If I’m going to be very honest with you guys, I will admit that growing up, I was very naïve about my deafness. I always thought it was a temporary “thing” that would suddenly disappear when I head off to college. Whenever I thought about my future, I never thought about my deafness, or how it could potentially hinder any of my career aspirations. I still think this way. I sometimes think, quite stupidly, that my deafness will vanish and I won’t have to deal with having accommodations, or falling terribly behind conversations, or not being able to hear in the water, etc.
I am not saying these things out of pity. I’m just sharing my inner thoughts, hoping to bring a new perspective on people who are different.
Of course, I knew I was deaf. But I didn’t realize that my deafness was a lifetime thing.
My mother mentioned a story to me recently. Though I have no recollection of it, she remembers the moment vividly.
It was the summer of 2005, some months after my second Cochlear Implant operation. She and I were sitting on the swing set in the backyard, presumably taking a break from whatever activity we were doing. But, out of the blue, I asked “So when will I be done wearing my processors?” My mom didn’t realize that I had actually thought my deafness would go away. Thus, she responded “This isn’t a temporary thing, you will have to wear your processors forever.”
The incident really shows the naiveté I had about my deafness. Growing up, I knew I was different, and I knew I needed accommodations to help me with my deafness. I guess I didn’t quite fully register how permanent my deafness was until my freshman year of high school.
During an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting, my parents, my speech therapists, the director of special education, and I were discussing an upcoming evaluation that I would need to take to prove that I still needed accommodations. These accommodations, including a FM System (microphone) and CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation), helped me keep up with the pace of my Honors and AP courses. Nevertheless, like the typical teenager, I was reluctant to have to take, what I saw, was an unnecessary and incredibly boring test. I questioned why I would have to take it as I saw no point to it. Obviously, I was deaf and needed services to help me. Why does there need to be a test to prove it?
“We need to check to make sure that your disability still qualifies you for continuing services.”
Whoa, whoa. Back up. What disability? I’m disabled? What are you talking about?
I was so confused and taken aback that I blurted out “I don’t have a disability, I don’t need to take this test.”
I had an identity crisis after the meeting. As my mom and I made our way to the car, I questioned her, “Am I really disabled? Why are they saying I have a disability when I obviously don’t?”
The truth was, legally, I do have a disability. Fortunately, my parents knew better to raise me, simply as me being myself. They didn’t want to give me this false perception that I was disabled. Because in their eyes, I wasn’t.
If you’re told that you are something, you might actually start to believe that you are that something. So if I were raised being told I was disabled, I would most likely grow up thinking, “I am a disabled person and I can’t do anything.”
My mom interrupted me in the midst of questioning her…and myself, that “Yes, you do have a disability, but only because you are hearing impaired. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.”
She was right. And I am so glad…so damn glad, that she raised me not thinking I had a disability. Sure, I knew I was different, and yes, I did think this “difference” would go away, but I was raised thinking I could do things, that things were possible for me…to hear, to go to a mainstream school, to travel halfway across the world by myself, to go to Boston University, to be independent.
All in all, yes, I do have a disability, but I would never in a million years consider myself disabled. I was not raised that way, nor was I even raised thinking in that way. But, yes, I do have to overcome some obstacles to simply get access to sounds. Doesn’t everyone have some thing that they need to overcome?
Thus, the legality of that IEP meeting made me really think about my deafness, that this was real. Going into high school, I had a much bigger role to play in these IEP meetings, where I could speak for myself, and like a young adult, be more actively involved in these legal and technical conversations about the services I needed.
No matter what the law says, or what other people may think, I try to continue seeing myself as “Alanna”.
***I wanted to share this story because many of my deaf friends and I do not consider ourselves to be “disabled”. Yes, we do have to go above and beyond with certain things, but we simply think ourselves as unique individuals, trying hard to succeed in making our own dreams come true.