More than 1.5 billion people across the globe live with varying degrees of deafness, making it one of the most pressing public health issues of our time. Unfortunately, support systems for the deaf community remain limited. In the United Kingdom, British Sign Language is not included in the national curriculum, and accredited courses can cost up to £700. Theatre productions usually only offer one captioned performance during their run, and only about one percent of cinema screenings are subtitled. This lack of inclusion often leads to feelings of rejection and isolation, causing many individuals to conceal their deafness from the hearing world.
Lily Bertrand-Webb, the photographer behind the portraits featured in this article, understands the importance of sharing stories. Having received a cochlear implant at the age of nine, Bertrand-Webb recalls the awe-inspiring moment when her implant was switched on. She could finally hear the birds singing, the sound of water flowing, and the rustling of crisp packets. After spending four years on a waiting list, Bertrand-Webb now enjoys a “life-changing” experience with her Bluetooth-connected Nucleus implant system, enabling her to listen to music and have phone conversations.
However, not everyone eligible for a cochlear implant chooses to undergo the procedure. The recovery process can be challenging, as it is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and some individuals reject the idea that deafness needs to be “fixed”. Additionally, technology is not always accessible to those who desire to use it. High-end hearing aids can cost several thousand pounds per ear, and private cochlear implant surgery exceeds £20,000. In other regions, funding for deaf individuals is decreasing, resulting in limited access to therapies and specialized education. On average, deaf children in the UK achieve GCSE grades lower than their hearing peers, and in countries with minimal support, up to 90 percent of deaf students perform below their expected reading level.
Despite these challenges, awareness surrounding deafness is growing. In the past year, the BSL Act was passed in the UK to promote the use and facilitation of British Sign Language. Additionally, films like “Sound of Metal” and improved representation on reality TV shows are helping to showcase the struggles and triumphs of the deaf community. Lily Bertrand-Webb emphasizes the difficulties and exhaustion that come with being deaf or hard of hearing, but also highlights the resilience of the community. She states, “We’ve all found ways of dealing with it.”
This article features the stories of four individuals who have embarked on unique journeys of self-acceptance, discovery, and success. Tasha Ghouri, internet personality, dancer, and podcaster, was born completely deaf. Her parents saw her deafness as an opportunity for her to experience the hearing world, leading her to undergo a cochlear implant operation at the age of five. Tasha stresses that a cochlear implant does not fully restore hearing and that she relies on lip-reading and subtitles to communicate effectively.
Raymond Antrobus, a poet and broadcaster, discovered his deafness at the age of six when his mother bought a telephone that he couldn’t hear. He has fewer hairs behind his eardrum, which means he is unable to hear high-pitched sounds such as birdsong or alarms. Although he uses hearing aids, parts of sounds still disappear, and he heavily relies on lip-reading. Antrobus emphasizes the lack of support and funding available for individuals with special education needs. To address this issue, he feels compelled to speak out and utilize the skills he has acquired.
Despite their hearing impairments, both Tasha Ghouri and Raymond Antrobus have found success in their respective fields. Tasha gained popularity as an internet personality and dancer, and Raymond pursued a career as a poet and broadcaster. They emphasize the importance of self-acceptance and determination, proving that disabilities do not define a person’s capabilities. They both use their platforms to educate and empower others with disabilities, aiming to change negative perceptions and promote equality.
By sharing these stories, we hope to shed light on the challenges faced by the deaf community and inspire others to embrace their differences and pursue their dreams.
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