The challenges of straddling the hearing and deaf communities

By Claire Boston | Multimedia Journalist

I’m deaf, but you wouldn’t know it. Not unless you saw my cochlear implant, or CI, when I had my hair in a ponytail, or if my battery died and had to explain why I couldn’t hear anything anymore. My speech is excellent and sounds completely normal, which isn’t always the case for CI users.

Around middle school, I stopped mentioning that I am deaf when meeting people. Most of my classmates knew at that point, and I didn’t think it was really necessary to state that I’m deaf when meeting someone unless it was noisy, and I couldn’t hear them.

That being said, I don’t mind when people ask me questions about my experience and how my CI works. In fact, I encourage it because it shows a genuine interest in my life and a desire to know more about me without making assumptions. I love educating people on being deaf because it in turn benefits me when my friends and peers know when I probably didn’t hear an instruction and need it repeated or how best to communicate with me if I’m having trouble hearing.

Some days, I forget that I’m deaf, and other days it’s constantly at the forefront of my mind. It all depends on my environment and the people that are around me. If there’s a lot of background noise or if I’m in a large crowd, it is significantly harder for me to hear what the person next to me is saying. If I’m in the car and music is blaring and people are talking, I will hear hardly any of the conversation. It becomes so easy for me to check out of the situation when I can only make out a few words here and there. Noisy situations quickly become overwhelming for me, and my default reaction is to isolate myself.

When I’m tired or stressed about other things besides my deafness, a simple instance of getting frustrated by not hearing can become a lot more upsetting than usual. From around middle school onward, I can recall many times when I have cried over feeling left out because I couldn’t hear the conversation or because my teacher didn’t understand why I needed a certain accommodation. Situations like these left me feeling helpless and alone.

I always felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. Being deaf made me feel like I wasn’t part of the hearing world, but being a CI user meant I wasn’t a part of the deaf community either. My family is all hearing, except for my brother who is deaf. I grew up speaking, not signing, and I only know a small amount of ASL. That places me in between — not able to hear fully in the hearing world and not being able to communicate effectively in the deaf world.

Now, I have gotten a little more used to not being able to participate in conversations at larger gatherings or in noisy places, but that does not mean it doesn’t hurt or frustrate me though. I still get upset when my friends have a conversation and I’m struggling to be a part of it, or if my professor is speaking too fast in class and can’t keep up.

Coming to college and finding an incredible church community helped me to build my relationship with God so much deeper. I really dove into what the Father’s heart for all people looks like and learned a lot about God’s character. This changed my experience to one of a positive outlook. I still struggle in noisy situations, but I don’t let that reflect on who I am, or who God is. I’m able to combat the lies that once told me I was alone and not wanted simply because I couldn’t hear for reasons beyond my control. I now know that God does not want me to live in fear and isolation, but rather the complete opposite. Freedom and community are things I never thought I’d experience. But today, I am living in freedom and walking in a community that I feel fully immersed in — a community that I had longed for my whole life.

The heartbreaking truth is that deaf individuals are at a significant disadvantage in this world — not only in communication, education and employment, but in spirituality as well. Deaf individuals are the third-largest unreached group with the Gospel of Christ. This means that the low self-esteem I was experiencing in my childhood and the feelings of isolation and rejection are prevalent in so many deaf children right now. There is a non-profit organization called Aid the Silent that is working to provide resources to deaf children and working in deaf ministry to give deaf children the opportunity to know Jesus.

My hope is that more and more deaf children will be given the resources they need to be successful, and that they would be given the opportunity to know Jesus and find a community they feel known and loved in. If you want to know how you can help or learn more, I encourage you to visit Aid the Silent‘s website.