’t trying to flake out of reading in class. I actually enjoyed reading aloud. I still enjoy reading aloud to this day. I genuinely could not hear if and when I was being called on by the teacher and couldn’t hear my fellow classmates reading so I wouldn’t be able to tell where to start reading from where the last person left off. Sure enough, the teacher had to call on me. I didn’t even realize the whole class sat there is utter, bitter silence for what seemed to be an eternity when I finally looked up at their shocked and horror-ridden faces. When I realized I was being called on to read, I just picked any place to read and read because I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t hear my classmates tell me to stop reading and one student grabbed my arm to get my attention. My face flamed with embarrassment. I was so mortified by the whole experience, but I was not going to let my teacher see me crack with the utter defeat and shame I felt.

I have become more anxious and depressed over my hearing loss as I have gotten older and it has made me less eager to leave my own home. I have become so self conscious over my hearing impairment, so afraid of being chastised for something that is genetic and completely beyond my own control.

I avoid phones as much as possible because I simply cannot hear what the other person is saying on the other line. I have to be facing individuals when they are speaking to me so that I can read their lips in case I miss vital parts of the conversation, and I have the subtitles on every show that I watch. Music gets amped up loudly, even though I know that will only ruin what is left of my hearing, but music has become one of the last joys remaining in my life.

What is the purpose of this conversation? Well, I feel that I have been targeted because I am poor and because I am hearing impaired and am being picked on by the powers that be. I feel that because I am perceived as weak, that I am an easy target and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Injustices occur in every corner of this country. It is up to its citizens to fight for what is believed to be the right thing and stick up for yourself. I heard the most amazing quote today from one of my favorite television programs, “When Calls The Heart.” The quote states, “Bad things happen, if good people do nothing.” This is exactly why I will continue to fight for myself and other people who are afflicted with similar issues as myself to ensure that we are all treated fairly and treated as equals.self portrait


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