I was born with cataracts and due to it I can’t see with my right eye nor hear with my right ear. Doctors told my parents I should live a “normal” life. And so I did. Or should I say I’ve been trying?

When I was invited by Rodrigo and Fabiana to write something related to my life as an ELT teacher, I could only think of my own experience as – not only a teacher but also as – a student with special needs. As a student I had to face some unprepared teachers who didn’t know what to do in order to help me, I’d dare to say that some of them just looked sideways wishing the “problem” would somehow go away on its own. As a teacher I had also faced students and bosses who weren’t patient enough.

Being partly blind hasn’t been much of an issue, apart from the aesthetics features – which can play a role in the construction of someone’s self-esteem, but that would be a topic for a whole new text. On the other hand, being somewhat deaf is a big deal because it interferes directly in the interpersonal communication.

I’ve lost count of how many social situations I felt like a fish out of the water. The first time I understood I was “different” was on the very first day of preschool. When my teacher saw me, she said: “Ah, que ótimo! Já não basta o fulano que quebrou o braço, agora mais um problema!”. I was five years old; I sort of knew it was me the forementioned “problem”, but had no idea why I was so, and, to be honest, I was way more concerned in playing with my new friends. And life moved on. Except that during the circle time, back at my early school years, I wasn’t able to sing along; I couldn’t understand what was said. I had had teachers at college who wouldn’t raise their voice volume even after I’d requested them to. My first day at PUC-SP was a lecture with some really important figures of Brazilian literature scenario. It would’ve been awesome if only I could understand a single word my professor was saying. He did have a microphone, but the acoustics of the room was horrible and to make things worse, he’d put the mic in front of his mouth, unabling me to read his lips. I’ve had students saying they didn’t want to study with me because I was deaf. During a session in a school where I used to work at, the trainer didn’t slow her speech down.

It could’ve all been prevented had my teachers been better prepared to deal with my disabilities. I’m not saying I am my disabilities. Paraphrasing the amazing Maysoon Zayid (TED Talk: https://bit.ly/1uvPgHH): I got 99 problems, being deaf is just one. We, disabled people, don’t need your pity. We deserve to be catered for; we just need to know that someone cares. Be empathic and respond when we request things.

Here’s a few tips for you to identify (and deal with) students who might be hard of hearing. They often:

  • Get isolated

Most of us, people hard of hearing, reads lips. It is something that comes naturally but it really consumes a lot of our energy. So after a while, we tend to get isolated in order to recharge.

  • Complain about people mumbling

This happens because since not everyone articulates well the words, we just can’t figure out what was just said. If you speak too fast, it might be the time for you to slow your speech pace down.

  • Need to have things repeated

This is actually pretty related to the previous one. Most people don’t understand we need to look at their lips. As mentioned earlier, reading lips is crucial for us to get things through. Avoid at all costs to speak to us without being sure you’ve got our attention. Or chances are, we won’t understand a word.

  • Have the TV/radio set at a high volume

We can’t hear well, so we need higher volume, that more often than not, disturbs people who can hear well. It might be really hard to get what I’m talking about. So I invite you to scan the code below and hear how we hear.

Rachel Bardy has been an ELT professional since 2007. She holds CPE and CELTA certificates and is interested in teaching Young Learners. Thus she’s currently majoring in Pedagogy.

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