Iím a 24 year-old French girl, deaf since birth. I have had a cochlear implant for eleven years since I was 13, which really improved my speech and understanding skills, but left me still unable to use a phone and to understand speech without lip-reading.
Last January, I graduated with a post graduate degree in Publishing and my parents kept asking me "Have you found a job yet?", and I kept answering them "No, but I have some leads to follow, so letís see." Until one day, I said to them: "Iíve made up my mind. I donít want to be trapped behind a desk for forty years. Iíve saved money, and Iím going to Australia and New Zealand for nine months, maybe twelve, to do a reporting project on my own."
My parentsí first reaction was not really enthusiastic. "Youíre mad. Youíre deaf, you canít use a phone, neither understand anyone without lip-reading. You donít know anybody there, and English isnít even your first language. How the heck do you think youíre going to make your own way? Youíre MAD. Stop this nonsense, go back to your job search, and stop babbling on."
But today Iím in Australia and have been here for one month, with no intent to go back Ė after all Iím still alive and enjoying myself!
Hearing people might think going abroad is difficult for a deaf person. Why? Because hearing people communicate easily. They arenít used to misunderstanding and being misunderstood and are ashamed of it so their attitude is it must be so much more difficult for a deaf person. After all deafness affects communication, and communication is what you need the most in a foreign country.
Since I only have limited hearing it is more difficult to manage communication in English than in French. But what hearing people donít realize is that communication is always a challenge for me and those of us who are deaf, even in our native language. Everyday, we misunderstand somebody speaking or repeat something three times without being understood. We have to find another way to catch up or give the information. We are used to misunderstanding and being misunderstood every day, and we know how to cope with it. So, why should it be more difficult in another country?
In Australia, Iíve never had any problem in finding my way, to do what I wanted, or to communicate. People are quite open-minded when they understand youíre a foreigner, even more when you say youíre deaf. They donít mind slowing down their speech, repeating or even writing it down if needed Ė except a few silly people of course, but you can always find somebody else cleverer to speak to.
Technology has been a real advance for me. I have text messages, e-mail and Internet to get in touch with people, and can find useful information or book my flights and hostels. I donít need to use a phone Ė and if some short sighted people really want me to phone, thereís the Australian National Relay Service, something we donít even have in France.
Travel is not only a worthwhile experience in Australia. I have two deaf friends roaming around the world on their own for a year and both always manage to communicate with local people everywhere, even though they donít know all the languages of the world. Theyíre just resourceful in their way of communication: they write it down, they draw, and even mime Ė and theyíre always understood in the end.
Travelling as a deaf person is indeed a challenge. But you just have to get rid of this preception that misunderstanding or being misunderstood is shameful, and be ready to go off the beaten path of communication Ė and there you are!