Still in the Closet

by A.R.

I guess, in terms of admitting my "disability," I am in the closet. I am hard of hearing, but never *had* to learn ASL. I took speech therapy from 1st grade through 8th grade, and got my first hearing aids in 7th grade. I hated wearing them, so I made sure to get by by sitting in the front, teaching myself the material, and partially reading lips. I got teased in school because I "talked funny." (Now I get complimented on my articulation - many think I'm British).

Growing up I got in the habit of smiling and nodding, even if I didn't understand what was said. Occasionally it backfired because the other person was asking a question that required more than a yes or no.

Within the past couple of years, I've requested help. Telling people not to speak behind me, nor cover their lips. I also explain that if I don't respond, it's not because I'm ignoring them. I just didn't hear them.

At first, it was very hard. Sometimes my ears hurt so I wouldn't wear my hearing aids, and people, including my best friend at the time, would get mad and tell me to wear them or that I should be wearing them. Other people would become frustrated and annoyed when I asked them to repeat something a couple of times. They never voiced their frustration, but through their body language, it was very obvious. Many people don't realize that part of communication is body language. Even with hearing people, 70% of communication is body language. They just don't realize it.

My biggest pet peeve is with people who do know that I am hard of hearing. Sometimes they'll ask if I heard something, and before I can answer, they'll say, "Oh right, you didn't hear it because you can't hear." Finally, I said, "One, would you let me answer your question? and two, I'm hard of hearing, not deaf."

Not that being deaf is bad; I don't want to offend people who are deaf. I just feel that there is more patience and awareness for people who are deaf than for people like me, who, unless I tell someone I am hard of hearing, no one would have ever guessed. People who are hard of hearing work really hard too.

I wear my hearing aids regularly now, and I even got them in neon green. I'm still afraid that people will treat me differently, and I haven't gotten some jobs because of it. However, I'm learning not to be ashamed of it and others are learning to be patient and tolerant. Just because I am hard of hearing does not mean that I can't function as a fully capable, intelligent human being.