Words by Katia Schwartz | Photography by Mia Maraschino, Tachobelle, Dion Galea and Tom Wilkinson
Sometimes people aren’t sure how to react when I introduce myself as Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Often people apologise and back away from me, as if being Deaf is a bad thing. Being Deaf does have its challenges, but only for accessibility reasons. Navigating my way through a society that doesn’t accommodate my existence can be pretty frustrating. But the part about not actually hearing - I’m okay with that. In fact, I find that it has more benefits than not! I’ve put together a handy guide that can give hearing people some insight into why I feel that being Deaf is a gain - and not a loss!
No Invasive Marketing
Not being able to chat on the phone always presents a number of issues when I’m trying to run my business (you may have seen my 106 ‘unlistened’ voicemails screenshot). Despite this posing a diabolical amount of stress most of the time, there is one huge advantage: I never have to listen to telemarketers. Hearing people are also terrified of Deaf people. I’ve experienced people physically back away from me with a frightened expression after I’ve expressed that I can’t hear them. As a result, I never have to endure awkward conversations with street-marketers, as the single word “Deaf” seems to get them well and truly scared off. As for door-to-door marketing – well, I can’t hear the door-bell so I’m yet to experience one of these!
Sound of Silence
Taking my hearing aids out is like wearing a pair of noise-proof ear-muffs. To be honest, I think it works better than actual ear-muffs. Screaming children, barking dogs, noisy neighbours, loud music, trucks, sirens, alarms and literally anything remotely annoying can be switched off with a click of a button. Now that is Deaf Gain at its finest!
I remember the days when I had most of my hearing… I had to think of small talk, fend off creepy dudes without trying to cause a scene, or find ways to avoid people in public for fear of them trying to initiate conversation. Again, since Hearing people are so terrified of Deaf people, all I need to do is point to one ear and say, “Deaf”. It is literally as simple as that. Sometimes I even go to the effort of removing a single hearing aid and exclaim, “Deaf” if I feel like adding in a more theatrical approach. Being Deaf is my ‘awkward conversation’ Invisibility Cloak – and I love it.
The Best View
Providing that a show or event actually has access seating and an Auslan Interpreter, (which is almost always never… but anyway) I get a special reserved front-row seat. Literally the best seat in the house, is MINE. I get to see all the action up-close, my friends get to sit with me, and I feel like an actual VIP!
Unlike my day-staff team who are forced to listen to students playing the same songs on repeat during practice time, I get to sit in my Deaf bubble and stay super focused doing my work. I don’t have to answer the phone, or the door or even listen to the ranting of drunks and angry yelling outside the studio. Hmm… it seems I have no excuse of being the ‘Michael Scott’ of my workplace. As a business owner, I make sure all the tradespeople that I hire are Deaf. They are incredibly productive because they talk with their hands – meaning that they would have to constantly put all their tools down if they wanted to chat. As a result, my two Deaf builders completed five times as much as the other team of five hearing builders in a week!
No yucky noises
The first time I wore my hearing aids in the bathroom, I was absolutely terrified of the sound of my own pee… followed by extreme self-consciousness. I have since found out that people can actually hear other people pee and poop from the cubicle next door. Unfortunately Deaf people still have a sense of smell, so public bathrooms are still unpleasant for us too. However we don’t have to hear the “goings-on” of the person next door.
A noisy bar, a glass barrier, people chatting over the top of one-another – these aren’t communication issues for Deaf people! We can have deep conversations about the meaning of life in the middle of a dance floor without screaming into one another’s ears and misunderstanding information. If we see a friend inside a restaurant as we walk by on the street, we can sign through the glass window! Deaf people are also excellent communicators. They are so used to finding creative ways to express themselves and understand others, that when they go overseas or chat with someone who doesn’t know the spoken language of their country – the Deaf person will be able to find a way to communicate effectively. And before anybody asks, no – Auslan is not the same in every country… that’s why it’s called Australian Sign Language.
I have a famous quote that I created, that when I come to think of it – has nothing to do with having Deaf eyes – but it’s one of my best, so I’m going to say it regardless. “I have lost my hearing – but I have gained half a nose… and mind-reading” – me trying to explain why I have 6 senses and not five… and trying to out-shine hearing people. Anyway – back to Deaf Eyes. Since I was born hearing, I am still trying to develop my “Deaf Eyes”. Unfortunately my lack of ears still causes me issues with almost getting hit by cars on a weekly basis (unfortunately my gain of half a nose and mind-reading have not seemed to help with this problem). However, it is common amongst Deaf people to be incredibly observant. Just the other day, I was pointing out a pink couch to a Deaf friend… who then proved that the couch was in fact not pink – but mustard. They may not be active now… but my Deaf Eyes are coming everyone… and then I will have 6.5 senses.
Feeling the Music
A lot of people ask me how on earth I manage to keep my rhythm and pace in my dancing when I can’t hear the music. Music produces vibrations, and not being able to hear clearly makes me very sensitive to these vibrations. My Deafness is my super-power because I can feel the music and I allow the vibrations to tell me how to dance. I have an advantage, because the vibrations are clear and I don’t get distracted by other “fluffy” elements of the song.
Auslan cheers are better than hearing people cheers because they are heartwarming, visual and they allow me to feel the vibrations of the music when I’m dancing. Watching a sea of sparkling, waving hands as I dance in the air makes me feel like the audience is lifting me up there. It’s more special to me than regular hearing cheers, as I get to share a little bit of my experience as a Deaf artist with my audience, and have them walk away learning something new and showing them that even though we can’t hear – Deaf people can do incredible things.
Having great sleep is something that I haven’t been getting lately due to my incredibly irritating case of tinnitus (it’s common amongst Deaf people). But most of the time, I don’t hear my partner’s alarm, my cats fighting (unless they brawl on my head… which is a thing), the garbage truck, next door’s dog barking and other distracting noises. While my partner complains about a restless night filled with noises, I am blissfully unaware!
One of the greatest things about being Deaf is that you get to meet plenty of people, of all different ages and backgrounds who are all just like yourself. There is a huge sense of inclusiveness in the Deaf community and it’s really nice to feel accepted and understood. Everyone is friendly, helpful and welcoming. Without learning Auslan and meeting other Deafies, I would be feeling incredibly alone and isolated. I would see myself as having a major Disability and be at a huge disadvantage. Being part of the community has allowed me to see that there are positives to being Deaf and that I should be proud of my difference.