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American Annals of the Deaf

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Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School

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My worst teacher in grade school didn't care that I was deaf. He sat me in the back of the room where I couldn't possibly see him. He talked while facing the chalkboard so I could never speechread him, and he talked so fast that I would never understand what he was saying. He made me feel worthless. He made me feel like being deaf was a disease that he didn't want to catch. The experience turned me off to teachers for a while, as well as to education. F 81
One day, I missed something she said. She approached me and told me to sit properly. I complied, but she uttered the word "deaf-mute" in the most demeaning way. The class laughed at me. With this public humiliation, I felt this rage burning inside me. I don't know what I did to control myself at that moment. The years have passed, but I still have this rage against that woman. M 85
Some readers will respond with compassion to these essay excerpts while others may feel that the school years are hard for everyone. It is true that the school years, especially middle school and high school, are fraught with possibilities for difficulties, failure, and personality conflicts with a teacher. However, hearing students, even those who have social difficulties, at least have the benefit of knowing what those around them are saying. They have a much greater chance of knowing where they stand, who their friends are, and which adults can be counted on for support or assistance. It is important to keep in mind that deaf and hard of hearing children are not privy to the fairly constant conversation going on around them. They are only privy to comments directed exclusively at them and thus have a more difficult time dealing with problems. Consequently, they are at a greater disadvantage when negative interactions occur.

Best Classmates and Friends

Most of the participants had both good and bad experiences with classmates. Several participants spoke about friends who seemed to embrace their hearing loss in a way that counteracted their sense of self-consciousness or shame.

In fourth grade, I got an FM system,2 and my friend was so excited that she wanted to wear it all the time! I remember cringing at the thought of having to wear these really big headphones, not wanting to be "different" in any way. And here she was, proud to be the poster girl for assistive technology! She would stay after school with me to put the system away and recharge the batteries. On weekends, she would encourage me to bring the system home so that we could "play" with it. She taught me at an early age to embrace my hearing loss and not be embarrassed by it. F 87

Some female participants wrote of boyfriends who suggested that having a hearing loss was nothing to be ashamed of and that they not hide their hearing aids under their hair.

I met my husband in high school. He was probably the first person besides my parents and speech teacher who I talked with about my deafness. When I told him that I wanted to pull my hair up but couldn't because of my hearing aids, he said, "Why not?" He convinced me that people would be more accommodating of my deafness if they could see my hearing aids. After this conversation, I was no longer afraid to reveal my hearing aids in public. F 93

Often the best friends would act as "ears" for the deaf youngster, particularly in social situations.

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