Embracing the Identity of Being Deaf and Hard of Hearing

When I was growing up, I wasn’t comfortable being hard of hearing.  I hid my hearing aid under my hair and as soon as I arrived home from school, I tossed it on a ledge.  I never touched the hearing aid during the summer.  You’d almost never find me asserting myself by telling someone, “I’m hard of hearing, I need you to face me when you talk.”  Only among close friends, would I have the courage to say, “What? Repeat that, would ya?”

So what happens when you’re not comfortable being deaf or hard of hearing?  You hide it.  You do everything possible to “fit in” and “look normal.”  You develop an impressive arsenal of social bluffing skills.  You nod along in conversation, figure out when to put in a thoughtful, “hmmm,” and ask questions that might lead you to a clue in the topic that is firing back and forth in a group.

When I became deaf at the age of nineteen, I changed in many ways.  I learned American Sign Language and discovered many new deaf and hard of hearing friends for the first time in my life.  Slowly, I tapered off the bluffing.  I learned to take pride in being deaf, to be open about it, to rejoice in this whole journey.  I can’t even begin to describe the differences.  For one thing, you’d never catch me showing off my hearing aids on public television.  Yes, those are my blue earmolds on ABC– aren’t they purty?

I love stories like this one:  Social Bluffing, by Katie.  In her post, Katie shares:

I have decided to be more honest with myself and with people I don’t know re: my hearing impairment.  I’ve decided that it is perfectly OK to tell the cashier, the waitress or whomever I’m speaking to that I have a hearing impairment, and could they please talk slower and speak up for me? 


In my experience, I’ve also discovered that when you are honest with people and tell them why they need to repeat what they said or word it differently for you, they are more than accommodating in the request.   I am learning to give people more credit than I did in the past, which has allowed me a more positive view of the world.

In her guest post, Katie shares that she recently began this journey of becoming hard of hearing just a few years ago.  So taking the action to assert herself is part of the path of learning to become comfortable about being hard of hearing and getting the communication access that is needed.  Little by little, confidence comes from taking baby steps and then one day, you find yourself asserting your communication needs with relative ease.

Just the other day, I received this comment sent via the contact me form on this blog.  I received permission to share it here:

Hi there Karen

I am Elias and I am 34yo from way down under 🙂

All my life i was in denial of my impairment and sort of closed myself from the deaf community. It wasn’t until a personal crisis that forced me to take a deep look inside myself.

I looked up on the internet for inspiration and help and  i came across Stephen Hopson and it was what i needed. I was amazed to learn he is a pilot and motiovational speaker. The more i read about his life the more inspired i became. He woke me up so much and realised that I can do more for myself. I realise i finally knew what i wanted to do for myself and the world.

Then i came across your blog and for the past few months i read as many as i can from your blogs. All i can say is wow.

I wish to say a big thank you for showing me that it is okay to be deaf. I found your blog through Stephen
When i decided to check out your blog, i was amazed by your life experiences. Thank you for showing me that it’s okay to be deaf.

I plan to enter the world of Blogging hopefully soon.

Again thank you!


Thank you, Elias, for sharing your journey with me.  I look forward to reading about your venture into the blogging world.

You’re right, Elias, it’s ok to be deaf.

19 replies
  1. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    It is SO refreshing to read stories like Katie’s. It reaffirms what I’ve been saying for years – hearing people are NOT the enemy! My experience has been much the same – if I inform people that I am hard of hearing, more often than not, they are willing to do whatever they need to in order to facilitate communication.

    Social Bluffing – ah, I remember it well. The nodding, the “hmming,” the strategically-placed chuckle. And while I was doing all of that, hoping that they weren’t telling me about their dog who was recently diagnosed with Malaysian Worm Disease.

    Though it IS hard at first, my experience has been that my life has actually gotten EASIER since I’ve started telling people that I am hard of hearing. I don’t have to worry about putting up a “mask” – I can be me.

    Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Kim
    Kim says:

    I went through a similar phase as a young adult when I first started wearing hearing aids. Eventually I realized I wasn’t “hiding” anything because everyone could tell something was “different” about me anyway. I learned it was better to come clean first thing, rather than letting people think I was stupid or snobby.

    What a difference that has made!! I want sparkles in my molds too. 🙂

  3. Tricia
    Tricia says:

    Originally we had one approach to my daughter, Emmi’s, communication needs. Her doctors kept pushing for only oral communication because she is implanted. But it never felt right to me. I am of the belief that the implant is just a tool that she may or may not choose to use in every situation, not that the implants suddenly made her not deaf. Since they can’t be used during bathing, swimming, certain physical activities, hours spent sitting on the beach (which we do often), etc., it seemed ridiculous to assume that she would rely only on oral communication. While she has known a limited amount of sign since she was quite young, we have all set out to become completely fluent now. I have to say, your recent posts about fitting in an your feelings growing up hard of hearing has greatly influenced this. We don’t ever want Emmi to feel like an outsider in this family. We need to communicate with her in a way that is comfortable for her, whether that be oral, signing, or a combination of the two.

    Thank you so much for approaching this topic. It has really shed light on what we should do. It is very frustrating for parents who are of normal hearing. We don’t know what it is like for our children. We are told so many different things. We are pressured to do certain things, like not using sign. When all we want is to do what will help our children the most. I am happy with our decision to implant Emmi, but I never did it to make her conform to “normal standards.” I did it to give her options. Reading your experiences has given such wonderful insight to what Emmi will face in the future.

    Tricias last blog post..One more down.

  4. Marti
    Marti says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and those of your friends. You are a terrific person and a wonderful friend. Thank you for stopping by when few did, due to my lack of posting following husband’s stroke. God bless you and best wishes for a wonderful day!

    Martis last blog post..Onions In My Underpants

  5. Sange
    Sange says:

    I agree with Tricia that parents are often pressured not to sign with their children. It can can come from other sources also, my family has always discouraged me and refused to learn any signs whatsoever. Basically whenever we get together (all 17 of us), my ds gets ‘lost’ and ends up naturally bluffing a lot with everyone during conversations and play.

    Luckily, for the past few years, he has been in a class with a few other Deaf/HOH students-so he is OK with who he is. But he is just a first-grader now, so he doesn’t notice the stares at his hearing aids or when he is signed to.

    The real challenge will be making sure he is content and self-assured as a HOH teen and young adult. From what I have read and heard, it is around Jr. High age that Deaf/HOH kids start to buy neutral color hearing aids and cover their ears with longer hair.

  6. Rickismom
    Rickismom says:

    I haven’t been here in ages… (popped by to get some links to info for a mom with a baby with hearing loss.)

    When Ricki was small, my son (then 15ish), accepted her Down syndrome pretty well, but was adament that he would be very upset if her hearing loss necesistated a hearing aid. I never really understood the embarresment. [By the time she got one, he was mature enough to deal with it!] Today, I understand that his fear (and that of many people who themselves need an aid), may not be so much from admitting difference, but from wanting to avoid that terrible PITY.

    Rickismoms last blog post..Learning Versus Tests- the Stapler

  7. Genevieve
    Genevieve says:

    I tell everyone – well everyone who is talking to me and then turns their head and keep talking.

    Once upon a time I didn’t and did the nods, mmhmms and okays.

    I’ve found people are very happy to repeat — have patience when I parrot back what I thought I heard as a question and generally are great with the whole thing.

  8. Steve
    Steve says:

    Being deaf of HoH is much tougher for kids than adults. Kids can be really cruel, adults know better most of the time.

    I got mt first hearing aids when I was about 5. I wore them for a while but as I got a bit older I stopped wearing them – I could still hear enough to get by then. When I left school at 16 it became obvious that I needed them – for many years after that I either had long enough hair to cover them or I wore hats pulled down over my ears, even in summer. Looking back it must have been obvious to everyone why I was wearing woolly hats in summer and the sweat didn’t look cool!

    It took me about 20 years to have enough confidence to talk to people about my hearing – but it was a real turning point when I did. I didn’t have to pretend I knew what was being said any more. I cringe now to think of all the times when I pretended I’d heard and probably said something completely stupid in reply.

    Great blog, Karen, mind if I add you to my blogroll?


    Steves last blog post..Hearing loss is the third most common health problem in US

  9. Frieda
    Frieda says:

    Uh huh….mmmm….okay. Yup, been there, done that! I’m not very assertive when it comes to telling people that I am hard of hearing. It wasn’t until I was 19 and my older brother cautioned me to be careful….”What if someone asked you to marry him and you ‘accidentally’ said ‘yes?'”

  10. LearningASL
    LearningASL says:

    I have always told people about my hearing loss and now I inform them of my deafness. I have progressive hearing loss and now with profound, severe hearing loss.

    Since I was 5 I wore hearing aids, for most of my life, I did not try to hide them. I often educate people about hearing loss.

    I have still had many negative experiences, especially when I inform some people. On the other hand, many, many people simply responded appropriately when they realized I couldn’t hear: they tried to communicate with me the best way that they could and the way that suited me best.

    I’ve had the good and bad in people due to my hearing loss; some don’t hide the fact that they do exclude the deaf.

    So, I educate the bad and appreciate the good.

    I have never been ashamed of my hearing loss; it has nothing to do with character or the lack of character.

    I know lots of people who should be ashamed: how they treat people, including those of us who are deaf/hoh.

    My teachers ALWAYS knew I couldn’t hear and they were expected to be accountable for how they taught me, spoke to me and what they expected of me (for example, I couldn’t participate in lessons using any kind of recordings due to my lack of hearing. But, I had to do the same work as everyone else. And, I did it. Quite successfully but with great difficulty.

    I think what some people fail to understand is that each deaf, hard of hearing person has his/her own personal experiences (good and bad) and that we should not be lumped together. We should not all be expected to hear the same (or not hear the same). We should not be compared (such as: who talks and who doesn’t talk; who signs and who doesn’t sign, etc).

    Like everyone else, those with any degree of hearing loss have their own experiences, preferences; their own confidence level, varied backgrounds, etc.

    All of these things shape who we are, not just our deafness.

  11. silvercrone
    silvercrone says:

    I had an overdoes of streptomycein @ age 2 for extreme earaches. It left me 90% deaf in both ears but it was not discovered until I started school-I bluffed well too-and had doting parents who just spoke louder. I taught myself to lip read but that was all for naught when the teacher faced the board to teach. A test and research uncovered the rest. I was SO thrilled with the new world of sound my aid revealed for me I never hid it. Coke fizzles? Light switches click? who knew! My friends were patient as I asked what’s that at every new sound. Even today, with my new aids that are bluetooth-I just smile, as I listen to my music being piped through the new aids allowing me to use them AND receive the music. I feel like R2D2! I have robot ears! And silence on demand! I’m ok-so are you!

  12. J. Parrish Lewis
    J. Parrish Lewis says:

    Hi Karen,

    I agree, it’s okay to be deaf! Although I admit there’s at least one day every week or two that I don’t feel this way. We’ll see if that ever passes.

    However, that said, I do get tired of explaining to people at the store or other places that I’m deaf. It often happens after I’d been focused on entering my PIN in the machine to pay for my groceries, and then I look up to annoyed faces. Obviously they thought I was ignoring them, so I tell them I’m deaf and ask them to repeat what they said.

    I can do this, but it got old FAST. I almost want to have a shirt that says it all. But then I’d think (because I’m a little paranoid about it) that some group of guys will think it’s fun to beat up the deaf guy.

    Perhaps if I were as Herculean as Calif’s governor, I’d feel safe wearing such a shirt.

  13. Julie
    Julie says:

    Hi Karen!
    Your story is incredibly inspirational.

    I’ve just been diagnosed of hearing impairment in both ears, given my hearing aids and such.

    Before reading your blog, my attitude to my hearing loss is what yours was. Only i’m 20. I am slowly learning to love myself for who i am hearing loss and all.

    It’s great to know that I’m not the only pretending to not have a hearing impairment. It’s even greater to realise that I don’t have to pretend, I just need to accept.

    • Julie
      Julie says:

      Just wanted to let you know that i will be using this blog post on my blog which targets attitude about hearing 🙂 I hope that is ok!

  14. cindy londberg
    cindy londberg says:

    It was not until I was four that it was discovered I was severely hearing impaired in both ears. I got my hearing aids, a speech therapist, and was mainstreamed in public school.
    I’ve always felt like an outsider. I go through periods of time of great confidence, and as of now, going through a “down time” of feeling like I failed. I worked on a political campaign as a volunteer. It was a lot of fun, and at times very challenging to mainstream myself in with the group. At times I made mistakes of interpretations during conversations, and people would stare at me like an idiot. I feel horrible after these incidences, and want to approach people and ask for forgiveness for my seemingly horrible behavior. I wish people would help me when I make a mistake during a conversation. Instead, I feel like they held it against me as a judgment call of my ability to be a contributing part of the whole group. As a result of my communication mistakes, I would try extra hard, and it was obvious; at least that was the feeling I was getting from the people I worked with, and it worked against me. People would not open up with me at all, so I just engrossed myself in more and more work to show that I could actually accomplish something. I ended up exhausted and feeling more defeated.
    Now that the campaign is over, I still have these nagging heaving feeling of inadequacy, and that people are still talking about me, and don’t want me to be a part of the continuing momentum of the group. My future feels like a failure, and that I will need to figure out a way to bluff my way in the future. I’m feeling bad, I don’t have anything positive to say. Just wish I knew how to fix everything.

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  1. […] where that mom was coming from, and I understood that feeling of being uncomfortable. I wrote about Embracing the Identity of Being Deaf or Hard of Hearing previously. Ironically, just this weekend, I came across two articles that talk about learning to […]

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