Steph Payne

Age: 24
Cook / Student
Moderate Hearing Loss  

My Deafness was no burden, especially when I was younger. I think most people who are told they ‘have something’ don’t always recognise it as ‘other’ until they are immersed in the world as adults or young adults and come up against particular attitudes. I was fortunate as a young kid that I grew up in a small country town, and had close friends whose curiosity in my Deafness went as far as wondering what my hearing aids did. I was also lucky that I grew up in an area that also had a fairly significant Deaf community. This meant when I was a younger I went to camps with other Deaf kids and really didn’t find myself too removed from the rest of the mob.

The closest I ever came to denying I had a hearing loss was in high school when I didn’t recognise that hearing aids made an improvement. Being told to wear my hearing aids felt like being told to eat my greens. I felt as though wearing them was something adults wanted me to do, mostly because they said it was good for my education. And as most teenagers go, I just didn’t really care enough or see what the fuss was about. So my issue mainly came from adults’ concerns that I wasn’t wearing my aids. I had no issue with being Deaf itself. In fact I liked being Deaf (still do). I think I learned to be proud of it when I was younger by going along to the camps.

Something I acknowledge now, more than I did when I was younger, is that my hearing aids really do help. I know without them I would be much more socially uncomfortable when in larger groups and feeling socially inept can be a pretty awful blow to self-esteem. So I wear my aids every day now and gain a lot of benefit. This is something I would have loved to have learned earlier.

Most adults and teachers in high school were encouraging me to wear my aids for educational reasons. If I had recognised how great they are for keeping on top of conversation—not missing out on invites, gossip, stories—high school could have been quite different perhaps. I think if someone had talked to me about how hearing aids would have improved my life socially, I’m sure I would have considered wearing them far more often. I think most of my anxieties , like missing out on punch lines and coming across as being inconsistent or unreliable because I wasn’t hearing things, arose out of the social environment I was in. I have no regrets—it is what it is—but I didn’t realise how much I was missing out until I started wearing hearing aids in social settings.

Recently I did a hike on my own and I was quite nervous about taking the trail. It was the first time I had done a walk through the forest with my hearing aids in. It was such a new experience. There was a sense of grounding. A sense of security. It was the first time I really felt at ease in a natural landscape by myself.

I’m also much better at telling people I’m Deaf (and more patient at explaining that there is diversity in Deafness and yes, I can hear them and, no, I don’t think I’m a mastermind lipreader) and this has helped, especially in workplaces. I feel that people really want to make sure you don’t slip between the cracks because of hearing loss. 

I wear my hearing aids and I love my hearing aids. I take them out and show them to people if they’re curious. I take the time to talk about what scenarios are difficult for me. I’ve also gained a lot of extra interpersonal and communication skills that come with being Deaf. It makes me a good listener, a lateral thinker and helps me connect authentically with people one-on-one. 

I acknowledge now that my attitude towards my Deafness was largely shaped by a childhood and teenage years where I felt ‘normal’. I have certain people, who worked with Deaf communities and Deaf kids in the region where I grew up, to thank for this, however it’s something I’ve only acknowledged very recently. It’s one thing to look within yourself or reflect upon it personally, but I really value the kind of insights that you gain in having a community, however big or small. I think that’s really important.