There are many different misconceptions and myths surrounding hearing loss/deafness. Many abled people, are quick to make assumptions regarding deafness, because it is considered an ‘invisible disability’. In the past, deafness as a disability has been considered a ‘taboo’ subject, and has only recently been spoken about more widely, thanks to social media, which has united D/deaf and Hard of Hearing communities from around the globe.
I want to tackle these misconceptions, by raising awareness of my experiences, as a profoundly deaf young advocate. These misconceptions can be damaging, so it is vital for advocates/deaf people like myself, to demolish these inaccurate views, and raise deaf awareness.
- “Deafness is hereditary”.
This is not entirely accurate because statistics have shown, that 90% of deaf children are born into hearing families. I am in fact, part of that statistic myself! My hearing loss diagnosis came out of the blue, and the cause is still unknown, to this present day. There are a variety of known causes such as, Meniere’s disease, genetics, and environmental causes such as long-term exposure to loud noise.
- “Deaf people cannot drive”.
This is sadly a common misconception, and a statement that I have continuously had to correct over the years as an advocate. I started driving when I was 17, and passed my driving test first time, with only 2 minors! Driving requires complete visual concentration, a sense which I am incredibly thankful to have. I am unable to hear other cars honk their horns at me and hear sirens from emergency service vehicles which is a barrier. On the other hand, I can see the flashing lights in my rear-view mirror, so I am able to pull over to let them pass me.
- “All deaf people sign”.
Not all deaf people have the privilege of growing up and experiencing the deaf culture, therefore sign language is not always ones first language. I had an oral upbringing, and attended mainstream education institutions, so British Sign Language is not my first language. I started learning a few years ago, and I am keen to progress my skills further. Acquired hearing loss is another reason why most deaf individuals have an oral upbringing, as hearing loss can develop later in life.
- “Deaf people are good lipreaders”.
This is not entirely true. I have been a lipreader for almost two decades, and although, my lipreading has developed over the years, I would not class myself as an ‘expert’ when it comes to lipreading. I still often lipread sentences completely wrong! The quality of lipreading can be dependant on different factors, such as the environment (lighting), or the person (thin lips are harder to read, beards and moustaches can make lipreading more difficult too). When communicating with me, I also appreciate sign and gestures alongside speech. Concentration fatigue is another factor to consider, as lipreading is incredibly tiring. I first discovered this in University during my 2-hour lectures, and realised my constant fatigue, was the reason why I was not taking in any information!
- “Deaf people cannot hear anything”.
As a profoundly deaf person myself, I can confirm that I do not hear anything without my hearing aids. Although, it is important to consider that hearing loss is diagnosed on a spectrum, ranging from mild, moderate, severe, to profound. I remember when I was younger, I had a moderate hearing loss, and was able to hear loud sounds without my hearing aids (banging on a table). Technology has developed over the years, which has benefitted some individuals with a hearing loss/deafness. Although, please remember that these assistive aids do not ‘fix’ hearing loss/deafness (see next point).
- “Hearing aids and Cochlear implants can ‘correct’ hearing loss/deafness.
My hearing aids allow me to hear… to an extent! Although, they are not the same as glasses, which can in some cases, correct one’s vision. Cochlear implants, can also be life changing, but these are not an instant fix, and like hearing aids, require fine-tuning over a period of time. Hearing aids and cochlear implants can vary in power, and types, the same as hearing loss can vary amongst different people, but they are not the same as ‘normal’ hearing.
- “Only old people are deaf”.
I have a profound hearing loss, and I am 26 years of age, therefore I can gladly say, this is not true. Abled individuals tend to presume this is true, perhaps because they have never known anyone to have hearing aids, other than their elderly relatives. I am guilty of believing this statement when I was younger. I never knew anyone who had a hearing loss. The only people I was aware of having hearing aids, were my Grandparent’s friends! Remember, deafness can happen at any point during one’s life.
- “Deaf people read braille”.
Believe it or not, I have come across an individual who asked if I read braille. A deafblind individual, with a dual sensory loss may read braille, although this is not always the case. As an individual with a singular sensory loss, I can confirm that I do not read braille!
- “Hearing loss/deafness can be cured by medicine or an operation.
When I was younger, I was in denial about my hearing loss, and do remember the nights when I would scour the internet, in search of a ‘miracle’ cure. Technology and science has rapidly developed over the years, and progress has been made in some areas, in terms of research. Although, there is currently no ‘cure’ for deafness to date. Perhaps one day in the future?! Who knows?
- “Deaf people cannot speak/are ‘mute”.
I have lost count of the number of abled individuals, who have been shocked, and made comments about the advanced clarity of my speech. Majority of people tend to presume that all deaf people communicate using sign language. Most culturally deaf individuals who are born deaf, may choose to ‘switch off’ their voices, and communicate using sign language as a first language. Other deaf individuals may have had an oral upbringing, and their diagnosis may not have been discovered until later in life. Everyone is different. The severity of hearing loss can range (as previously mentioned), as well as communication preferences, and upbringings.
These misconceptions can be damaging from different viewpoints; therefore, it is important to never assume that all deaf people are the same. If you are unsure about anything, I would strongly advise you to ask a deaf person. The chances are, they are more than happy to explain this to you and educate you!
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