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I live my life suspended between two worlds, not quite fitting into either. There is the hearing world: a world of noise, of happy conversations and quiet whispers, of blaring horns and twittering bird songs, noises loud and soft, high pitched or deep. Then there is the deaf world: a visual world of images, where communication occurs through your fingers and meaning comes through facial expressions, a quiet world in some ways but vibrantly alive in others. It is a world I have never been truly part of but have sometimes longed to, knowing that the miscommunication and misunderstandings I often experience in my life in the hearing world would vanish in the deaf world.
As someone with moderate hearing loss raised in a hearing family and mainstreamed in a hearing school, I am used to missing out. All the group conversations I couldn't quite follow, the whispers I couldn't hear, the plots of movies that were lost on me because I couldn't understand the dialogue: These blank spaces have become a part of my life, making me an outsider in some ways.
Then there are the other facets of life that many people never have to think about. Keeping a close eye on the oven timer because I can't hear when it beeps. Not hearing the songs of the birds or the chirping of the tree frogs. The anxiety I feel when I travel because I'm afraid that I won't hear my boarding call or miss the announcement for my stop. The sheepishness I feel when I am waiting for an appointment and I only hear my name the fourth time they've called me. The 10 second delay between hearing someone and understanding what they've said. Asking someone to repeat themselves numerous times. The tinnitus that arrives whenever I am in a quiet place.
And yet, I am not deaf. As a child, I wondered at the bulletins I used to receive in the mail from the National Association of Deaf (NAD). Deafness was seen as a badge of honor. There was a sense of exclusion, a feeling that this was a community that only a few could join and not many were welcome. There was a sharp division between the hearing world and the deaf world written in the words of the bulletin. I felt that acceptance into the deaf world meant rejection of the hearing world and this I could not do. So, I continued struggling in the hearing world, not knowing anyone else who shared my experience of hearing loss.
As an adult, I understand the desire for that exclusion. I have seen how the hearing world has rejected the deaf world and deaf people. There is an unwillingness by many organizations to increase access to their services by providing sign language interpreters. Even in health facilities, deaf people are often shut out from quality healthcare by a lack of interpreters. Deaf college students have to fight their college administrations to get the resources they need. As a hard of hearing person, I was not given information on the resources I could access at my college, even when administrators became aware of my hearing loss. Much of the deaf and hard of hearing population are unemployed or underemployed, even if they are highly qualified for employment in their chosen field. We find strength through sharing and experiencing our struggles with others and the deaf community has banded together to endure and overcome the injustice they have experienced.
As an adult, I finally found access to some of the community I was missing. The online Facebook group, Say What Club Gen-Y (part of the larger nonprofit Say What Club) provides support for young adults with hearing loss. Through this group, many of my experiences with hearing loss were validated and I realized how common some of these experiences were. I was able to get information and bounce off thoughts and ideas with other people who had experienced some of the same struggles and frustrations. It took me a long time to find this community and my wish is that the younger generations who are experiencing hearing loss will be connected to their peers who also share their experiences. Everyone should be offered a community that will support them and understand what they are going through. Society needs to increase access to resources that there no longer needs to be a division between the hearing and the deaf world. While it is vital to have a community of people who share your experiences, barriers need to be removed so we can all participate in society and come together through our shared humanity. In truth, there is only one world and by coming together, we can make it a better one.