Episode 7 Transcript

[intro music]

 

Sarah Todd:

Hi I'm Sarah Todd Hammer, and this is Positively Opposite, the podcast where you'll discover through the experience and knowledge of myself and others that disability is not always a negative thing — but in fact, it can be quite the opposite. 

 

[intro music]

 

Sarah Todd:

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Positively Opposite podcast! Today I have Gabby Morreale with me. Gabby is a junior at Davidson College, where I also go to school, and we met during my first year of college. We're in the same eating house at school, which is similar to a sorority, and we've become good friends. Gabby has had severe to profound bilateral hearing loss since birth and wears hearing aids. She seeks to both educate others about hearing loss and to grow in her understanding of her own identity as a deaf individual, so I'm sure she has a lot of interesting insight to share with us today! Gabby, thank you so much for being here with me! 

 

Gabby:

Oh, thank you! I'm happy to be here. Thanks for having me! 

 

Sarah Todd:

I'm so excited to chat with you. I know I'm going to learn a ton from you today, so this is going to be so fun! So we can just get right on into the questions. So I'm curious: when did you first start using a hearing aid, and when did you first realize you couldn't hear? 

 

Gabby:

So I was deaf at birth when I had the typical standard exam examination as they do on all babies. And obviously, they noticed that my hearing wasn't very good. I wasn't reacting to the sounds or all the tests that they were running. So they went to my mom and said, “Oh, this is something of concern,” and basically I got fitted for hearing aids when I was really, really young, I want to say maybe four or five months — maybe a year. I don't know. I've had hearing aids for my whole life, like, ever since I was born. So yeah, so I've been through all sorts of iterations of hearing aids as the technology has kind of gone up. So I've been with them for a while, so yeah.

 

Sarah Todd:

That's so interesting. So, it's all you've ever known since you were born deaf. You don't know any different. And so I always love to highlight this, because for me, I wasn't born disabled, and I think the experience can be so different when you're born disabled versus when you're not born disabled. So yeah, I just always love learning about that. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, it's definitely an interesting divide. I shouldn't say divide, but it's an interesting distinction, I want to say, between those two experiences. 

 

Sarah Todd:

And speaking of that, have you ever thought about like what it would have been like if you weren't born deaf, and do you think that experience would be a lot harder, or have you ever thought about that before? 

 

Gabby:

Oh, that's a good question! It’s hard, right, because it's all I've ever known, right. Like, I can leave my hearing aids in and pretend that I'm like... I could wear my hearing aids to sleep if I really wanted to and leave them on right and see what that's like. But I've never really thought about that. I never really thought about like, “What would it be like if I were able-bodied — if I were hearing?” I think it definitely would be very, very different, because I've had people ask me, “Oh, what is it like to be deaf?” “What is it like to just be able to shut off your ears at all times?” And I try to explain it to them, and then I'm like, “What does it feel like to be hearing?” Like, whatever, and then people try to explain it to me, and we're both like, “We... I don't know… like, we tried... we tried to explain it,” but yeah.

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, yeah, it's one of those things that we can try to think about, but we'll never completely know.

 

Gabby:

And then you'll never completely know. You can have all the simulations and all the “here's what it sounds like, here's what it seems like,” but I think being deaf comes with the experience — not just the physical aspect of it. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, I think that makes so much sense, because even when you're wearing hearing aids, you don't really know what it's like to be hearing, because it's not the same kind of experience. 

 

Gabby:

Right, right. when I wear hearing aids, it's never gonna completely replicate someone's perfect hearing if that makes sense. So when I'm with people, they're like, “Do you hear that?” I'm like, “No!"  Like they can pick up sounds from like... I remember there was music playing from one of the apartments at Davidson, and we were at Chidsey, which is all the way across campus, and one of my friends was like, “Do you hear that music playing?” I was like, “No! Why would you ask me that?!” 

 

Sarah Todd:

That's so funny. Oh, my god.

 

Gabby:

Yeah, yeah. So little things like that get you. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, I think a lot of people don't think about that. They must think that when you put your hearing aids on, you're hearing just like everyone else, which is just not the case. 

 

Gabby:

Right, right, right. Of course. Yeah. I feel like that sometimes, too. Sometimes I'm just like… I want to ignore it. I don't want to have to deal with that right now. And I don't want to have to face the fact that I will never be on par hearing wise with hearing people. So I'm like “I just want to ignore it.” But it's there. It's still there regardless of if I accept it or not. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Right, and as you said, it's not just about you not being able to hear — it's also your experiences as a deaf person, so it's not just about the actual hearing itself. There's so much more to it. 

 

Gabby:

Right, right. Exactly, exactly. 

 

Sarah Todd:

So I guess kind of speaking of the experiences with being deaf... you've shared with me that you didn't learn sign language when you were young, and I'm really curious about how you feel about that, and what are your thoughts and feelings on sign language in general? 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, so in a nutshell, it sucks that I don't know sign language. I think it sucks. So I went to a school that catered specifically to individuals with hearing loss who wear hearing aids and CIs,  and a big thing that they emphasized was making sure that we were able to speak and communicate just like the other students, because it was a mix of able-bodied students and then students with hearing aids and CIs. So unfortunately, that meant that I didn't have any exposure to sign language at all. So it was good in the sense of I was able to read and write and to communicate just like everyone else, but then it came at the cost of not being able to learn sign language. So now, I can't sign at all. I can do a couple signs, but I can't do conversational ASL. And so actually this semester, me and my friend Elizabeth are actually looking to start an ASL club, so. 

 

Sarah Todd:

That's so cool! 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, yeah. So because we noticed... we were like, “Well, where's the ASL at Davidson?” We feel like that's really, really important to have on campus, because the science and the body language and all of that is really, really fascinating and really helpful in a lot of situations, so Elizabeth and I are looking to start an ASL club at Davidson to kind of make people aware of ASL and get them excited about it and talk to them about the sort of the language of the deaf community and not only for them, but for me. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Right. 

 

Gabby:

Because I did not have any exposure to that, and I really want to make sure that I'm exposed to that side of my identity, so yeah. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, that is so cool. Oh my gosh. I would totally love to join that club. That sounds so fun. I love that so much. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, you should. You should sign up. We'll have it on there. 

 

Sarah Todd:

That is so cool. I think it's so interesting that there really is this cool culture surrounding sign language, and I think it really does stink that you didn't have the opportunity to learn it when you were so young, because of course it's way harder to learn it when you get older. So I'm glad that you're trying to do that as much as you can now to really get in touch with that cool side of the deaf community. 

 

Gabby:

Right, right, yeah. And another aspect to that, too, is sort of if you think about the deaf community, there are often hierarchies within the deaf community of: my parents were deaf, I was born deaf, I only exclusively sign. And then there's: my parents were deaf, but I don't really sign that much, I do sign a little, but I also speak. So there's these whole sub communities within the deaf community that exist within that community. And so me learning sign language now in the deaf community... it's going to be hard to be accepted, if I'm honest, in the deaf community, because of sort of my late entrance into it and my late exposure to sign language. 

 

Sarah Todd:

So is this a controversial thing within the community? Like, learning sign language late... is it this thing that people look down upon? Or can you tell me more about it?

 

Gabby:

Yeah, I can't say too much, because I don't know a hundred percent. But there's a really interesting series on Netflix called Deaf U, which I've been posting a lot about when it came out on my Instagram stories. And yeah, that's definitely a conversation that is brought up in that series where you have the quote-unquote “elites” who are like fully deaf, and their parents were deaf, and they only sign, and they have their clique. And those people who wear hearing aids and sign have their clique. And there's a lot of drama within there. And I think another big thing, too, is learning sign language… people... I feel I can't speak for everyone, but I think people feel that people treat it as a hobby or as something just to do on the side. But when really, this is their culture. This is their language. So I think there's a little bit of that in terms of people coming in to learn sign language later, because I think some people might think like, if I were to tell them I'm like, “Oh, I'm going to sign language,” then it's like, “Why didn't you learn it before?” Like, “Why are you doing it now? Why did you wait?” So I think that's definitely some questions that people have and concerns that people have in terms of that.

 

Sarah Todd:

That's so interesting. Oh my gosh. I'm learning so much. It's so interesting to me, because I know that I've had some friends who've learned sign language, and I've never thought about like, “Oh, are they just learning it because they think it's cool, or are they learning it because they want to be able to communicate with people they might not have been able to communicate with and to create a more accessible world?” Like, what is their intention? And I've never thought more about that when I've had friends tell me that they're learning sign language.

 

Gabby:

Right, right. Yeah. And like I said before, sign language has a lot of uses. If you're at a rock concert, or if you're in a restaurant or whatever or if you're far away, sign language is a useful tool to use in terms of those situations. But at the same time, you do have to recognize that, “Oh, for a lot of people, that's their livelihood.” And so I think some people in the community are very sensitive to that and are very aware of that in terms of their identity. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Right, it's their language. It's their way of communicating with other people. But it can also be helpful in terms of other situations, like you mentioned. It can be helpful for everyone. But for deaf people, it really is their way of connecting with their community and other people. 

 

Gabby:

Right, right. Yeah. And a big example of that, too, is signing names. So a lot of people in the community will have their own sign name. So it's a specific way... so obviously, you can fingerspell your name. Like, you can spell it out. But some people have specific signs that they do with their name. And the way that you get that is the community. So the community basically decides your sign name, and then that's the one that you use to introduce yourself, essentially. So yeah, so yeah. Definitely culture and the language are very closely intertwined. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, that's so cool. I think that's so interesting. I hadn't thought as much about that before today. I knew that, but I hadn't really known how important that was before, and I love that. I think it's really cool how it can connect you all and really be a great thing to create such a cool community. Speaking of there being a great community with deaf and hard of hearing people, I know that a lot of you do find a great community, and I'm more curious about your community. Have you found a good community with other deaf people, and are there any other cool aspects of just deaf culture in general that you'd like to talk about? 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, so unfortunately, I haven't really found a deaf community to be a part of. I'm currently kind of working on that with the ASL club. And again, as I said, my parents really worked hard to make sure that I had a community that I wanted. And so that meant kind of putting aside and sacrificing the deaf part of my identity and really focusing on the hearing aid and the hearing part of that. Seeking those out. Any cool aspects of deaf culture... I mean, again, the sign thing is really cool. The sign name... I really like that. I really think that's pretty indicative of the deaf culture. Obviously, there are some problems, as I said, hierarchies and all of that. But I think I've started to follow people, like, deaf people on Instagram who wear hearing aids, things like that, and I've been able to kind of see and understand them in a way that other people don't. We always joke around about, “Ha, ha, like deaf person problems,” like whatever. Like when you take your hearing aids out and you can't hear anyone, and it's like, “Great! We're like people always complaining about, like, not being able to take a nap, and we're like, “We could probably take a nap anywhere!” Like whatever. So just finding those those little joys I think has been really, really great over the past few years, because it's been largely an individual thing for me in terms of finding my identity and really understanding what it means to be deaf and being able to be exposed to that through Instagram is really, really great for sure. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Oh, that's so great. I love that so much. I can really relate to that, too, because especially with the jokes, like the deaf jokes, I can relate to that with my own disability. My friends and I —  my other disabled friends — we will always make jokes about that. We were actually talking recently about this, one of my friends and I. She also has a disability, and she uses a wheelchair, and we were talking about how a few times we've been to restaurants together and they'll just give us free food, and it's always been when we're together. And we're like, “Oh, my gosh is this like a disability perk? Are they doing it because of the disability?” Because it's just so random! 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, yeah, yeah! 

 

Sarah Todd:

So I love that you do that. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh my god, yeah. Sometimes you gotta make a joke about it. It's not serious all the time. I always make the joke like, “I'm not good at Marco Polo.” Like in the pool. Just if you try to play Marco Polo with me, it's like not gonna work. 

 

Sarah Todd:

That's so funny. Yeah, see, it's such a good way to make light of your situation. I love making those jokes. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah. 

 

Sarah Todd:

So speaking of making light of your experience and sharing more about your experience with others, you've written a short play about your experience being deaf that I was fortunate enough to get to see at school back in March, and I want to know what was it like sharing these personal experiences that you've had with other people? 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, I've actually done this before. I did write another… it was very similar to what I had done in March. It was a short kind of a spoken word piece, where I essentially personified my hearing loss, and I was kind of like, “Why are you giving me a hard time? Why are you giving me this difficulty? I don't know anything about you?” I don't know, just kind of grappling with that. And this was very similar. This was kind of reckoning with that. And kind of my point kind of being: I will never completely be hearing or completely deaf, because I have that experience of wearing hearing aids all of my life, so I'm kind of in that middle in between the deaf community and the hearing community. So yeah, it was definitely difficult, I will say. It was very challenging, because I was trying to work with what the director wanted in terms of the vision of the overall play, and then also kind of being able to, like I said before, define hearing loss in terms that were accessible for both able-bodied individuals and people who are typically — have been marginalized. And it was definitely exhausting doing that every single night for three to four nights. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Oh my gosh, I'm sure. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, yeah. I'd come back, and my friends would be like, “How was the play?” I'm like, “Ah, it was great! It was fantastic! I grappled with my identity for an hour!” 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, I'm sure it was exhausting, because I know you put so much work into it, and the final product was amazing. I loved watching it. I know so many people loved watching it, and we all learned so much from it as well. And the part where you took your hearing aids off was really cool, too. I loved that whole aspect of having the people talking around you and really trying to get us to understand that you can hear all of these noises like background noises and the person talking directly to you kind of at the same volume. And that was really, really interesting. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, I loved that. I'm glad you noticed that. I mean, a lot of it was really intentional, but it wasn't stated outright, if that makes sense. I really wanted people to experience what I was experiencing as much as I could. I talked to the director about this, like having constant noise. Constant noise was a big thing in making that, because people don't really talk about this, but a big part of having hearing loss is hearing — so when you're able bodied, you get this sometimes where your brain is working constantly, all the time, every single day. When you sleep, when you wake up, when you nap, whatever. And so part of that is audio processing sounds. And for people with hearing loss, they have to work twice as hard to hear things, because their brain is not capable of receiving that much sound, and so that results, obviously, in hearing fatigue. Getting really, really, really tired really quickly. And so the point of that kind of that constant stream of sound was to have listeners kind of experience that a little bit, where consistent, consistent, consistent, consistent, consistent, and then just cutting out completely. And then you kind of feel the silence, right, it's intangible. You can feel it. It's sensory, right. It's senses. So I really wanted to utilize as many of the other senses as I could through this constant barrage of sound. So yeah, it was exhausting, because I had to listen to that, too. It was a lot going on there. And then to your point about taking the hearing aids out, it's like another whole concept where, as I said, I've tried really hard to kind of quote “fit in,” and I went to mainstream schools, where everyone else was able-bodied. I would usually be the only one with hearing aids, and so that results — even now — in me kind of not pointing out that I wear hearing aids and just kind of disregarding it. And then when I mention it to people, they're like, “Oh, I didn't even see it! I didn't even realize!” So taking the hearing aids out was kind of a big show. It was a big show on purpose to kind of be like, “This is the thing that's happening. This is something that I need to point out.” 

 

Sarah Todd:

It's so funny you mentioned that people didn't know, because I admit, I had no idea you wore hearing aids for the longest time. I remember I was shook when I found out, which is so funny, because I feel like looking back on it, I feel like I should have known. I don't know how I missed that. I feel really oblivious. But I think it's so funny, because you can relate to this as well. For me, people don't typically look at me and immediately know that I have a disability, so we're kind of similar in that way. And it creates so many odd situations and challenges, but it's also a good thing in some ways, because we don't experience a lot of mistreatment that other people might. But it does make for some really interesting situations, so it is so funny, because I had no idea for the longest time. But also, I love what you said about really emphasizing grappling with your identity and getting people to try to understand what it's like as much as possible, because I really think you did do that very well. And of course, we can't understand, because we aren't living your experiences, but I think we really did get a good idea of what it could possibly be like. And I love, too, that you mentioned you're kind of in between. Like, you don't know what it's like to be hearing, but you also do know what it's like to hear — it's just not like most of us. And I'd never thought about that before, too. You really do have such a unique experience. Like, you kind of know both sides. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, yeah. And that's what I was trying to get at is like that kind of juxtaposition of that's why we started out with me with my hearing aids out. Is like here's the deaf part of me, and then putting the hearing aids in, and kind of being like, “All right, this is the hearing side.” But then, how do we reconcile the two? How do we approach or recognize both sides of that identity? And I really tried to show that I still don't know. Like, I'm still trying to balance those two in terms of my own life, and then again, as you said, it is interesting trying to tell people that I am deaf, because it's like, how do you bring that up in conversation? It's like, “Oh, the weather's nice today. I'm deaf!” Like, how do you even get to that point? So it's like, I'm really just trying to understand where my deafness fits in my daily life. 

 

Sarah Todd:

I think it's also such a unique experience that a lot of us disabled people can't even relate to, because it's just such a unique disability to have, especially in your case, where you have worn hearing aids. Because for me, I'm always dealing with the fact that I can't move my left hand. I'm not sometimes moving my left hand. And so it is hard to imagine having just an idea of both sides, and that has been really enlightening for me to try to think about, because I know even on the show Switched at Birth, where they try to make you understand what it's like to be deaf by trying to block out all of the noises, it's really cool, and I always liked trying to understand that when I watched that show a while ago. But you can never get it, because you're sitting in your house, and you might hear your dog bark, or you might hear the doorbell ring. And so there’s no way for us to ever understand. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, and then another interesting part of this, too, of that kind of my experience is I actually took a dialogue on race and racism class last semester, and I was kind of hesitant to bring in my deaf identity, because I wasn't sure how it would fit into the context of the class. But I kind of brought it up, and I mentioned it a couple of times during our discussions. And there's one girl, who is — I believe she's Asian American. And I was kind of talking about how my deafness, as we said, like I'm kind of in the middle with the hearing and the deaf community. And she was kind of like, “Do you feel like you are able to understand kind of the struggle of Asian Americans? What I mean of like not being Asian enough or not being white enough? Like, being in between those two communities.” And I was like, “I wish I could say yes. Like, I think there are some elements that are the same. But at the same time, I'm very clearly white.” Just kind of seeing those parallels is fascinating and really, really worth delving deep on. So yeah.

 

Sarah Todd:

I agree. I think that's a really interesting point to bring up in that context to try to understand a little bit of how Asian Americans might be feeling, as you said in your example. And of course, both examples are completely different, but they also do have some similarities. 

 

Gabby:

Right, right. And like I said, the deaf community is a culture. It has a culture. So it's not like it may be in your case or in like someone who's a paraplegic. It's different, because there's a culture attached to it. There's a life attached to it. There's an identity. Obviously, the disabled community — this is part of their identity. But I think there's something a little bit different in the deaf community, where it's very much a sub community. It's very much a very strong sub community, if that makes sense. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Oh, yeah. I think it definitely does, because you all have your own language. You have something that can connect you all so well, and it's very unique to you. And although I do consider my disability to be a huge part of my identity and I'm proud to say I'm disabled, it doesn't really compare to the community that you all have. And it's really cool, because you're all kind of part of both communities. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Whereas like for me, just being disabled... I can relate to a lot of people in terms of disability in general, but there is probably no other person on this earth who has the same presentation of my condition as I do, because mine is just so so unique. I know other people who have the condition and who have paralysis, but there's probably not someone out there who has paralysis in the very spotty places that I do. 

 

Gabby:

Right. Exactly, exactly. Yeah. And another interesting part, too, is — I actually learned about this recently — is there is Black sign language. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Wow! 

 

Gabby:

Yes. So historically, obviously, the Black community — and this is... I think it's amazing. I think it's exclusively American Sign Language, but as black communities have been historically marginalized, and that includes in the deaf community. So there actually is I don't want to say it's completely separate, but there are different signs that they use, and then there's a history behind them. And it's even more culture embedded in there. So there's a whole lot that people don't know, and there's also... Native Americans also use sign language, and they have their own sort of understanding of that and embodiment of language. So there's a whole nother thing that sign language has deep, deep historical roots — and deep kind of that I don't know a whole lot about because I'm not a historian — but it really is embedded in history, and not just culturally. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, that's why it's so important we discuss the intersectionalities of being disabled and part of another minority group and things like that, because then it makes your experience even more different. And I never knew anything about those historical aspects of sign language. I think that's so fascinating. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, yeah. It's really interesting. And as I said before, it bears sub communities within the deaf community of the elites and the people who are closer to hearing. There's so much more in terms of racial identity and ethnicity and then all of that, so yeah. For sure, for sure. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, that's all so fascinating. I'm so glad you brought that up. I never would have known. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, no, it's important to talk about, for sure. 

 

Sarah Todd:

And I think this is a really good segue into the next question, which is: what's one thing you know because you're disabled that you wouldn't know if you weren't disabled?

 

Gabby:

Patience, and I don't think I would have quite the attentiveness and the care towards the world if I wasn't disabled, if I were able-bodied, becauseI don't know if this is true, but you often hear people say like, “If you don't have one of your senses, all of your other ones are heightened,” and so I think that's really true for me, where I kind of want to enjoy things I see, things I taste. I think I really experience things deeper — in a deeper way. And I used to play piano for years. I still play piano. Just kind of taking joy in being able to hear. And so I think when I was younger, my parents and my teacher used to say like, “You're such a you're such a happy child!” And my sign name actually was the sign for happy in the G — like the letter G. So because I was just kind of celebrating life and just diving into joy all the time, because I was like, “I'm so lucky to be able to to hear and experience this,” and so I think I kind of carry that attitude with me all the time, because I know in the back of my head that if life had been just slightly different for me, I would not have had the privileges and the experiences that I have now. Because if I had just exclusively signed, then my life would be very different. So just kind of being able to take pride and take joy in all the things that I can have has been really, really awesome. Really great. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Oh, I love that so much. You're just so adorable. 

 

Gabby:

Thank you!

 

Sarah Todd:

You always are so happy and so sweet, and I really love that. And I think that can be true for so many of us with disabilities. We feel, I guess, this greater appreciation for life, because we know what difficulties are out there, and we experience them every day. 

 

Gabby:

Right, of course. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Everyone has challenges, and disability is not the only challenge, and it's not necessarily the worst challenge someone can have, but we do have this challenge... it's just unique in that we are dealing with it every day and basically everywhere we go. And so I think it makes total sense that you really realized, “Wow, this is so great that I'm able to hear” when you have your hearing aids in, because you realize what you maybe couldn't have had. 

 

Gabby:

Right, right. Yeah. And I think it's important to remember that these kinds of intimate  experiences is not in spite of your disability, but I think it's because of your disability. It's not  a hindrance. I think that because I'm hard of hearing and because I don't hear like everyone else, music is so much sweeter and so much more invigorating for me, because I don't experience it like everyone else, and that's a good thing. That's a wonderful thing to be able to experience it in my own way and in the way that I want. So I think it's important for people to remember that and for people to really appreciate that. And another thing too is I think it has really informed my work ethic, like, my understanding of what work is. And obviously, there are days where I'm like, “Oh, god. Do I have to do this reading for class? I really don't want to.” Obviously, I have those days. But I think underlying that, there is some sort of appreciation and some sort of — dare I say — pleasure. Like just enjoyment of being able to write and being able to express myself in a way that I might not be able to.  

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah! And with regards to you appreciating music more and how you said that's not in spite of your disability — it's because of your disability — it's like it shouldn't be viewed as something where it's sad that you feel like music is more special or you really try to savor the feeling of listening to music. It should be viewed as this really cool thing and it's great that you have this appreciation for music more than most people do, because you were able to realize how special it is to be able to listen to music and just listen to anything in general. 

 

Gabby:

That's exactly right. Yeah, yeah. And my disability hasn't informed all parts of my life. It’s made me into, ironically, a better listener. Like, I know what it means to engage your hearing in sound. Like, if I'm going to listen to something, it better be a good thing. Like, it better be something worth my time, because I don't have all the energy in the world. I don't have the energy that able-bodied individuals have to listen to things. So when I have conversations with people who are really trying to tell me something, I make sure to look at them in their face and really kind of actually listen to what they're saying, because it's important to me that I take advantage of my ability to hear. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, it's given you this ability to understand the true value of having conversations with people and learning from people and listening to people, and I think that's a great thing that's come out of your disability. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, thanks. I'm glad, too.

 

Sarah Todd:

So what's one thing you wish more people knew about being disabled?

 

Gabby:

I would say it's honestly a case-by-case basis. I think some people are more comfortable talking about their disability than others, and so I think, it's again, like I said, patience. Patience is a big thing. Not everyone's gonna have the same feelings about their disabilities, and yeah, I just think that's the number one thing in terms of interacting with someone who has a disability. There's never going to be a right answer in terms of, “Oh, am I saying the right thing? Am I doing the right thing?” Because in terms of my experience of the deaf community, there are multiple ways that people identify. There's hard of hearing, there's deaf, there's a lot of terminology in terms of how people identify. And so I'll be real: it's really hard to keep track of all that. It's really hard to say the exact right thing at the exact time that you should. So it's really important that people kind of roll with the punches a little bit and just treat them with respect and have patience, because it's not going to be the same for everyone. 

 

Sarah Todd:

I think that is a crucial thing for people to remember, because I see this happening a lot where someone will be like, “Oh, I have an autistic friend,” and then when they meet someone else who's autistic, they'll just expect that person to be exactly like their friend, which for one thing, everyone's different anyway — no matter if you're disabled or not. But then, you also can't just expect everyone's disability experience to be the same even if they have the same diagnosis. So I really do think people should try to recognize that there is such a variety of disabilities, as you said. There are so many disabilities, and we're all different people. So you're right that no two experiences are gonna be the same. 

 

Gabby:

Exactly, because disability is an umbrella term. It covers a huge range of people — a humongous range of people. And there’s physical disability, so you have the subsections. There's the physical, the mental, and then you can break that down even further. And so I think it's really important for people to keep that in mind as they interact with someone who has a disability, and yeah, I'm still learning. It's difficult, because I didn't, again as I said, I didn't really have a lot of exposure to people with physical disabilities or — just any disabilities at all, period. My life has been such an emphasis on sort of assimilating into hearing communities, and so I still struggle with that. So I think it's really important for people to have patience and to allow ourselves to have patience as well. 

 

Sarah Todd:

I completely agree. I definitely think so. And I think we'll be learning for the rest of our lives. Always new stuff to learn! It's an ongoing process. 

 

Gabby:

Right! 

 

Sarah Todd:

I really love that. I mean, part of me wishes I could know everything there is to know about disability, but that'll never happen, so. I will just keep learning as I live my life. I will keep learning more. 

 

Gabby:

Yes, of course. That's what's important, yes. 

 

Sarah Todd:

And since you mentioned people not realizing that there is such a variety of disabilities, I'm curious: have you ever had anyone who's met you and they've known another deaf person, and have they just assumed that you're exactly like them? Has that ever happened to you? Or something similar? 

 

Gabby:

I don't think so. Again, the exposure to deaf individuals for me has been very low, and so that's kind of excluded me from both positive and negative experiences in regards to my deaf identity. I definitely had people forget that I was deaf even after I've told them and kind of be inconsiderate about what I need in terms of accessibility. But I don't know that I've really experienced that in terms of having someone assume that I'm the same as their deaf friend or their deaf relative or anything like that, so yeah. 

 

Sarah Todd:

I was just curious, because I feel like that could easily happen. It would be interesting for someone to happen to know two people who are deaf, because I feel like a lot of people probably don't, but I could definitely see that happening. 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, yeah. And I imagine — again, as I said with the subdivisions within the deaf culture — I imagine people assume like, “Oh, all deaf people can sign,” or like, “Oh” —  like kind of very similar as we mentioned to Asian American communities, where like, “Oh, all Asians know how to speak their language from their mother country” or whatever. Like kind of that assumption I sense is probably a big one. And there are different degrees of hearing loss. So I'm severe to profound, so I have pretty bad hearing loss. And I think another thing, too, is people assume that only older people have hearing loss. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Oh, true! 

 

Gabby:

Yeah, so that's a big one. And I won't even get into the marketing for hearing aids when it's just for older people. I won't even get into that. 

 

Sarah Todd:

But so true! They always show elderly people! 

 

Gabby:

Which is true! In many cases, you eventually lose your hearing when you get older. But also, it's important to recognize that younger people have hearing loss, too. Like there's all sorts of cases going on in terms of that, so yeah. 

 

Sarah Todd:

So I always really like to end the podcast on a really positive note, so my final question I have for you is: what has been the most positive aspect of your own disability experience?

 

Gabby:

Oh, man. That's a good question. I mean, as I said, I think music. I think music. I know people who are hearing who really, really love music, and I'm able to connect with them in such a significant way. And even if they will never know what it's like to be deaf, I can still have that really,really deep connection with them because of their passion for music. And I think that's created in times where I kind of get discouraged, because I'm usually the only person who's deaf. Those kind of connections serve as bridges — serve as ways for me to connect with people and to give me some sort of guidance and inspiration to explore my deaf identity further and to open myself up to sort of that side of my identity as a deaf individual, so yeah. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Oh, I love that so much. I think it's so cool that music has played such a large role in your life, because I feel like there's totally so many people who would not expect that at all. 

 

Gabby:

Right, right. Everything in my life is just kind of a little ironic. 

 

Sarah Todd:

I think it's so cool! It's just really neat, and I love highlighting all of these positive aspects and hearing what everyone has to say about their most positive aspect from their own experience, because it's so different for everyone, and I think it's so enlightening. 

 

Gabby:

I completely agree. I think, as we said, I think every disability kind of brings out something special for everyone, and that's different for each person and their individual experience. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, for sure! So many people will just look at an experience like mine and feel bad for me, and there's so many great things that have come out of my disability, and I've had so many positive experiences, and a lot of people don't understand that. And like with you, a lot of people would see your disability as solely a negative thing, when there's so many positive things that have come out of it for you as well. So I really love highlighting this so that people understand that it's not just a solely negative experience. 

 

Gabby:

Of course, of course. Yeah. And it's a great thing you're doing. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Thank you! Thank you so much! This was so fun! I learned so much from you. I can't believe how much I learned. 

 

Gabby:

Well, thank you for talking with me! This is really, really great to kind of lay it all out and really articulate it in a way that's significant and important and true to my experience. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Thank you so much for sharing all of this with me! I know everyone's going to learn so much from you just as I did, so this was really great. 

 

Gabby:

All right! Thank you for having me! 

 

Sarah Todd:

Of course! Thank you so much for tuning in to this week's episode of Positively Opposite! If you'd like to connect with me, visit my website, sarahtoddhammer.com. Transcripts of each episode will be available there. Also, be sure to follow the Positively Opposite Instagram for all the latest updates and special content regarding the podcast. I hope you'll join me and another amazing guest at the next episode!

 

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