*Scroll down to the bottom of this post to watch the ASL interpretation of this story.
Shortly after, my parents were faced with a choice; either they agree to allow a doctor to place a cochlear implant in my left ear and I can learn how to communicate orally, or I learn sign language and not rely on any sense of hearing. In the end, my parents chose to implant me with the cochlear implant and invested in speech therapy.
Growing up I was barely exposed to Deaf culture since I was mainstreamed in school and surrounded by hearing people. I did make a few deaf friends throughout the years and we all thought people who were deaf and hard-of-hearing were the same. It was not until I made the decision to transfer to an art college in Calgary that I experienced a division between the hard-of-hearing and Deaf community.
One evening, I was out having dinner with a friend who is Deaf and communicates with sign language. Despite our language barriers, we managed to maintain a wonderful friendship and communicate with each other by using basic sign language and lip reading. During our dinner, she asked me if I would be interested in accompanying her to an event that was held for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Without hesitation, I agreed to join her.
As soon as we arrived at the event, a woman approached us before we could fully enter the room. I assumed she had come over to greet us. Instead, she signed to my friend and asked: “Why is Natasha here? She is not deaf!” I was shocked and stunned by this blunt comment directed towards me and looked at my friend in confusion. My friend tried to ensure her that I am deaf and that she invited me as a guest. Despite my friend's attempt, I was not welcomed and had to leave the party. The sting of this rejection will be a feeling I'll never forget.
Despite the fact I grew up with a cochlear implant since age six and attended mainstream school, I still identify as a deaf individual. I believe people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing have the same disability and that we share the same struggles, barriers and issues. Our communication methods may be different, whether we use sign language, assistive devices or lip-reading and speaking, but from my experience we are stronger when we can work together as a team and support one another.
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