It is said, “by being hearing-impaired, one misses more nonsense than sense.”
As a child of deaf adults (CODA), and today, a sign language interpreter, I had the first-hand experience of the blisses and struggles that the Deaf faces.
Starting with the bliss: as a child, I have found that being in the Deaf world is so peaceful and when untouched by the hearing world, is very pure. The “tarnish”, for the want of a better word, comes only if the Deaf needs exposure to the hearing world in order to survive in it and this exposure is not all bad but is inevitable. On their own, deaf persons can embrace their unique perspective of the world and achieve their respective life purposes without distraction. I used the word “world” to distinguish in the gap between the Deaf and the hearing but I think of the Deaf as a subset of the hearing instead of a totally separate entity. Their focus is on another level as one can easily ignore unnecessary noise. Communication is more in-depth as body language and expressions are on a higher level and you can experience one’s story differently.
The Deaf can do anything the hearing can do. Deaf persons are skilled in sports, poetry, drama and handiwork, you name it. The problem lies when they aren’t given the opportunity, most importantly, in education. We, the hearing, take for granted that our language and language structure are all around us via persons speaking on the radio, television, next to us and like programming. It becomes embedded in our brains during the critical moments of our childhood development. One cannot stress the importance of these critical moments of development where language skills are mostly learned.
In other countries, newborns are screened for hearing disabilities and provisions are made to ensure accommodation for language development at the critical ages of a child’s development. As a result, these children, armed with this much-needed attention, are on par, language-wise, with their hearing counterparts. In Trinidad, without such provisions, the hearing version of the English Language is a second language and Sign Language is, therefore, the Deaf’s first language. The resulting structure of Sign Language and the English Language is therefore deemed as “the deaf way”. This is where the language gap is created.
One can thus understand how at the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) level the Deaf students are already at a disadvantage since they are robbed of their full potential from birth. One would think to accommodate this gap, there would be individuals who are trained in understanding the “deaf way” marking the exam papers of the Deaf. However, based on my research, this is not so. Students with great potential can sometimes be marked down as their understanding is not demonstrated well because they are in a system that does not understand them nor does it cater for them especially in terms of how questions are structured in these exams. Then as adults, the subject of employment has the Deaf in some circles believing, and I quote in accordance with the ‘Deaf way’, “Hearing high, we deaf low”. This means that the hearing population is favoured over the Deaf. I have personally seen this being communicated in some Deaf circles.
There are many other ways in which life is experienced through the eyes of the Deaf, but my view is from the outside looking in and growing up alongside some of the Deaf and noticing that a great part of their lives is spent playing catch-up. Unfortunately, if awareness is not embraced and changes are not made, playing catch-up will inevitably be the lives of the Deaf living in a hearing dominant world. There is another thing that is inevitable for the Deaf and that is happiness. They are overall, very happy people with fewer worries than the average person due to their quiet view of life.
I believe I was born a CODA for a reason, to be an instrument in advocating for the language gap between the Deaf and the hearing. I am blessed to be born this way because I know that there is more to life than what we hear and many more perspectives in life than what we experience - luckily, I got to experience them both.
Editor’s note: ‘Deaf’ and ‘Hard of Hearing’ are the terms internationally accepted by the Deaf community.