In a world full of noise, sometimes silence can be comforting and welcoming. After a long day of socializing with people, one might feel exhausted and seek the comfort of quiet. That is until the next day comes and we are back in the middle of that everyday noise. That is the balance of life for most of us, but not for Emily Mason.
Emily is a 22-year-old creative spirit, who has enjoyed drawing ever since she was a toddler. When asked about what she was like as a kid, Emily described herself as curious, lively, determined, and extremely imaginative. Her curious personality allowed her to explore different hobbies throughout childhood, such as dancing and role-playing, but her passion for drawing overtook everything. Not so long ago Emily graduated from Newcastle College where she got a degree as an illustrator and that is her occupation now, focusing primarily on the artwork of anthropomorphic animals.
Because of how well Emily has adapted to life, one would never know that she lives in a world of silence. Emily was born deaf.
In the United Kingdom alone, there are around 11 million people that share the same disability as Emily – people that are deaf. Because people like Emily are at a disadvantage in our modern society, in terms of education and job opportunities, organizations like Deaf Awareness NE exist to provide support, encouragement, and a friendly atmosphere within the community and even more importantly, to provide education on deafness to our modern society in hopes of defeating inequality once and for all.
It is estimated that by 2035, there will be around 14.2 million adults in the United Kingdom with hearing loss, therefore there is a huge need for organizations like Deaf Awareness NE as not only do they provide a community for deaf people, they also do wonders at providing training to businesses about inclusivity, equality, and fair opportunities. These organizations were also the ones that provided extra support during the Covid-19 pandemic, which made people like Emily feel even more isolated from society than before.
To give an insight into what it is and was like being deaf during the Covid-19 pandemic, her mental health, inequality, and more – Emily Mason and her story.
Q: Emily, could you tell me how have you lost your hearing?
E: I was born deaf with no history of deafness in my family. I have a condition called Bilateral Sensorineural Hearing Loss which means both of my cochleas are brittle and damaged. I started off with moderate hearing loss with the expectation that my hearing would deteriorate over time and that I had to have cochlear implants in the future. But after two concussions, my hearing deteriorated severely to profound hearing loss. So, I had two surgeries for cochlear implants at ages 8 and 12.
Q: Having met you, I can tell that you are really good at lipreading. Do you also know sign language?
E: I don’t do sign language. I only learned basic sign language as a younger kid but didn’t feel the need to learn advanced sign language because of my moderate hearing loss. Another reason was that I grew up in a school full of hearing students, and I didn’t feel the need to learn sign language when I can talk to them verbally. However, as I got into secondary school, I met deaf students who do sign language. I learned simple sign language to communicate with my deaf friends.
There is a common assumption that all deaf people know or should know sign language. There are debates on whether sign language should be introduced in schools as a mandatory subject. In reality, there is a difference between people who are deaf and deafened people. Sign language is more common in people who were born deaf, while deafened people, who became deaf later in life, either use a combination of sign language and lipreading or just lipread alone.
Q: Going through a worldwide Covid-19 pandemic and being in lockdown was a very strange experience for the whole world. How was that experience for you?
E: It was mentally tiring as a deaf person during a pandemic because I struggled to hear what other people said with their masks on, especially in the noisy environment. It was rare to see people wearing a see-through mask, which made it extremely difficult for me to lipread. I could not communicate properly, so it was an exceptionally hard time.
Q: Do you feel as if you needed more support during that time?
E: I did wish at the time that more people would wear see-through masks, but I can understand that these masks are pricey, and are not well known. I needed support for other reasons, such as loneliness and depression during the lockdown.
The need for support during that difficult part of everyone’s lives was recognized by Deaf Awareness NE and throughout the pandemic, the organization was very aware of the fact that deaf people already feel isolated from society as it is and the Covid-19 outbreak certainly did not help. In order to prevent loneliness and depression within the community, the organization has kept its online doors open to everyone that wished to attend. They have moved away from the facilities to keep everyone safe and moved to doing weekly events online. Derek Craigie, who is the CEO of Deaf Awareness NE, has mentioned the importance of these weekly events, saying that they were the ones that even pushed the organization to the top, as there were more and more deaf people wishing to attend and socialize.
I was very surprised at the will to attend our online meetings. They have brought us people that might not have been able to attend in person, as some of them are from Holland, North America and India. These people are also the reason we have decided to keep our online meetings in place, as we would not want to lose them.Derek Craigie, CEO at Deaf Awareness NE, on weekly online meetings during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is no secret that there is a strong link between deafness and depression. Dr. Chuan-Ming Li, a researcher at the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, has done a study on this particular issue and found that this link, while more prominent in women, is very strong among people of all ages that suffer from hearing loss. Isolation, inequality, unemployment, and even small daily struggles, such as, not being able to see a movie at the cinema for the lack of subtitles, were mentioned as a few of the reasons for that. Derek Craigie has mentioned that people who become deaf later on in life, have an exceptionally hard time as suddenly they can no longer socialize, do their job, or be included in society.
Q: Emily, from your own personal experience, is there a link between deafness and depression?
E: I have suffered from depression due to multiple factors and being deaf is one of them. This is because I felt very left out in a social group. I wanted to be included in my group, but I sometimes felt like I was a burden to them because I had extra needs. I struggled to catch up with what they were saying. I would frequently ask them what they were saying, which left them annoyed or told me “never mind” so they didn’t have to repeat the conversation again with me. I’m slowly starting to embrace my deafness, and I would not let other people treat me differently. Instead, I would teach them the right way to approach a deaf person.
Q: Deafness and inequality. Is there a link between those in terms of employment and education?
E: There is definitely inequality because I felt like a burden, and people treat me differently because I’m deaf. They treat me like I am stupid or would talk to me in a way you would speak to a child. It’s very humiliating. Finding a job is very difficult for me because I can’t work in a demanding and noisy position. After all, I fear that I would miss out on the information, and I wouldn’t be suitable for this job. I’m always scared of being treated differently in both work life and social life because of my deafness, and I just want people to see me for who I am and treat me with respect.
Q: You have graduated as an illustrator from Newcastle College, how was that experience for you?
E: While I do have good moments in college, I have my moments of struggles. Especially when putting in twice the effort to listen to what the lecturer is saying and missing out on information. I would get exhausted by the end of the day, and as soon as I’d miss out on information from the teacher, I’d get very lost. Thankfully I had my support, who would write down notes and support me in my study.
Concentration fatigue is another struggle deaf people have to deal with on a daily basis. Because they have to make up for their lack of ability to hear, they have to put in twice as much effort communicating. Whether it is signing or lipreading, it takes a lot be able to fully contribute to a conversation and it can be very exhausting, especially over long periods of time or dealing with a large group of people. Deaf people are very likely to experience concentration fatigue in the work setting, however, Derek Craigie has mentioned a few ways to help with this.
’First of all, set some rules. If it’s a staff meeting, set some rules on when people should speak. Another thing to do is to make use of speech-to-text technology. It transcribes the text live and makes life just a little bit easier for a deaf personDerek Craigie, CEO at Deaf Awareness NE, on concentration fatigue.
Q: Now that you have graduated from college, what is your occupation?
E: I’m currently unemployed, but I have a side hustle as a freelance illustrator. My clients commission me to draw something. I am currently job searching which can be difficult sometimes.
Q: To end on a more positive note, what is your number one support system?
E: My support system is my mom, boyfriend, and friends, who supported and embraced me and my deafness. I go to them for support because they aren’t judgmental or impatient with my additional needs, and I rely on them for help when I’m struggling to hear.
Q: What do you want people to be more mindful/aware of when it comes to deaf people?
E: Be patient with us because being impatient will make us feel like we’re a burden to you, and it is anxiety-inducing. Try not to make assumptions about us, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about our deafness and what type of support we need. We will appreciate your interest!
Q: What advice would you give to people that are struggling with being deaf?
E: Find a local or online community for deaf people because you will receive support and make new friends who are deaf. This way, it makes you feel less alone, and you will receive a lot of support and love.
If each of us, whether we are teachers, students or employers do our bit to become deaf aware, maybe one day people like Emily will not have to live in silence and isolation anymore. Maybe one day they will live in a world where that silence after everyday noise of being able to fully contribute, participate and thrive, will slowly become comforting and welcoming instead of isolating. Maybe one day the world will provide them with equal job opportunities, ensuring them that their potential is not going to waste just because the world around them is mute.
For those who were born deaf or suddenly lost their hearing, for those wishing to educate themselves and others, and for those wanting to learn sign language, Deaf Awareness NE will welcome everyone with open arms. Inclusivity, positivity, and friendliness are very much present within the organization, as one is greeted with smiles from the moment of stepping in.
Do your bit and consider supporting Deaf Awareness NE by booking a deaf awareness training for your business, or follow them for volunteering opportunities:
*Photo credits belong to Emily Mason