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The Culture of In-Between

By Lindsay Hutton

The Culture of In-Between

Conversations about hearing loss look much different than they used to. A hundred years ago, if you experienced hearing loss at some point in your life – whether you were born with it or not – huge barriers existed that made it difficult to have access to many of the things we take for granted. Access to education, better health care, agencies to advocate for our needs – all of this came with a struggle, informed alongside the idea that we, as people who hear differently, have the same rights and freedoms as anyone else.

Because of the many victories of the deaf civil rights movement, as well as the many technical advances in assistive hearing technologies, we have far easier access to the resources, technology and support we need. At the same time, more than ever, people aren’t afraid to identify as someone with hearing loss.

However, a conundrum of identity exists for some of us. What about those of us who choose not to use assistive technologies? If we do use them, will we feel alienated by others in deaf/HH communities? And what about those of us who identify as hard-of-hearing and still want to be part of the conversation?

“I grew up with hearing aids and FM systems for as long as I can remember,” says Sara, 21, a student at the University of Guelph, who works with a deaf rights group. At the age of 16, Sara decided to not use assistive technologies any longer. “I don’t blame anyone for making me use them when I was younger, but I made a choice. I can speak, I can sign, I can lip-read – I can communicate without them.”

Others see another side of the coin. Meet Kristy, a 24-year-old educational assistant living and working in Hamilton, Ontario:

“My mother is deaf, I was born deaf. I grew up signing, but at the age of 12 or so, I asked my mom if I could talk to my doctor about cochlear implants. My mother was really upset; she felt I didn’t need them, and that as deaf people, we didn’t need to be pathologized. And she’s right – I was happy attending deaf schools. But I wanted to learn how to… hear differently, and I loved it. It took two years of convincing her, but I had the surgery 10 years ago now.”

There are lots of choices for us in how we decide to address our hearing loss, and plenty of opinions as to what technology will work best for whom. At the same time, there are countless organizations working to ensure that the rights of people who are deaf/HH are addressed everywhere: from the workplace and health care facilities to theatres and schools.

So does falling outside of certain realms of what is considered “deaf” mean that some voices may not fit alongside others? Not so, says Sara: “The point here is we have a choice, and because of where we live, most of us can choose to address how we work with our hearing loss in different ways. Whether you use a hearing aid or have an implant or not, we share a lot of the same experiences: that’s the most important thing.”

Kristy would agree: “I can’t speak for everyone, but if I can say one thing about deaf[/HH] rights, is that now we can make the decision about how we want to address our [hearing loss]– not too long ago we couldn’t. But we really need to focus on the fact that whatever choice someone makes about using assistive devices or not, they should have the same access to help and resources as anyone.”