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  • Writer's pictureAnn Yebei

Happy Disability Pride Month!

Deaf Living Post #4: Belated Reflections and Celebrations

 

As I've mentioned in other posts, identity is a nuanced matter and speaks to a variety of experiences- where you come from, your ancestry, what you do to make a living, what you do that inspires you, where you wish to go or do, and what ails or sustains you. And more. Disability is one of these many identities a person can carry and not all are visible.


Deafness is an example of an invisible disability.


And Disability Pride Month, this past July, was an apt time to reflect on my deafness with pride as many others were with their various disabilities. The plan had been to make a blog post and video essay on my YouTube channel, but a cold hit me and other life changes made the latter July a mess, to say the least.


Before I go into the history of Disability Pride Month (DPM) and my own pride journey, I want to clarify how I frame disability, in this post, and the blog overall.


Disability is the inability to do certain things, which impede access to full living in said society. In addition, beyond the medical model of looking at disability, the social model, which is the one I lean into more, involves the lens of disability existing because said society doesn't have accomodations in place, from the start, to incorporate these diverse, normal, human beings, hence barring them from attaining their full living.


At the end of the day, all humans are made equal intrinsically and deserve love, validation, and support as they actualize who they were made to be. DPM is a chance to celebrate (dis)ability diversity from a lens of acceptance, normalization, health, beauty, and pride.



Disability Pride Month


Disability Pride Month takes place every July in the US to celebrate and honor those with disabilities while acknowledging the anniversary of the famous Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities in "several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services". Multiple federal agencies are responisble for ensuring enforcement of this Act.


DPM is also celebrated around the world. As the Arc.org put it: "Disability Pride Month is celebrated every July and is an opportunity to honor the history, achievements, experiences, and struggles of the disability community."


I haven't engaged in DPM activities alongside local DHH communities yet, but it is an aspiration for next year! Did you engage in any activities in July?


My Pride Journey

Childhood


After living with partial hearing loss, for a duration of uncertain time, I lost my hearing completely at 7 years of age. According to my mother, in a matter of months my speaking skills visibly deteriorated, and this only accelerated their move to the US, with aid and networks of many, so I could get a Cochlear Implant (CI). Consequently, this late-deafened girl got cyborg hearing within a year of becoming profoundly deaf. So my first self-impression was founded in the medical model of disability: I couldn't hear, possibly as a result of prior physical illness (I did get malaria at a young age), and I was fixed with the help of modern technology so I could hear again. I was normal and fine again. So life can carry on. I would need to self-advocate though, as I could only hear from my left side.


After talking with my father this May 2023, and my mother last May in 2022, it was confirmed that I was raised as a hearing child conscientously. So that explains what I will describe in the years to come. (More about why I initiated this talk in a different post.)


I grew up being taught I has hard of hearing, that my CI was like a medial equipment, and that if I don't communicate my needs, no one would know where I'm at, or what I missed. This approach removed any chance of shame and negative, estranged, self-perception from taking root. And I shared my CI as such to curious peers through my Elementary years.



During my years in an Elementary school with sign language interpreters, peers with a range of hearing devices and preferences, and a special education space with a sign-language-literate special education teacher, I learned not only American Sign Language (ASL), but that I could call myself deaf. Truly, it fit more seeing as I couldn't hear anything without my CI. For the first time, I had a space where I could be, socialize, and learn with my entire being- hearing or otherwise. I was safe and felt connected- deaf or hearing- because of the inclusive program they had (hats off to ADA as well).


I did wonder why my parents and family were not as excited as I was about learning ASL, but I knew it was their choice, and I wasn't barred from learning and carrying on (the more important thing in my opinion at the time).


I graduated and returned to Kenya to later complete my High School equivalent levels in the British system after a year of 7th grade (the last year of Primary School). In all of my years since my childhood, I have never had a mixed classroom as I did a a child. I am grateful that I had that seed of normalization, integrity, inclusivity, and a healthy deaf identity planted at all.


Youth


Taking moments of curiosity, audism, novelty, and self-advocacy as a chance to learn, connect, and educate others, I refined my oral skills over the years. Honestly, very few people were rude. Most were just ignorant and approached with the intention to know more. Perhaps this will change as I mingle more in society as an early professional, but so far, God has been good to me. But deaf peers never arose again until my young adult years.

A couple are crossing the road. The man is wearing black shades with a white walking stick with a red end. He is wearing a white collard shirt underneath a brown fullsleeved sweater with blue jeans and brown leather shoes. The woman has a white suit outfit with white socks and sneakers.
To the Spectrum of Blindness in Men

What I can say about these years is summative: healthy and discreet. My DHH personhood was not highlighted and I wasn't bullied. I would return to the states for my audology checkup yearly, and then every other year, due to my great hardware maintenance. Since childhood, I have threatened the reckless and ignorant with how expensive my CI was if they wanted to get handsey or be pricks. Worked everytime- so well in fact, I've probably only used it a handful of times my entire childhood and teenage years combined.


Young Adulthood


Towards the end of my Undergraduate in Kenya, I put more intentionality and investment in both my spiritual journey and deaf identity journey. I wanted to be informed, connected, and living life actively in both of these identity spheres of mine. After graduating, I volunteered at a broadcasting television media house that was upcoming, and targeting the DHH population, as a means to practice more disciplined writing habits, meet other DHH individuals, and refine my Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) literacy.


I did meet people, and my signing fluency did improve during those weeks, however, making close connections in the community was slow.

An Asian woman in a white vest underneath a sleeveless brown coat is smiling while talking into a phone on speaker in her hand in front of her. She has black shades with a walking stick at hand. Background has natural greenery decorating a walled and roofless area outside.
To the Spectrum of Blindness in Women

I retuned to the US thereafter to complete my Masters and focus shifted to ASL and the local communities there. I continued to have DHH cultural competency and sign language fluency as a goal and took ASL-I to increase my cultural knowledge about deaf history and advocacy. I learned a lot in that class and still hold sign language interpretation certification as a goal. I started my Kenyan Sign Language YouTube Channel in the midst of my studies and resolved old questions about my upbrining with my parents after graduating. During my studies, I joined the ASL Club on campus, and attended events I could make to.


Gratitudes and Closing Reflections


There are various identity development models in social studies- from those focused on queer identity and black identity development. I won't get technical, but I am in the latter phase where I'm not obsessed about my DHH identity with feelings of strong emotional desires for my loved ones to share that same flame. I'm in the latter phase where I want to learn more about my deafness, culturally and historically, for myself, and to share so the world is a more enlightened space. In this way, those on the deaf spectrum can live life with their heads held high- age regardless- with my narrative and others'.


Much thanks to my parents for raising me with love, acceptance, and the best they could as hearing foreigners in America. Thanks to my special education teacher for being the best in the world, and to my sign language interpreter- and others in the building- who partook in my character and esteem development as a little girl. To my friends for accepting me, hearing and DHH alike, and for being unapologetically authentic when with me. You allowed me to do the same.

Solange Knowles is smiling with a natural afro and a chunky gold necklace with a low v-cut top that is black.
To the Women on the ADHD Spectrum

And to the small number of haters (if they qualify, honestly), I wish you the best in life. Honestly.

I also pray for more, because then I'm probably doing the right things, God willing.



 

Learn more about the DPM Flag used for the Blog Photo at https://www.womansday.com/life/a43964487/disability-pride-flag/

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