What would it be like to not be the only deaf person in the family – where you and your siblings all live with deafness? Read the fascinating insight into Salamah Farooque’s family.
I was just seven years old when I was diagnosed with moderate deafness. When my two younger sisters were also declared to have the same level of hearing loss, a solidarity was forged between us. In an otherwise hearing family, coping with the challenges of adapting to being a hearing aid wearer was made easier by the shared understanding existing between me and my sisters, to whom I could relate when no-one else understood our struggles. Although hearing aids allows me to hear at the same level as everyone else, challenges do arise. Practical concerns include worrying about having spare batteries or losing our aids and the aching in our ears that make us want to take the hearing aids out when at home. But I always had people in the same boat as me.
Thankful for my siblings
Having siblings with hearing impairment has been a blessing for which I am continually grateful. I can joke around with them when we are being too loud or ask them if they understand what someone in our family is saying when I don’t catch it. I can ask my siblings if they experience similar technical difficulties or general struggles, things I might brush aside if I didn’t have people around me with a mutual understanding of what I go through daily. In turn, it has been beneficial for my other family members to be reminded of our difficulties with communication especially when we are at home and tend to remove our hearing aids. As a result, they make an effort to repeat themselves or speak louder. I have found that this awareness of our own struggles helps us empathise with others who have a disability or impairment beyond our household.
A fascinating occurrence which my sisters and I have noticed taking place involves hearing only parts of a person’s speech without getting the opportunity to ask them to repeat themselves. Five minutes later, our brain pieces together the missing words of the sentence through a combination of context, tone changes and common sense and somehow we find out what was being said to us without any help. Whilst this does not always happen, there is a certain triumph and elation at being able to understand what someone said through the aid of our own mind rather than through any assistance. It is also something we found intriguing about the capabilities of brain and its resilience.
An added consideration
Because my sister and I wear hijabs, a common struggle we find is that people can forget about our hearing impairment and the extra measures needed to accommodate our hearing loss. This could include facing us when they speak to enable lip reading, speaking loud enough especially over background noise, or being willing to repeat themselves if we do not hear them correctly the first time. In some ways, however, the hijab may be of benefit in delaying judgement and unwelcome treatment. Yet to an extent, this has allowed us to negate our deaf identity – we can get by in social encounters without the need for much help. However, in exceptional circumstances such as when one of us loses our hearing aids or runs out of battery without any spares when we are outside, the need to be understood as a deaf person is suddenly crucial. Since not everyone is aware of our hearing loss, we must keep re-establishing our status. On the other hand, if that demands too much effort or a fear of explaining oneself in vain to someone who has never even heard of hearing aids, we deal with our problems in silence. This fuels a lot of anxiety since we are afraid of being misunderstood, making ourselves stand out and even frustrating others.
Nonetheless, the shared understanding that exists between me and my sisters helps us feel less alone. Between us, we manage to find humour in our deafness. In our family and friend circles, one of my deaf sisters decided to compile a joke book of misheard words, sentences or phrases that come with the Chinese whispers we face on a day-to-day basis. Often, this happens when we hear and interpret what someone has said in a completely illogical manner that is also completely out of context, but makes us laugh, nonetheless. What is fascinating and in a sense reassuring, is that it is not only me and my deaf sisters who encounter this problem but our hearing friends and family members too!
Not having any ties to other D/deaf or hard of hearing people for most of our lives has also made the fact that we all experience the same level of hearing loss crucial in helping us adapt to life post-diagnosis. Having hearing aids meant that I could hear the fridge humming, clocks ticking, and even, although I had no idea what this was when I first got my hearing aids, the sound of still air. It is with my hard of hearing siblings that we were able to share our experiences and newfound wonders with others who understood us. Even little jokes we make when we switch off our hearing aids when our environment gets too loud and chaotic, make our bond special. We support one another when someone does not stop to repeat themselves, for example, and use our collective voice and shared understanding to ensure each other’s needs are met. For me, it is perhaps this bond that has made having hearing aids less of a problem and hindrance in my daily life, since our impairment is openly acknowledged collectively.
It is for this reason, my deaf identity has never been completely brushed aside or forgotten.
If you would like to write for Deaf Unity and share your journey, your personal experience of deafness or learning in education or employment, get in touch!
Looking for more support? We’ve made it our mission to improve the lives of deaf people everywhere. Check out Deaf Unity’s projects to find out what we can do for you. If you’d like to get in touch, contact us here.