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Navigating being deaf

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

As some of you may know or don’t know.. I’m deaf. I suffer from moderate to severe hearing loss. So in other words, the microwave beeping after your food’s done, can’t hear it. After years of me learning how to navigate life with my hearing loss, it’s now something that I’ve finally accepted about myself.

One day while at a family friend's house playing with one of my childhood friend's, her mom asked for me to go downstairs, explaining that she would call out to me. "Jasmine, she said, “ ....Can you hear me? Yes, I replied. She began to ask more questions, but following that, I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. She finished asking me questions and I came back upstairs, back to playing I went. That family friend suggested that my parents take me to an audiologist, which started the many hearing tests to come down the road.

Linda, thank you for seeing me at this moment. Because of you, we’re able to catch this from an early age.

“I was six” when my parents found out I was suffering from hearing loss in both ears.

I couldn’t really hear a single word growing up, but I had mastered reading lips. Watching someone speak and studying the movements of their lips, I knew exactly what was said. It only became an issue if someone wasn’t speaking loud enough or talking with their back against me. Still to this day, if I can't hear you I’m probably reading your lips.

“This began a new chapter for me”

I was enrolled in a school that specialized in special education. They had an amazing program for students with disabilities (Shout-out to Henry E. N Elementary) and was held back for another year in Kindergarten but this time with hearing aids and a new language, sign language.

School for me typically looked like checking in with my home room teacher and picking up my gear for the day. At the time, it was this big box that was hooked up to a suspender like strap, following that a million cords that went into the hearing aids, it wasn’t cute.. trust me. After dressing myself with this ancient hearing aid set, I then would walk to class with my interpreter. I’d walk into class and the moment I entered all eyes were on me. Me, a young black girl, with corn-roll braided back with a million beads dangling from my hair. Along with a weird box attached to her and a random woman walking in alongside her, escorting me in for a seat in the very front of the class.

Let’s Pause.

Try to envision that with me... Maybe the only way I can best describe this for my hearing folks is being in a yoga class then a fart accidentally letting loose or being in a meeting where you swear you put your phone on silent, then your mom calls, and the ring tone starts to go off. That blood rushing embarrassed feeling is what I felt.

(For me) that’s what it felt like every single time I walked into class, then it usually was followed by the teacher asking me in very slow motion, if I could hear OK? After hearing this just fine and it is signed to me by my interpreter I replied in my shy voice, “Yes.

“Growing up deaf” was pretty quiet considering I was an only child up until the age of 7. My parents who did a great job at adapting to having a deaf child, just spoke louder whenever I didn’t hear anything. Mom and Dad worked, I’d go to school, do my homework, and play with my Barbie dolls.

I had a huge imagination, I love dreaming and creating things, I’d make up storylines in my head of being a Fashion designer, sketching looks in my sketchbook, and finding scraps around the house to turn into an outfit. Sunday’s were followed by church, I could never hear much from the teachers as they were balancing Sunday school lessons and busy children at the same time. But I studied Veggie Tales.. is how I learned about different stories in the Bible.

This lasted until March 7th, 2000 when Tammye birthed little Jalah, my new baby sister who I saw as a doll at first, grew into a feisty 2-year- old who knew exactly what she wanted. I prayed for a little friend and boy did God come through with that request.

As I grew older I experienced the same routine as I did in elementary school, checking in to home room picking up my equipment but now it wasn’t a weird box anymore, there were no more wires. The hearing aids now came with a microphone that you handed to every teacher at the beginning of every hour, making sure they clipped it on just right. I walked in before everyone to get my seat in the very front, following me came to my interpreter. Sitting in the very front smiling directly at me. Only now as I entered middle school, there were cute boys I had crushes on, who would approach my interpreters to ask if they could sign something for me. Depending on who it was, they’d sign exactly what was said. Was he going to ask if we could hang out or be friends? I thought.

“Why does that lady follow you to every class” they’d ask. Because I can’t hear, she signs for me, I’d say while my heart sank into my stomach.

“So you can’t hear me right now?

Yes, I can! I explained.

"So why do you need her if you can hear me?

"Because I can't hear that good"

He’d lower his voice. "So Can you hear me now?

"Yup". I I replied".

“Huh, I don’t get it, you’re weird”.

I can't even keep count on how many times that happened to me as a kid. How can a 14 year old explain that she’s hearing impaired to a boy who only can see things from a surface level? As I entered High School it was the same thing all over again, but now with more people, larger classrooms, and new teachers. Luckily, a handful of students that were with me in Middle School all transitioned with me to High School and they were used to it.

I honestly couldn’t bear through that again.. I began to rebel, I no longer wanted to sit in the front, instead, I’d sit with my friends anywhere in the classroom. My interpreters would either stay in front signing not quite understanding why refused to sit anywhere but the front, or come with me bringing their chair over directly to me, where my group of friends and I were located to sign anything I had missed.

I had some really great interpreters, I tear up writing this because I’d see the frustration on their faces when I go against the norm. Some just didn’t get me or expressed to me that the best way for them to do their job is for me to cooperate. I thank the ones who’d adjust to how I wanted to do things. Even coming up with a plan when to sign (hint: that awkward moment I shared earlier where kids went to through them to talk to me) I had a routine now, that when I looked to them is when I needed to know what was said and have it translated. Sadly, with me doing this I missed out on a ton of information. Many times I had to work even harder to get things done and play catch up when missing some of the information, but it was what I wanted.. I wanted to feel normal, just like everyone else.

To be continued.


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