I was sat in the school minibus, gleefully chatting and excited to be going on a trip when my friend beside me turned round to the girl sitting behind me and shouted at her.
“That’s an awful thing to say!” My friend exclaimed.
It was then relayed to me in childlike terms that this class’mate’ of mine had uttered a complaint along the lines of
“The only reason everyone likes her is because she’s deaf…”
I was eight years old and acutely aware that perhaps I had been – and likely always will be – treated differently to others because of my deafness.
But I didn’t get angry and I didn’t feel hurt. I sat quietly as we drove off to a nearby museum and wondered how the girl may be right…
I did get more attention in school for one thing. The teachers always had to face me and chat to me throughout the day to ensure I was okay. And I got given extra books and resources to take home and I’d share these with my friends.
Each week a peripatetic teacher would visit my school and take me out of a boring class (like Maths!) to do fun art, music or history topics. I got to choose two lucky friends each time to join me.
There were plenty of perks outside of school too. I got to do extra activities with the local deaf childrens society. I learnt to sign and taught my best friends the BSL alphabet so during assemblies we could “whisper” in our finger spelling code, often just spelling out b-o-r-i-n-g and giggling to each other.
So whilst I don’t think my friends only liked me because I was deaf, I do think that I enjoyed the perks and had fun sharing those with my buddies too. That girl in the minibus was probably just jealous…
And as I’ve grown older I’ve become better at filtering out the people that treat me differently because of my deafness and I’m quicker to identify those who see me just as I am.
Because in actual truth, I don’t want to be treated differently. I’m not talking about meeting access requirements or adapting communication methods. I’m talking about plain old how you behave towards omeone…
Even if they’re trying extra hard to be nice or friendly, I’m not comfortable with the notion that it’s only because I’m deaf.
It’s a double edged sword, you see. Do you treat someone differently because you admire them? Or because you feel sorry for them? Or.. Even worse, because you’re afraid of them?
I’ve experienced all of the above. My old neighbours, who I’ve written about previously, would avoid my husband and I like the plague because they “felt sorry” for us (their words!) and didn’t think we were worth talking to… I’ve also had university colleagues say they were afraid to sit beside me for fear they would have to talk to me… And I have mums in the school playground now that unknowingly patronise me with exaggerated speech and make a big fuss whenever I’m around.
I know that some people mean well. And they don’t mean to treat me differently. But they do.
And it’s because it’s all still a bit of a taboo. How do I talk to a deaf person? Do I act normally when she’s around? Should I invite her to the party? Should I say hello? What if she doesn’t hear me?
And it’s probably due to a great lack of representation in mainstream media that most of the time people don’t have a clue how they should act around us.
Each one of us – however deaf we are – are walking billboards for deaf awareness and just by being ourselves we are showing the world that we are all different in various ways. Its not something to run from or be afraid of.
Yes, we will encounter idiots and prejudiced so and so’s all because they see an invisible “DEAF!!!!” sign whenever we are near. But it’s our duty to use our filters wisely, praise the good, and either ignore or speak out against the bad.
Those who truly see us won’t just see our deafness. They’ll see us. And perhaps being quick to discover those people is the biggest perk of all.