Freshman year a whole new world for me. It was my first year living, studying, and simply being with other deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH) individuals. Meeting anyone is exciting, unpredictable, scary, and fun. At my college, there were people from all different backgrounds: cultural, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, academic interest, and more. Sometimes when I met someone we would have a lot of things in common - sometimes meeting someone would be more like an intergalactic exchange! And there’s a whole spectrum in between. Always, I try to be respectful of other people and our differences and have found most will do the same for me.
For the first time in my life, I was able to share my deaf experience learning in a mainstream environment with other people. However, I soon learned that everyone’s deaf experience was different. I was pleasantly surprised that I met some D/HH people even more enthused to network with other D/HH students, and I was unpleasantly surprised, disappointed, that I met people who shied away from me even though we both were D/HH. I met and interacted with five people who were D/HH in one year.
- Two were like two ships passing in the night.
- One became a very close friend who is actively involved in deaf advocacy groups. It’s hard to keep up with him, but he is super awesome. He is very open about his hearing loss and gives me tips on classes and professors - it helps that he is a year ahead and knows pretty much everything.
- One was like me in nearly every way. We both were mainstream, we both wore hearing aids, we both like learning. She writes for the school newspaper and plays the ukulele. I am very jealous of her uke skills, because I’m still learning! But we are very good friends and might get together to do an uke jam.
- The last was the disappointing one. We spent a lot a time together in classes, shared equipment and swapped some stories about the D/HH life, but never got closer than that. In fact, I might go so far to say as I felt the third avoided me. Of course, there are tons of reasons why that might be, maybe we spent too much time in the same room, maybe we have repelling personality, maybe I’m paranoid, but I suspect part of the reason might have too do with our differing attitudes on hearing loss. Although we were both mainstreamed, he wears a cochlear implant, which can vary the deaf experience a lot. My impression was that he does not want to associate with a “deaf” label, whereas I do associate with a “deaf” label and am familiar with the Deaf world, at least the Deaf world in New Mexico. I was probably one of the few D/HH people at this school to have any familiarity with the Deaf world.
He’s not alone in trying to distance himself from being “deaf.” Recently, I met another boy who also wore a cochlear implant, I was talking/signing to him and he immediately went into a defensive posture, “Oh no, I don’t know sign.” I was confused, “That’s fine. I’m mostly signing for me.” He relaxed, but still seemed a little bit on edge around me. Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to communicate with him after that, but I learned an important lesson.
Not everyone view deafness the same way (for many reasons, which I will not discuss right now). Some people view it as an obstacle. Some people view it as an integral part of them. I view it as a part of me that makes me stronger. It’s an important part of me, but it does not define who I am. I am deaf. I am also a future scientist, a baker, an Italian learner, avid reader, and procrastinator! Who are you?
P.S. See you next year!