Communication Journey Diagnosis in Early Childhood & Preschool Hard of hearing Identity

Being Earshot

For aspiring artists and creatives, we bring you the story of Kate Disher-Quill, a photographer and visual communicator whose passion is to create change through art and storytelling.

For aspiring artists and creatives, we bring you the story of Kate Disher-Quill, a photographer and visual communicator whose passion is to create change through art and storytelling.

For aspiring artists and creatives, we bring you the story of Kate Disher-Quill, a photographer and visual communicator whose passion is to create change through art and storytelling.

Today, Breda is researching and writing on Deaf people’s history and gives workshops to share her wealth of knowledge and experience with others.

Kate is hard of hearing and has worn hearing aids for most of her life. However, she acknowledges that it took her almost two decades to accept her identity. Hers is a hero’s journey of embracing her hearing loss which also inspired the creation of Earshot, a book that is helping many others do the same.

Kate, what is your primary mode of communication? I grew up wearing hearing aids but reluctantly for many years. Speech is my primary mode of communication.

Please share your childhood story and diagnosis. I was diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing loss at the age of three and given my first pair of hearing aids when I was 10 when my hearing had deteriorated. I felt out of place, a child in an audiology clinic surrounded by images of elderly people.

At the same time, I was referred to a special needs teacher. All it took was a couple of sessions to get the impression that I would never be as smart as my peers. Meanwhile, my parents were told, ‘I would never be a party girl’ as though they were supposed to be comforted by that.

It must have been a difficult time for you. It was, which is why I put up a wall. I refused to tell people about my hearing loss and I refused to wear my hearing aids outside the classroom. While my parents always tried to encourage me to wear my hearing aids, they went along with my decision not to discuss my deafness with others, as they saw how distressing and problematic it was for me.

How long did this happen? It went on for 16 years. Through school and university, I spoke very little about my hearing loss and never once wore hearing aids in a social setting. When I started work as a freelance photographer, I still refused to wear them on a job. The thought of a client seeing me with hearing aids made me squirm with embarrassment as I believed they would somehow think I was less capable.

Why do you think you felt this way? From a young age, our social environment conditions us to hide our weaknesses and our differences. I feared rejection and being made to feel inferior, so I hid my hearing loss as a form of self-protection. I ended up feeling isolated, ashamed, and living with the perception that no one would quite understand me.

You are someone that has clearly embraced your hard of hearing identity. What triggered the change? I remember it clearly. It was April 2014 and I was skimming through a magazine when I stumbled upon an article written by a 27-year-old photographer, who was also deaf. She mentioned the awkwardness of missing punchlines, the embarrassment of being a teenager and telling boys she was deaf, and the frustration of not being able to have access to subtitles when watching movies. She then went on to explain that visual imagery had always been a huge part of her life and that it seemed natural for her to pursue a career as a photographer. Midway through the article, I felt tears rolling down my face.

Was it because you saw yourself in her story? Yes, absolutely. Although the young woman in the article was profoundly deaf with a cochlear implant, many of her experiences mirrored my own. For the first time in my life, I found comfort in the fact that the feelings I had were not mine alone. It baffles me to think I reached the age of 26 without realising there were many people like me, and that deafness was actually worthy of discussion, and not something to be ashamed of.

In other words that article was a turning point in your life? That article changed my life irrevocably. The story not only shifted my perspective but made me question something far more significant. If a thousand words in a magazine could have such an impact on me, how could I use photography and storytelling to do the same for many others?

The HEARO Team often talks about the “Yes, I can!” moment when we achieve something that might have previously seemed impossible. Was the Earshot project like that for you? Yes, it was. It took five years to complete but I was determined to take hearing loss and deafness out of the audiology clinic and into the countless lives that are impacted by it. My vision was a book to showcase the faces of young people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Where society was causing them to want to hide, I wanted to shine the light on them.

Did you achieve your vision? I believe so. It is a book that would have helped me accept my deafness much earlier in life. I’ve also had such wonderful feedback since its publication from audiology clinics, medical centres, speech pathologists, schools, and libraries. Most rewarding has been receiving messages from parents, teachers, and teenagers thanking me for creating a resource that they relate to.

What did you personally learn from the Earshot project? Before I started I didn’t know anyone else who was Deaf or hard of hearing, and so the process of making Earshot was not only a huge learning experience but it gave me the opportunity to develop my own Deaf identity.

As I learned about Deaf culture and history, debates around oralism and sign language, and the daily experiences of people living with various hearing devices, a whole new world of understanding opened up for me. I listened to people’s deepest fears, heartbreak, joys, and resilience. Sharing these experiences with so many others helped me grow as an individual that is proud of my Deaf identity and empowered to advocate for my needs.

While Earshot’s central theme is hearing loss and deafness, it is a book that aims to break down barriers between ‘them’ and ‘us’. It is relevant to anyone who feels ‘different’. I wanted it to build understanding and compassion. To inspire, empower and help us understand that there is strength in revealing our vulnerability.

Is there one more thing you’d like to share with a young person who is deaf or hard of hearing? Be proud of your identity. Your diversity can enrich your life, which is something worth celebrating.

If you’d like to own your copy of Earshot, discover it here.

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