Once I got to high school the questions stopped, though the stares didn't. The questions stopped from my peers and from adults around me. Children are naturally curious, they'll ask questions without a filter -- I miss those days as a kid myself getting endless questions from other kids. Why? Because I was educating so many young minds with all those questions. I was normalizing deafness and cochlear implants for others who were young children themselves. By normalizing disabilities while children are young, they become more accepting and knowledgeable on a topic that later on becomes 'off limits', as determined by society.
There comes a certain point where children begin to realize that we have this idea as a society, the idea that asking questions is rude. These children become teens and they stop asking their questions, but their curiosity doesn't stop. Consider this: this societal stigma around asking questions harms those wanting to ask the question as well as those the questions are directed towards. Awareness and education is no longer shared when questions stop. We create a society that is uneducated while in this case, furthering the divide between the hearing and the D/deaf/hard of hearing communities. What if the answer was that simple? Ask questions and allow yourself to be educated through the firsthand experiences of others.
I was reminded of something this week in university. The questions stopped. Completely. Not only have the questions stopped but I am no longer in that K-12 school where everyone knows that I'm deaf. I was reminded that the majority of those around me don't know anything about my deafness. People I've sat in classes with for three years. You see, I told a deaf joke the other day as I ever so casually do from time to time. It's common for hearing people to be unsure of how to respond, but that wasn't the case here. I realized I told a deaf joke to a group of individuals who had no idea I was deaf. I realized I was in my senior year and those around me were clueless. I talked to one person who didn't know what it meant for me to be deaf. They didn't realize there were things I have done in all my classes to accommodate for myself. They didn't realize. They didn't know. Their lack of knowledge, who does that fall on? Everyone.
I'm in a unique position where I'm majoring in Elementary and Special Education. While I was sitting in Special Education classes with others who are going to be Special Educators, it dawned on me. I have to do something, now. We student teach next semester which means I have six weeks left with my peers before we split ways for our final semester. I have six weeks left to do everything I can to educate my peers on my deafness. And not only am I educating my peers for their own knowledge, but for their future students who may be deaf/hard of hearing. How can I honestly sit in Special Education classes knowing my peers know only what the textbook tells about deafness. And the textbook tells what most do: inaccuracies, framing deafness as a deficit and something to be feared. Throughout my classes, when deafness is mentioned, I've always spoken out against these wild depictions of deafness, but I need to do more than that. Squash the deficit narrative while promoting the true narrative. Deaf gain.
Educating those who stand beside me is the simplest I can contribute to our society. As a kid, this education went both ways. Others asked questions, I answered the questions and educated them. Now, it's one sided. I educate others by answering questions they never asked. I know from the continued stares that the questions never went away, the questions were just replaced with awkward discomfort in these long blank stares.
So, ask your questions. Abandon the worries that you have behind your questions. Is it rude for me to ask this? Am I being insensitive? Am I using the right terminology? Ask the question, and allow yourself to be educated and corrected. You might be corrected. If you refer to me as hearing impaired, you will be corrected, but I will teach you what to say instead and will explain to you why I don't use that term. It's my hope that you will then take what I've shared with you and try to be and do better as you have a deeper understanding of my deafness.
One last note: Learn from the children in our society. Listen carefully to the questions they ask. We are all as curious as a three year old (okay maybe that curious!), act on your curiosity in the same way three year olds do.