My name is Kate. My journey into hearing loss began when I was three years old, when my mum noticed that I wasn’t speaking and that I looked at her lips when she spoke, mimicking her mouth. She took me to an audiologist and it turned out that I had a very severe ear infection. I got grommets, but afterwards they discovered I had a permanent mild to moderate hearing loss.
It was quite a negative experience for my parents. My mum was told that I wouldn’t be a party girl, and she was quite devastated by the idea that her child wouldn’t be social because she had a hearing loss.
For me the painful experience really began when I was ten years old and I was fitted with hearing aids. Up until that point I thought I was managing just fine, even though I did have to get my hearing tested every year. Being deaf was something that I associated with elderly people. I would sit in the audiology centre and see images of old people or babies hung up on the walls. I had this idea that there wasn’t anyone young with hearing loss out there but me. I felt incredibly ashamed and isolated.
I also had to see a special needs teacher at school. When she walked into the classroom and said “I’m here to see Kate” I’d think “I must be an absolute idiot. There’s obviously something wrong with me.”
From that moment I got the idea that I was never going to be very smart; that I wouldn’t be good at reading and writing. And while I never said anything, I spent the next 15 years feeling that way. I ended up studying visual communications at university and later became a photographer.
Up until I was 26, I felt incredibly ashamed by my hearing aids. I wouldn’t tell people about them. I thought that people would think I was less competent if I did. I didn’t think it was glamorous. I thought people would find me unattractive if they saw them on me.
All this changed in a matter of minutes. When I was 26, I was reading Frankie magazine and I stumbled upon an article by a young woman who was the same age as me. She was a photographer and, in the article, she shared her experience with deafness. I basically broke out in tears.
It was the first time I had read about the exact things that I had felt. It shocked me that I had gotten to that age and had never read anything like this. This was not only my story, but for the first time, I realised that deafness actually seemed interesting. That story had value.
Suddenly, I found myself thinking: “imagine what I could do with a project that shared stories like this?” Imagine if I had been given a book filled with these beautiful stories when I was 10 years old? Stories of people with all different kinds of experiences of deafness that showed hearing aids and cochlear implants and Auslan… How different my journey might have been.
…How different the journey of so many other people out there could be….
And so, that was the beginning of a five-year journey to make Earshot – a coffee table style book filled with photographs and stories of a diverse range of people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. I didn’t know anyone else who was deaf, and so the process of meeting and connecting with others opened a whole new world for me. It also forced me to wear my hearing aids and feel proud of them. After all, how could I be doing this project as a deaf person needing hearing aids and not wear them? Now, the idea of not wearing them is just absurd and the idea of feeling ashamed of them is such a distant memory.