By Reem Khorshid
During a busy college day, my friend and I went to the document services centre on campus to get a copy of our assignment document. Standing there, I saw my friend losing her temper with the man who works there because he was not very responsive. I asked her to calm down and just raise her voice a bit and speak clearly.
The man who works at the centre wears hearing aids, a very old-fashioned pair that I do not think most of the students know what is it; it has a wire attached to a box to be placed in one’s pocket. It kind of looks like the 90s walkman, and I think this is what students think it is. But I do know, I do know well it is not a walkman device. I do know well how this man needs a clear loud voice to be able to interact, that he needs to see moving lips to read them and he needs others to be understanding. I do know, because I have his same needs.
Growing up in Egypt, a country that does not acknowledge hearing impairment, taught me a lot on many levels. My parents knew about my hearing impairment when I was eight and I started wearing my left ear hearing aid when I was 10. Today, I am 21, I am currently studying Architectural Engineering at Cairo University, and I use hearing aids for both ears. Over the years, every day has been a new lesson. With every daily experience accompanied by my hearing loss, I learn a new tactic about dealing with others. I am forced to adapt.
College was not the first experience, but it was the toughest. I started facing major difficulties during classes due to the absence of study materials and the fact that everything depends on what the professor says in lectures, unlike high school.
Knowing more about my hearing problems now made me re-think how I have spent my childhood. I now remember how things went for me in elementary school. It was all about day dreaming. I barely focused in classes, especially before I started using my hearing aids. Even when I tried, I remember that I used to feel lost and helpless, but it was less than the frustration that I get nowadays in college. My current frustration comes with the acknowledgment of my hearing problems, which I have no hand in and still cannot fix. Maybe I barely benefited from class hours in school, but I used to go home and start studying alone from scratch. I used to be a top student in school despite everything. I had to make double the effort and I didn’t mind it as long as all the studying resources were available.
In middle school, things changed and I had to deal with bullies. When a teacher would ask me anything or call my name and I give no response, I had to see laughs. I learnt more about hearing loss, and I hated knowing. I had many school mates ask me about my hearing impairment devices and I used to explain. But at some point, I got bored of explaining. Some would tell me: “Ah, it’s like glasses for the ear?” Well, yes, but no. I felt embarrassed at times, having people touch my ears and look at them with lots of questions. As a teenager, I wished to have it all written on my face instead of having to explain it again to every human being I come across. When I look back on all the questions I used to get, I view it as emotional abuse, and it bothers me that there are many children out there who have to put up with all these silly questions and bullies because society has no knowledge about hearing impairment.
Today, my college life revolves around worrying about not hearing well in lectures. My major problem is how the professors cannot see the whole picture; I tell them about my hearing disability before classes start so they become aware, they would show support and confirm their understanding. However, when it comes to action, I think they cannot really realise how low their voice is and how hard it is for me to read their lips when the class is dim during a PowerPoint presentation or when they turn their face to the board while explaining. I feel lost, frustrated and angry. It makes me want to shout at the top of my lungs: Let me hear you.
I do not hate college. I like what I am studying and I know I can achieve enough if my situation is considered. I do not want to worry about finding study material to pass. I do not want to make double the effort just because the professor decided to explain the whole lecture through a video without subtitles. I do not need you to help me achieve anything; I like to accomplish things myself. I can be independent. I just need you to let me hear you.
I hate how the solution to my problems can be so simple, but people just have too little or zero knowledge about hearing disabilities and impairments. And trust me on this, I do not know sign language.
The solution to all the hearing impairment dilemma is a one-word solution: Understanding. People should understand the struggles of people with a hearing impairment. Schools and universities must have rules that professors should abide by if they are teaching students with a hearing impairment. This also applies to employers; for example, every time I apply for a summer internship, I have the HR calling on the phone even though I mentioned in the cover letter that I am hearing impaired and that I want to be contacted through emails. What I explained about school, university and employers also applies to all entities that hearing-impaired persons have to deal with in their lives.
Despite everything, I owe a lot to my disability. It taught me many things, starting from independence to patience and courage, but sometimes frustration erases all I have learnt.
Reem Khorshid is a young Egyptian writer whose articles have appeared in Daily News Egypt, Mada Masr, and other media outlets. She tweets @reemkhorshid