Living without sound in two worlds

John Patrick Uy
'When I inform people that I am deaf, they tend to become unsure of what to do with me. I can’t help but feel their kindness as either forced or awkward. I do not need pity. I am as human as humans are'

The laughter of children. The barking of dogs. The rustling of leaves. These are normal sounds that everyone usually hears everyday. Only a few appreciate these little and everyday details. I am one of the few who continue to immerse in the beauty of sound.

I am deaf. When I was born in California, my family didn’t know that I was deaf. A year later, my mother noticed that something was off about me when she dropped the pan by accident – I didn’t respond and just continued playing.

My parents brought me to a doctor in the Philippines who confirmed that I was deaf. Because of the turn of events, my parents decided that I should live in America. There, they found a program that can teach deaf children to communicate verbally and also hear using hearing aids.

Ever since, I have been straddling between different worlds: American and Filipino communities; sound and silence.

Two worlds

I can talk like “normal” people do but there are some words that are hard for me to pronounce. I use a hearing device that allows me to hear but, as my doctor always says, it is not a miracle device nor does it produce the same quality that people usually hear.  

I do not see the difference whether a person is using an electronic device like a microphone or someone narrating on TV.  I also depend on lip movements and reading body language to help me verify what I am hearing.  

Honestly, I do not know sign language and only learned it recently in college.

With the help of a hearing device, I can access the world of sound. But if one asks me what sound is like with my hearing device, I could not give an answer because there is nothing for me to compare the sound I am hearing with the silence that I came from. I just simply hear it. They are like foreign sounds even if spoken in English.  

When I take my hearing device off, it becomes a complete world of silence. Yet I see vibrant sounds everywhere. It is not vibration that most people think of (because it is a misconception that the deaf have heightened senses).  Of course, it is a lonely and quiet world but I think people have dramatized it a bit too far on this one.  

Life in America

Like everyone else, I have my own personal challenges and difficulties. But I believe that I was able to get by with the help of understanding people in American society.  

The US enacted the law called Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) to protect minorities against discrimination. Whether one is blind, deaf, has autism, or any other form of disability, he or she still has the right to education, job, and any place in society like a “normal” person. Most schools in the US are also required to support disabled students in any way that they can.  

But dealing with people with disabilities in America is not without problems.  

A good example would be when I had a problem transferring money online from a bank. I emailed the support site for help and also informed them that I was deaf. They told me that they cannot help me through email and insisted that I should call them even when after I had told them that I could not hear.

In the end, they told me to ask my friend to help on my behalf. I did and my friend called for the support but we were told that my friend cannot help me as I was supposed to be the one to talk.  They hanged the phone on us and we had to start all over again.  

In class, I am always the last one to be picked for a partner or in a team because no one wants to have awkward communication with me because of my speech and limited hearing.

The Philippines’ attitude toward disability

In comparison, the Philippine government shows very little support for its disabled people. While it enacted a law similar to ADA, there are not much programs to help millions of people with disabilities.  

Based on their actions, I believe that Philippine government officials treat disabled people with little worth than they really deserve. A senator attempted to pass a law that requires all televisions to have closed caption. Years have passed, the law remains unsigned.  

Though some people with disabilities are able to make a living, I have seen many disabled people from the poorer sectors of Filipino society who do not have access to education or similar support programs.

For example, the Manila Christian Computer Institute for the Deaf is the first and only school where the government supports the deaf by giving sign language interpreters and authorizing sign language courses.

And yet it remains out of reach for many deaf people outside of Manila. There are at least 121,000 deaf Filipinos based on Philippine census data. According to the research, only 10% of these people are employed.

Coping

When I inform people that I am deaf, they tend to become unsure of what to do with me. I can’t help but feel their kindness as either forced or awkward. I do not need pity. I am as human as humans are. I will always find a way to communicate better if I am not understood. 

Living between American and FIlipino communities is like having two different personalities.  Being with Americans gives me a sense of strong individual identity whereas being with Filipinos gives me a sense of belonging to a group. It is interchangeable as I was able to adapt to different lifestyles and inherit or mix these cultures.  

Still, I feel out of place in both societies not only because I am deaf but also because of what I am. To the Americans, I don’t look “American” enough because of my ethnicity. To the Filipinos, I sound like an outsider because I don’t know much about Tagalog or Filipino culture.  And I am a stranger to both sides because of my speech, disability, and way of living with mixed cultures.

In the end, both countries have their own positive and negative ways on how they treat their people with disability. Life in America is easier for me but the Philippines is very loving as well.

There are always bad things happening to persons with disabilities anywhere in the world but love, based on my experience, far outweighs the problems. – Rappler.com

John Patrick Uy is a Rappler intern from California. He is currently studying journalism in visual media at Biola University. His skills are in photography and videography. He wants to learn how to advocate for people and raise awareness about social injustice through visual stories.

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