Deaf not Stupid

Capt. Braddock: [to Dave, talking slowly] Was there… a wom-an… pres-ent?
Dave: [to Capt. Braddock, talking slowly] Yes. There was… a wom-an… pres-ent.
Capt. Braddock: Why is he talking like that?
Wally: [to Capt. Braddock, talking slowly] Because he’s deaf… not stup-id.

Scene from – See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)

I thought really long and hard about this post, and whether I wanted to write about it. It’s something pretty personal and close to my heart, and something I haven’t written about before, partly because I’m a pretty reserved person when it comes to personal things like this, and also partly because I felt that writing about it makes it into something which is a big deal.

Not many people know that I have a severe hearing impairment which has affected me my whole life, to the point that as a child I wore hearing aids, and even now I have to make sure I can see a person’s face to lip-read them, that I keep an eye out for visible signs when I can’t hear alarms, and that sometimes, not often, I have to ask a person twice, three times to repeat themselves before I understand what they’re saying. Oh, and I have the subtitles on EVERYTHING I watch (although to be fair, I think I’d have them even if I wasn’t deaf!)

So what made me write about this now?  I read an article recently written by a deaf woman who talked about getting awareness for her disability, and the fact that when she was younger she didn’t like to bring attention to it, and how it took her a long time not to be embarrassed by it. It was something which resonated with me quite strongly – I’m not exactly embarrassed by my deafness, but for a long time I divorced myself from the idea. I’ve been told by a lot of people (most people, in fact) and I don’t ‘look’ deaf. I don’t talk like I am, it doesn’t seem like I miss anything, and in fact, I look ‘normal’.

When I was younger, I would often see other deaf children in my school who were not able to hide their impairment as well as I could – it would show in their speech, or their mannerisms, and often their discomfort in standing out was as obvious as their impairment when you spoke to them. Sometimes it felt to me that their parents, in their well-meaning ways to protect them, had bubble-wrapped them a little too much and made them overly-sensitive to their condition and made them feel a little helpless, so that their disability really did become an impairment for them in some ways.

I learned from an early age that if you don’t make a fuss about something, neither will other people. Because I didn’t make a big deal about my deafness or draw much attention to it, other people didn’t either, and assumed it wasn’t a big thing, nor did they treat me differently. In hindsight, this had its blessings but also its drawbacks too. It meant that I didn’t feel too much of an outsider or felt too different, but it also meant that I wasn’t always able to talk about my disability with some people when I needed to. In one way, I normalised the issue, but in other ways I blended in a little too much, so people couldn’t see that sometimes I had to try harder, or I would struggle to make up for my deafness.

My attitude now is to approach it with as much straightforwardness as possible, without letting myself undermine myself, as I have done in the past, which has sometimes unintentionally made things harder for me. Don’t make a big deal out of it, but don’t downplay it either, because while it’s not what defines me, it’s still pretty important to me. I’m naturally a pretty sarcastic person anyway, and never miss a chance to make a joke out of something (like the rest of my family!), so have always made fun of my disability to show people it’s not a sensitive issue. It’s not something which has hurt me exactly, but it means there are times when I need to face up to it and take it more seriously. As I get older I feel that I should be more careful about the way I treat my impairment –  I have never felt ‘disabled’ but there are times when I feel that I should be more aware of my health and limitations, especially as it will affect me as I get older.

One of the reasons I wrote this post was because I wanted to articulate how important it is for me – as a woman of colour, as a Muslim woman,  as a deaf woman – that these things do not limit us or stop us from being like everyone else, or doing our best. As a child I was very conscious of my disability because I was surrounded by it – fellow deaf students, support teachers who shadowed me, speech therapists, and even the equipments we had to use to aid our hearings, and it made it harder for me to make friends quickly, nor did I have a lot of confidence. But I will also say that this didn’t stop me in my achievements either – I continuously got the highest grades and awards for my years through most of high school, and left with the highest GCSEs and A Levels in my year because I was determined to not be held back.

I was recently asked to write a short presentation of my time at my secondary school by some old teachers, for parents as well as potential students who were deaf, to tell them about my time as a student and whether I found it difficult. I found myself looking back with fondness – yes there were hard times for me in that I didn’t always fit in (for more reasons than my deafness) and yes I didn’t see it at the time how my future could be – but I have come such a long way since then. I wrote about my job, where I help homeless people find homes and even though it can be thankless, it can also be rewarding. I wrote about being married to a wonderful man who has understood me better than anyone. And I wrote about my dreams which I have never given up on – wanted to write, my love for art and photography, and my forever romance with books.

These days I don’t feel like an outsider or a ‘disabled’ person with my family, husband or work colleagues because it feels easy to show what I can do – and I certainly believe this was sparked by the the years of sensitivity and hard work from my teachers as well as my family, who showed me that I can do anything I want to do, and while that being deaf is important, it isn’t a bad thing.

Public Speaking – The fear we all have but never admit to

Giving speeches and presentations have never been a strong suit of mine. Ask me to write two hundred words on the topic of why green is a soothing colour, or a paragraph on the benefits of being in the EU, and I’ll have it to you within the half hour. Ask me to do a quick presentation/speech on it, and I’ll be flustered for about a week. And it’s not just for the big, important speeches either, the ones which require planning, researching, doing surveys and data collection and whatnot. I’ve been doing various forms of public or group speaking for years, and yet, I still get that squeak in my throat the minute I open my mouth to speak. I’m a real professional – until I have to actually gather a group of people together and tell them about how professional I can be.

We’ve all had to do it. In schools we had to give presentations about different projects and things we’ve learned, why Macbeth is so tortured, why water can a liquid, solid and a gas, and why King Charles I was beheaded in 1649. In university I remember having to give plenty of presentations in class, staring at the bored faces and trying to jazz up PowerPoint slides with music, films, artwork, (even a drama enactment, once), anything to not stand there for too long and talk in a deadpan voice. We’ve all met that one (or three) person in our class whose knees shook while they gave class presentations, and whose shoes we didn’t want to be in. And of course, my working-life has been just the same. At present, every month I have to give the same speech to a group of professionals at various training sessions and courses which I run, and each time I

Just breathe!

manage to stammer my way through and pretend that the room is empty, or look at the most harmless-looking inhabitant of the room and pretend I’m just speaking to them. Which helps. A little bit.

The symptoms, I’m sure you all recognise. Stammering. Repeatedly saying ‘um’, ‘like’, ‘you know’, ‘er’, ‘erm’ interjected into your speech – you know what to say but you still sound unsure about it. The chest tightening, the sweaty palms, or otherwise that horrible feeling in your stomach and your clothes feeling very uncomfortable. The sweaty armpits and the clammy hair (oh dear). Voices going high and getting stuck in your throat, or otherwise talking in a robotic tone. Speaking too quietly or speaking too loud, too slow for everyone to pay attention to, or too fast for anyone to keep up (guilty!). Staring at everyone and not being sure where to focus, or not making eye contact at all (I’ve seen people stare at the floor even, or just fixate on their pieces of paper). I’ve even had friends tell me about nervous gas issues, nervous hiccups, and nervous pacing about (I’ve seen my Dad do this and I do this myself, it drives my mother up the wall.)

And of course, the dreaded silence before you even start speaking, which acts as the biggest hurdle. Tell a joke, a story, an anecdote, anything to break the ice and make yourself (and them) feel more comfortable. We’ve heard it all before, we convince ourselves that once we break the ice, once we get started, then it’s all a doddle from there. Just get started, and you’ll be fine. And a lot of the time, it’s not. I’ve rarely met anyone who actually loves speaking in public. Even the most confident people I know (and I’m not wallflower myself, most of the times), will baulk a little at the thought of public speaking.

nervAnd it’s not like it’s always about a fear of strangers either – even when you know everyone in the group, and you’ve had plenty of easy one-on-one conversations with them, it’s suddenly a different animal when they’re all together. Because that’s when they all turn into scary pairs of eyes, putting you in the spot and making you feel very conscious of yourself, your words and your self-image which is being projected.

As much as we hate going up in front of a group, avoid speeches and try to even run away from it, we also want to be adored by an audience, we want to have that after-speech glow from imparting some beautiful, witty, amazing and wise sermon to an enraptured audience. And in truth, it’s rarely ever that. As much as we are scared that nobody is listening, we’re also scared that someone actually is. There’s a saying which says ‘no one’s listening until you make a mistake’. Well in these kinds of situations, it’s probably ten times true.

Where does it all come from? There’s plenty of factors, and not just our own nervousness about our abilities and self-image. I also partly blame the ever-growing sophisticated technology of today. Why say something out loud when you can Tweet, Facebook update, text, Whatsapp, email or even blog about it, without worry what people think? You can’t see them, and you can hide behind the anonymous curtain of ‘teh internetz’ and tippy-tappy out opinions on your keyboard.

And yes, a lot of us do have confidence issues, which also makes us feel vulnerable when we speak. Some of us worry about what message we are projecting, the way we look, the hand gestures and body language, or even just what our peers are thinking of us. And don’t get me started on those speeches you haven’t prepared for, the ones where we just try to wing it!


And yes, a lot of us do have confidence issues, which also makes us feel vulnerable when we speak. Some of us worry about what message we are projecting, the way we look, the hand gestures and body language, or even just what our peers are thinking of us. And don’t get me started on those speeches you haven’t prepared for, the ones where we just try to wing it!

I’ve heard about various ‘Public Speaking’ seminars, but I don’t think I could ever see myself as going to that extent and feeling the need to attend them. I’ve heard plenty of different ways of combating nervousness (the ‘imagining everyone naked is the most common one I’ve heard but it’s never worked for me. I just find it incredibly weird and awkward. Repressed Asian girl and nekked-ness? I think not) – but I’m sure you’ll agree, different things work for everyone. In the end, I wouldn’t say that public speaking is a bad thing, but it’s not something I’ve heard many people talk about – perhaps because we don’t like admitting our awkwardness to other people. I know I’ve blagged my way through plent of speeches to have a fake sense of confidence about public speaking!

The best advice I’ve heard so far? ‘Smile like a buffoon and don’t take yourself so seriously. The audience probably won’t,  so why waste time being nervous?’

Advice for Women #3: Cry for your new toaster

Poster says it all really. How to emotionally blackmail your husband into buying household appliances that you’ve always desired. If there’s one thing those darn men don’t know how to handle, it’s a weeping woman, and what better way to shut them up than to buy them something spanking new and shiny for the kitchen? I think you should print out several of these for every occaison of the year. Don’t forget to circle the stuff you want with a strawberry-scented pen!

Advice for Women #2: Clean yourself into thinness!

A clean home is a healthy home. Or is it a happy home? Something like that anyway, but either way, who says you need to be gentle with advertising, when back in the good ole days of advertising subliminal messages and subtlety were but radical ideas, and it was all about straight talking. Forget all that reading in-between the lines, kill two birds with one stone; clean the house and lose some of that weight, fatty. Makes me wonder what’s in these pills which apparently turn you into a speed-cleaning freak (and whether I can buy any for future use – let’s feed these to the men in our family shall we? Maybe not.)

Pop some pills and clean away, clean away to fit into that size zero frilly number.

Advice for Women #1: Dieting? What dieting?

There’s some strange advice ideas floating about for women, and this is not the least weird of them, although it certainly must come at the top of the table. This quaint advert urges us to throw away our silly dieting ideas and eat, eat, eat! All we need are sanitised tapeworms which will take care of all that silly, unnecessary digesting, all in the name of battling our enemy Fat!
(Side effects may include abdominal comfort, loss of appetite and stomach pains, but hey, it’s all in name of beauty right?)