By Emma Cranage
I grew up without a disability. So when I walked into an audiology appointment wanting nothing more than to disprove my suspicion of hearing loss, my life was permanently altered. I was legally disabled. Whenever I tell my story, people say that I am “begging for attention” or “trying to guilt-trip everyone.” But every time I have discussed it, I was prompted by someone else’s curiosity.
That presumed craving for attention is the disabled community’s besmirching stereotype. I am always told, “Your disability does not make you more special than anyone else.” But there is a missing piece of the ableism puzzle. My disability does not make me better or worse than an able-bodied person. But it does make my story different.
Hearing loss comes with a unique three-piece set of emotional baggage: social, mental, and physical. Physical baggage is the stigma of wearing hearing aids every day for eternity. Mental baggage is the weight of the terrifying possibility of never getting a diagnosis and never finding a cure. Social baggage is my fear of exclusion because of my “bothersome” needs, as well as the pitiful, uncomfortable look I get when people hear my story.
This implies that hearing loss is a burden placed on some of society’s unlucky members. However, pitiful looks always vanish when people discover the silver linings of hearing aids: playing music on them, or tuning out the world when they are off. Whoever listens tells me they envy me, wishing they, too, could wear hearing aids every day.
So I remind them that they do not know how much I fear exclusion. They do not know how unfamiliar they are with the haunting pain from not knowing why I lost my hearing and do not know how receiving pitiful or exasperated glares every day aches in its own way. I have lived in both worlds and the difference is unfathomable.