ON HAND: A harsh reality

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

Reality is harsh sometimes, especially if you’re a newcomer to a community.

I have two late-deafened friends. One is a New Yorker who has progressive hearing loss and is in absolute love with her new language and culture. The other friend, currently doing an internship in Colorado, became deaf literally within a matter of hours when he had an operation. In fact, he went into the surgery knowing he’d wake up stone-deaf. He’s also quite integrated into the deaf community, though it’s a work-in-progress for him.

I’ve watched them stumble through cultural lessons, and my heart has ached for them as they realized just how harsh the world could be. For people like me, it’s not such a harsh wake-up call. I grew up with lack of accessibility as a way of life, but I had a deaf family who understood how I felt. But for late-deafened people within the culturally deaf community, it’s not so easy.

Both of my friends, hundreds of miles apart, were recently put in situations where they were thrust into an all too common dilemma: the refusal of their schools to provide qualified interpreters. Each became frustrated to the point of wanting to give up and leave school.

They told me about their respective struggles during the same span of time and to their realizations about how narrow-minded people could be at times. I listened to how they were shocked that hearing administrators were so blatant in the refusal to meet their academic needs. I thought to myself how strange it must be to be hearing for the majority of your life, and then suddenly find that your own people aren’t always so nice after all. I also thought about how unique it must be to suddenly enter a community where discrimination is a way of life and learn the hard way that just because you’ve lost your hearing, some idiots might consider you less of a person.

Regardless of the disappointment they experienced in their struggles, they fought for what they needed, and no matter how much they wanted to, they didn’t quit. They continue to embrace being deaf, and are thankful that they’ve been welcomed into such a close-knit community. In fact, the New Yorker wrote me today saying she still sits in awe at deaf events and is so happy to be part of such a community.

I’m incredibly proud that they’re my friends. I’m even prouder that they’ve become part of my community, warts and all.

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