As a society, I strongly believe we are making a more conscious effort to educate ourselves and others on being more socially aware and accepting of ALL people; different ethnic backgrounds, different sexual orientations, different disabilities, and so on. However, we are by no means a fully aware, educated, and accepting society. Do racism, prejudice, and obliviousness exist today? Many would argue, yes. But is it because people are born that way? In most cases, no. It is through various channels of education— or lack thereof—that people form negative and stilted opinions, and unfortunately those of us who are “different” experience the results first hand.
Earlier this week the Deaf community experienced a huge win with Nyle DiMarco taking home the Mirror Ball Trophy on Dancing with the Stars. As America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars champion, Nyle is using his celebrity status to help pave the way for deaf people, and is transforming the public’s view on what it means to be Deaf.
For example, I am deaf (although several would argue that I am “hard-of-hearing”). I have a power hearing aid in one ear and a Cochlear Implant (CI) on the other ear. Now, before you start thinking, “Oh, cochlear implants are the magical bionic ear,” let me tell you, a cochlear implant is in no way a substitute for the natural hearing ear. At the end of the day, I still classify myself as deaf. Even with my “bionic ears” I still do not hear and understand everything, I still struggle to keep up with what is happening in a noisy environment, I still speak “with an accent,” and I still get looks of irritation or annoyance when someone is talking to me and I either don’t respond (because I didn’t hear them) or I say the completely wrong thing (because I misheard them). Most importantly though, at the end of the day when I take my “ears” off, I live in a world of complete silence and the only language I fully understand is the language of my culture, sign language.
But here’s the kicker… like Nyle DiMarco and so many other deaf people, I wouldn’t change a thing about my deafness. I embrace it. It has made me who I am today, and it even has its perks. For example, on airplanes, while everyone else may be kept wide awake by screaming babies, I get to “turn off my ears” and sleep peacefully in my silent world.
But here is what I would change: people’s awareness of deaf people. Awareness is being heightened across America thanks to popular TV shows such as Switched at Birth and celebrities such as Nyle DiMarco. But there is still so much more education to be done.
Almost every week I receive some of the most mind-boggling reactions when someone learns that I am deaf. Here are some reactions that I know most deaf people can relate to:
- “How do you drive?!” (I am deaf, not blind.)
- “You don’t look deaf…” (Can someone tell me what a deaf person is supposed to look like?)
- “Oh my, I am so sorry. That must be horrible!” (No, not really. I’m still alive and loving life!)
- Over-the-top enunciating: “OH…O-K. CAN…YOU…UNDERSTAND…ME…NOW?” (No, you are making this more difficult for the both of us.)
- “But you read lips right?” (Yes, I do, but I invite you to read lips all day, every day without hearing a thing and see how you feel.)
And then my favorite…
- “You’re deaf?…” followed by taking a few steps back. (Do you think my deafness is contagious?)
While this mostly pertains to deafness, I believe that educating all students about “differences” and other cultures is something that is needed. If we create a proactive education strategy that teachers can leverage to educate all young students, they will be able to accelerate awareness, understanding and acceptance across the board. In addition, it will create a more comfortable learning environment for children with differences, fostering an atmosphere in which all children love to learn.
Kerry Bobeczko is a marketing professional who has worked in the education industry for more than eight years. She has a profound passion for education, is a university guest lecturer, and advocates for people with disabilities to obtain equal education opportunities that position them for lifelong success. Kerry’s hobbies include traveling the world, volunteer work, and dancing.