I bet you wouldn’t know I was Deaf unless I told you – John’s story
I was born profoundly deaf, diagnosed at 1, and had hearing aids until 10 when I received a cochlear implant in my left ear.
I went to primary and high schools both here and overseas. I graduated from high school with an UAI (ATAR) in the 90s. I’ve graduated from university with a double degree of social science and law
I’ve become a professional tennis coach with my own business, coaching people of all ages. I’ve travelled the world representing Australia in international Deaf tennis. I’ve got a wife and a baby girl.
If I walked past you on the street, if I was served by you in a restaurant or a shop, chances are you’d have no idea I was Deaf until I told you.
I didn’t consider myself as deaf because I didn’t sign. I was Deaf by biology, not culturally or identity-wise.
I didn’t want to know or meet any other Deaf teenagers when I was growing up because their world wasn’t the same as mine.
I come from a hearing family, I have a hearing wife and daughter, I have many hearing friends, I went to a normal mainstream school, I did well academically and was active in sport.
Unless you have a family member or close friend with a hearing loss, you’d have no inkling of what it has taken for me to get to this point in life. I’ve worked so hard for so long to fit in but at what cost?
How much work I put in with my speech therapists for years, how many appointments I went to, how many times I was pulled out of class to do extra audio verbal therapy work when all I wanted to do was be part of the class and be with my friends.
How much work my mother put in to make sure I got the environment I needed at home and at school, chasing up teachers and administrators, when she had two other children to look after and a career of her own to build.
How much work it was to hang out with my hearing friends, to try understand group discussions with multiple speakers when I can only lipread one person at a time, to be consciously aware of how socially underdeveloped I was and constantly be in danger of being shunted out to the periphery of school friendships.
How much work it took my siblings to make sure I was always included, how many times they heard snide comments about me from bystanders behind my back, when they should have just been enjoying their time out with their own friends instead of worrying about me, how many times I kept asking them to explain what was being said in conversations, movies, TV shows when they could have been enjoying it.
How much work it still takes for me now as an adult member of society to make my way in life. How many times I have to ignore phone calls because I can’t hear well on the phone and then ring them back through the National Relay Service, how many times I have to say “Excuse me” when someone is talking and I can’t read their lips clearly. How many times I worry about meeting strangers and not be able to understand them.
In spite of it all, I am one of the lucky ones. I came from a well-off middle class family who were totally supportive of me. I had a mother who was an exceptional advocate. I had access to top speech therapists and audiologists all over the world. I went to schools where teachers and principals were accommodating and helpful. Many others have not been so lucky.
Then again, how were you supposed to know all this?
No-one told you. It’s not your fault. I don’t blame you.
But with this national campaign to make hearing health and well-being a priority, I hope you do now.