Being hearing-impaired or deaf is a silent world and can be lonely. Only other deaf/ hearing impaired people truly understand what’s it like to feel limited by your hearing loss.
But growing up I was the only hearing-impaired girl in my year. There weren’t any other Muslim or Middle Eastern children at my primary school so it was a little difficult for me to make friends as I was the “odd one out”, twice over.
The high school I attended also has a hearing impaired unit and again I was the only hearing-impaired girl in my year group. There were other hearing-impaired / deaf girls but they were much older than me and I found it difficult to communicate with them as they had already formed “friendship” with each other. But on the plus side, the high school I went to had a very large middle- eastern and multicultural background, so in my year group the majority of girls also wore the hijab! So I wasn’t alone anymore in that regard.
Throughout high school moved trough different social groups. I spent time with the “Deaf” group, the “Lebanese- Muslim group”, and then groups of different people or the “multicultural” group. But I never felt like I really “belonged” in any of them.
With the deaf and hearing-impaired group, although we kind of grew up together and stayed together, I always felt like I was different to them. I felt that I can achieve more than they can. Moreover, the collective of being a part of a “deaf” group or surrounded by hearing impaired people means that sometimes your individuality becomes limited. There was a limit of how much we can talk about and the deaf boys were always being silly and not focusing on their work whereas I was the biggest “nerd”. Especially in the last few years of high school, I realized I had a different outlook in life and I felt like I could push myself to go to uni while most of them didn’t.
But they were the only people that can truly understand me and I can understand them.
With the “Lebanese/ middle eastern group”, I loved the sense of belonging you get when you’re surrounded with people from the same culture and even religion as you. But again, being hearing- impaired, I always felt a little different and left out. While most of the students were very accepting and friendly, it is the lack of awareness and the narrow mentality associated when it comes to hearing-impaired and deaf people, or even other disabilities in general, which is the biggest barrier to cultural and religious inclusion.
With the “multicultural” group, there were generally people from my year group and from the gifted and talented classes I was in. That group allowed me to connect with students who had the same intellectual goals as me such as going university. I made some good friends and enjoyed learning about different cultures. But again, being hearing- impaired, I missed out on a lot of socializing and found it difficult to communicate with others in a group setting.
Again, I felt a little left out.
While I am really blessed and grateful for the experiences and learning so much from different groups of people, I never found myself to completely “fit in” any group. I always felt like I was leaving something behind or felt limited in one particular group.
I never felt that I can be a hearing-impaired, Lebanese-Muslim Australian with the ability to aim high.
I never felt like I can fully be myself.
More importantly, I wasn’t given the opportunity to.
Last year, an inspiring hearing impaired young lady started the Muslim Deaf Association Sydney. She organised a wonderful event to raise awareness of the challenges and silent world that hearing-impaired Muslims in Australia go through. Its the first organisation based in Sydney, maybe even Australia, with the aim of breaking down barriers and raising awareness and accessibility for Muslims living in Sydney.
Compared to the rest of the world, we lack awareness, accessibility and support and MDAS, along with myself and other wonderful people are working to change that.
I remember attending the first event she planned, with my best friend (who is not hearing-impaired or deaf but is like my sister), meeting other wonderful, Muslim, hearing-impaired females doing wonderful things!
I still remember last year, sitting down and listening to the different speakers, watching the Auslan interpreter translate in sign language and captions moving on the screen, with topics from raising awareness about hearing impairment and barriers to social, cultural and religious inclusion to Quranic recitation and religious lectures.
With tears slowly escaping my eyes, I still remember thinking:
“finally… I can be myself”.