A Deaf Experience In The Education System | Guest Post

[Image Description: A man with short hair, glasses, a bit of facial hair. He is wearing a black hoodie.]

[Image Description: A man with short hair, glasses, a bit of facial hair. He is wearing a black hoodie.]

I was born hard of hearing. To me all sounds were muddled and vague. And I thought that was normal. At least that was the case until I reached third grade, when I took a hearing exam and I was told that there was something wrong with me. Very quickly, the news was delivered to my parents. They took me to a few doctors but they couldn't figure out why I was completely deaf in my right ear and had minor hearing loss on my left. And for some reason, hearing aids were never brought up so I never had them.

As a side note to any doctors (or future doctors) out there. Don't tell a 6 (or 7 year old, don't remember exactly when this happen) who's going deaf that he (or she) is just gonna randomly not hear one day. Because that just creates a bunch of anxiety that a kid just doesn't need to deal with.

Now a thing to note about my Mom and Dad is that they were born and raised in Mexico. So in true Latin pride fashion, they didn't want me to be labeled as a "special needs" kid.

I gotta admit, I was really happy when my parents told me that there was nothing wrong with me and that I shouldn't let anyone try to convince me otherwise. So like any kid I followed their lead. I refused to be called special and pushed away everything associated with the word from that point on. This of course led me to misinterpret their behavior and chose to ignore my hearing situation instead of actually dealing with it. However I couldn't hide the fact that I was beginning to struggle in school. I kept confusing one word for another and that often led to awkward situations.

Not wanting me to fall behind, my parents set me up with a hearing teacher and I started speech therapy. It's here that I began to realize that I was different. A few times during the week, while all the other kids were at recess playing. I was stuck in the classroom with my hearing teacher, practicing how to read a person's lips.

“Now Jessie, I'm going to say potato and tomato. I need you to watch closely and see how my lips move differently when I say each of these words.” These were the types of exercises I would do. I would watch my speech therapist's lips repeat words over and over and over again until I could notice the subtle differences. 

This eventually became a routine for me, training my eyes to focus in on the minor details, piecing together what a person is saying from the bits and pieces I did hear to hold up conversation, and getting me to sit in the front of the class where I could better interact with the teacher. Needless to say this took a lot of work. Luckily for me, my grades greatly improved and I managed to graduate elementary school with honors. 

Now a thing to note is that I was taught a bit of ASL as a kid, but to my parents English was their second language and they were still trying to fully master it. So being taught ASL in a language they were still figuring out at the time, meant that they wouldn't be able to get very far. Not to mention, like most immigrant parents they wanted me to carry on our native language, so we only spoke Spanish in my house. 

Because of that, I quickly dropped ASL because I thought it was pointless to learn a language that nobody else knew. Up until recently I didn't even know that there was such a thing as a deaf community or deaf culture.

This is how life was for me in middle school and high school. And occasionally I would run into frustrations when I told people I was deaf. I would get responses from people like "oh you don't look deaf" and "I'm surprised you're an honors student despite being deaf". Which made me go "Seriously people?"

One of my biggest frustrations about school was that I would put in a lot extra work to not only keep up but to stay ahead. Only to have the schools go ahead and say, "oh he's doing great in school so there's no reason to accommodate him." Despite the fact that I was running myself into the ground. But I still kept up this pace because it was the only thing that I knew that would work for me. 

And it's during high school that I suppose I became more jaded when interacting with others because the way I saw it. If a person wasn't going to put in the same effort to communicate with me as much as I did. Then they weren't worth getting to know.

Now after graduating high school, I was planning on going to college to become an engineer in the hopes of developing technology to better accommodate my limited hearing. However due to personal circumstances, I wasn't able to attend college. So I instead entered culinary school and pursued my other passion which was cooking.

It was in culinary school that I discovered a love for writing and I grew to love chef culture because there is a mutual understanding between chefs that doesn't require words to be spoken. 

Now to me, Chef work seemed like a good field to be in because I was taught that in a restaurant when a person talks to the cook, the cook repeats what is said and the person confirms what was repeated. I loved that this form of communication was encouraged in culinary school. 

However from my experiences that wasn't the case in some of the restaurants I worked in. I eventually decided to stop working in restaurants when I found myself in situation that I never want to be put in again.

It was a busy dinner rush and there was a lot of background noise. While I was busy cranking out food orders (I was a line cook), the owner barged in and said he needed cooked rice ASAP. But before I could tell him that I didn't hear him he quickly left the room. About 15 minutes go by and he comes back, looks at me and says "Where's the rice that I asked for?" I told him I didn't understand what he was asking me. His response was saying that I was "fucking useless." After that it's no surprise that things didn't end well at that job.

Now recently I took a hearing exam and found out that my hearing is getting worse. One the reasons why I never knew this was happening is because it's been dropping at such a slow rate over the years that it was difficult for me to notice. So in the hopes of making up for lost time I decided to directly do something about this. 

I put in the work to learn about deaf culture and the deaf community, started the process to get hearing aids and learn ASL on my own. Now I am planning to take ASL classes but I'm trying to work things out at my job so I can get the needed free time and work schedule to do so. 

At this point I'm even considering take a break from work entirely and focus more on learning ASL and attending deaf events to meet other people like me. But I worry about how that would eliminate the financial stability that I've worked so hard to build. And if I choose to remain in this path it maye remove my chances of living independently from my family because they worry about me and don't want me to live on my own. 

Sincerely,

JoseG