Right Hear, Right Now: Breaking down barriers of deafness and hearing loss
BY: Kate Disher-Quill
I was born with a mild to moderate hearing loss, which is closer to a moderate loss these days. I was diagnosed when I was 3, yet it wasn’t until I was 10 and given my first pair of hearing aids, that I really realised I had a “problem”. I hated the idea that I had a “disability” and I simply denied it. I was coping fine at school, my marks were good, I had great friends, so I really didn’t see the need to address this “problem” of mine. I got through high school and university, talking very little about it, and rarely wearing the 4 pairs of hearing aids I was given over those 10 years. Rejecting my deafness and refusing to wear my hearing aids, is not something I am particularly proud of, but I have been trying to come to an understanding as to why I bottled it up and denied it for so long.
I had always considered myself to be a confident young person, comfortable in my own skin and without insecurities. That is until I realised there was this part of myself that I had been ignoring. Whenever I happened to tell someone “Oh I have a hearing problem.. Umm yeah actually I have hearing aids.. Oh but no I don’t really wear them…” I would tense up, my voice would shake, I would go red. It was clearly a huge insecurity of mine. Yet I would brush it off, forget about it, move on.
Despite that I was becoming more aware of my hearing loss, it certainly wasn’t a priority to deal with, I still didn’t wear my hearing aids, it wasn’t even an option for me.
It wasn’t until a few years ago after I finished uni and began my career as a freelance photographer, that I realised that my hearing “problem” was affecting my professional life. If I didn’t hear things in a social situation, it might have been slightly awkward or someone might think I’m rude, however in the professional world, I realized it could mean losing a job or missing out on future opportunities. Despite that I was becoming more aware of my hearing loss, it certainly wasn’t a priority to deal with, I still didn’t wear my hearing aids, it wasn’t even an option for me. The thought of a client seeing them on me made me squirm with embarrassment, as though they would somehow think I was less capable, and I’ll admit it, less “cool”.
I finally accepted that having a hearing loss WAS a part of who I am, part of my identity and that I should be accepting, if not proud about it. I then realised that there would be so many others out there who felt the same.
It wasn’t until 2 years ago that all this changed. I was reading an article in a magazine and it was about a 27 year old woman who was deaf. She mentioned the awkwardness of missing punchlines, the embarrassment of being a teenager and telling boys she couldn’t hear, and the satisfaction of watching a DVD with subtitles. She then went on to explain that visual imagery has always been a huge part of her life, and that it seemed to natural for her to pursue her passion as a photographer.
I read it and I cried. I felt like I was reading about myself and for the first time in my life I felt an incredible sense of comfort that these insecurities I had were not something to be ashamed of and that ultimately I wasn’t alone. I finally accepted that having a hearing loss WAS a part of who I am, part of my identity and that I should be accepting, if not proud about it. I then realised that there would be so many others out there who felt the same. If I could overcome my own insecurities, I wanted to be able to help others do the same. And so I created the Right Hear, Right Now project – a photography and multimedia project which explores the diverse experiences of deafness and hearing loss.
I spent a year spent over a year connecting with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing adults, teenagers, parents and children, photographing and documenting their stories. From the daily realities of hearing aids, cochlear implants, lip reading and sign language, to personal stories of overcoming insecurities and celebrating differences, Right Hear, Right Now brings to light a myriad of experiences and issues surrounding a complex theme. The goal of the project is to empower people to accept and embrace their differences, to raise awareness and to ultimately transform negative perspectives into ones of inspiration and understanding. Essentially I wanted to create something that I would have liked to have seen when I was 10, 16, 21 and 26.
A project which could have inspired me to accept my hearing loss long before I actually did. I first exhibited the project in Sydney last year and then earlier this year in Canberra. Now the exhibition has travelled to No Vacancy Gallery in Melbourne, where it will be on display until August 28th.
Subjects in the project told me they had been empowered to wear their hearing aids proudly. Some people have been encouraged to get their hearing tested after much deliberation and found that the process wasn’t as daunting as they had previously thought.
The most beautiful part of this project has been connecting with people, listening to their stories and witnessing the impact it has had on others. I had a mother contact me to say her teenage daughter who had been struggling to accept her hearing loss had been so excited and inspired
by the project she had decided to join a Deaf Theatre group.Subjects in the project told me they had been empowered to wear their hearing aids proudly. Some people have been encouraged to get their hearing tested after much deliberation and found that the process wasn’t as daunting as they had previously thought. Others had been inspired to learn Auslan and connect with the Deaf Community. The response so far has been overwhelming and motivated me to continue to share the project. It has also lead me to the next part of the project which is to create the Right Hear, Right Now book. There are only so many people who have the opportunity to come and see the exhibition and so I believe it is important for this project to have a permanent life beyond the gallery.
Working on Right Hear, Right Now the past two years has been the most incredible journey. I have learnt far more than I had ever anticipated. Not only have I have formed lifelong friendships, learnt another language and have come to embrace and love my hearing aids, but I have also been able to provide others with that same comfort that I experienced when read that first article. And to me, that’s really the core of this project. To educate people on what it means to be capital “D” Deaf, deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, hearing impaired or to have a hearing loss, and to provide people with a community where they know there is someone who understands.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Kate Disher-Quill is an award-winning Sydney-based photographer and artist. Working in photography, film and multimedia, her works often explore personal themes around connection, community and visual storytelling. In 2014 Disher-Quill was awarded the Pool Grant to develop the Right Hear, Right Now project. She has exhibited in numerous group exhibitions, solo and collaborative projects, been shortlisted for the 2012 Head On Portrait Prize and been Highly Commended in the 2012 Soya Awards. Right Hear, Right Now is her first solo project.