Triumph through adversity: How I became a deaf ‘role model’

I’m Ellie, also known as Deafie Blogger. Campaigning, awareness-raising and blogging is a passion of mine. I’m a keen traveler, love socializing and living life to the full, oh and I’m deaf! Here’s my story…

I used to read biographies of young people with an element of amusement, because I thought that they hadn’t lived their life yet. What could they have accomplished within a few years? But at the age of 22, I’m beginning to understand.

I look back at the last few years, since reaching adulthood with a mixture of amazement and disbelief of how much I’ve achieved so far.

Last year alone, I did a charity Skydive, received a National award in recognition of my voluntary work, and have had the wonderful opportunity of meeting key industry professionals in the fields of banking and cinema with a view to bringing positive change within accessibility for deaf customers.

How have I come so far within a short space of time?

I was born profoundly deaf to hearing parents. They had no clue about deafness and its implications. At 10 months old, I was fitted with high powered hearing aids and my parents were sent on their way with no idea what the future held.

Then began the hard work.

They decided to try to teach me to talk. They knew no other form of communication. There is hot debate in the D/deaf community whether a child should communicate orally or through sign language. I’m glad they chose the oral route, but it’s a very individual choice.

Although deafness is one of the most common disabilities, it is one of the most misunderstood. Many believe it simply means you cannot hear very well. The full impact on understanding and the effect it has on the D/deaf person and their family is less well known.

I look back to my childhood and teenage years with bittersweet feelings.  Happiness for being blessed with a hardworking and supportive family, but a touch of frustration for the sacrifices we had to make.

It was such hard work learning how to talk, improving my speech, understanding the complicated hearing world, trying to make sense of what people were saying and the struggle to keep pace with my peers through mainstream education.

Concentration fatigue comes as part of lipreading. The frequent headaches and the amount of work which was needed to keep up with the pace of education was at times challenging for us all. I worked every evening and every weekend for as long as I can remember just to keep up.

At times it seemed never-ending. Was it all worth it?

I missed out on so much; socializing, out of school activities and even things which children take for granted such as bike rides, reading, and even watching TV wasn’t an option because of time or as I was too tired.

These are the things people don’t see. Behind the scenes, attempting to leave school with good enough qualifications, trying to get my head around all this complicated jargon in a variety of subjects, for a young person with a limited vocabulary was often soul destroying.

Yes, of course, it was worth it!

I was so lucky to emerge into the adult world with an impressive list of top-grade GCSEs and A levels including German, would you believe? Helping me to secure my present Marketing role in a Spa and Health Club.

I guess I’ve had to adopt a good work ethic, if not I wouldn’t have succeeded. I have learnt so much along the way and I feel that my deafness has given me so much. This might seem an unusual way of viewing a disability, but I wouldn’t have had half the opportunities I have had.

I try to ensure that deafness doesn’t define me. I’m far more than my disability, but it is a huge part of me. A previous boss used to introduce me as; ‘This is Ellie, she’s deaf!’ I don’t know who was more embarrassed!

Life is always a challenge

Life is hard, often on a daily basis because of so many things I can’t do. I cannot make telephone calls, as well as many leisure activities which are almost impossible as I rely on lipreading to understand speech, for example I need subtitles on films in the cinema. But rather than dwelling on what I can’t do, I develop the ability to focus on what I can do.

Being deaf has forced me to become a strong, self-confident young woman.

You kind of must, nothing is going to come to you in life, you have to go out there and get it, work for it and attempt to overcome any barrier which presents itself to you.

Rather than the disability causing low self-esteem, I try to turn any difficult experience into something I can learn from; proving to doubters and critics that I’ll succeed regardless.

I always remember a teacher telling me I shouldn’t be studying her subject because I was deaf.

Clearly, this was not an acceptable comment, but indirectly, she inspired me to prove her wrong, to which I achieved Grade A!

Anytime I come up against inequality, injustice or ignorance, it makes me strive to work harder to increase awareness and reduce stigma and help to create a more equal society for the next generation of D/deaf people.

Looking on the lighter side of life

I’ve learnt many skills so far and one of which I’m most proud is my sense of humor. It has helped me get through some awkward situations. Trying to find the funny side of an encounter helps to diffuse frustrating circumstances.

Recently, a GP almost launched into mime during a consultation! I think he was a little uncomfortable knowing how to communicate and it nearly resulted in a game of charades when trying to understand my symptoms. *coughing gestures*

I strive to show others that deafness isn’t something to fear, and portray it in an it’s cool, good-to-be-different kind of way. I never considered I would be labelled an ‘inspirational’.

My love for language

Aside from my Marketing job, I spend lots of time blogging. I never dreamt that I would grow to love language. As a teenager, struggling to come to terms with my disability, when all you want to do is fit in, meant I was looking for somewhere to share my experiences. My supportive boyfriend who is also deaf, suggested blogging. I initially had my doubts. I didn’t think my writing skills were good enough!

With his encouragement; Deafie Blogger was born. It soon went from strength to strength. Through the wonders of the internet and Social Media, I began to connect with deaf people all over the world, helping them and myself to feel less isolated.

It was an opportunity to give back. To begin to help and support others; parents of newly diagnosed deaf babies and children who were shocked at the news, deaf teenagers struggling to cope and deaf adults looking for others who understood what it’s like.

Soon after, Phonak and British Deaf Association asked me to blog for them too. Every week, I am contacted with new and exciting opportunities.

An endless list

The list of current projects is far too long to go into, but I am particularly proud of the changes I have been instrumental in bringing about in the banking industry, and I hope to see a major increase in the number of subtitled films in cinemas with my #SubtitledCinema campaign. I am also so excited this year that my long-distance boyfriend of five years is accompanying me to volunteer in a deaf school in Sri Lanka.

My passions drive me to continue with the work to raise deaf awareness and eventually, I’d love to set up a central hub to bring together young deaf people offering help, support and advice.

I feel so fortunate that I have a very supportive family behind me who help me to make sense of this very complicated adult world. I hope to be able to carry on supporting others who might not be quite so lucky.

For others in a similar situation, regardless of disability, here are some tips to keep happy and healthy;

Be self-aware– Know your limitations, when to say; ‘No’. Stress is no one’s friend.

Ask for help– If you need it, don’t be afraid to ask for help, to share the load. If you feel you are struggling, there are lots of helpful information and support out there to help with feelings of isolation.

Learn and grow– Try to learn from difficult experiences, reflect on them to make future changes.

Finally, Embrace your uniqueness. No one wants to be a clone!


Ellie (Deafie Blogger)

You can find my blogs at:

www.deafieblogger.com

www.hearinglikeme.com/author/deafieblogger

www.britishdeafnews.co.uk/author/deafieblogger