Share Your Story: Hannah
Updated: Oct 6
Hannah, is a bubbly and enthusiastic early childhood teacher who recently moved from Levin to Australia. Now 32 years old, Hannah has had mixed hearing loss since birth.
"I was looking through my Plunket book the other day, and the first sort of note of my hearing, I was only a few weeks old, and I didn't respond to loud noises...I also had lots of grommets...that caused a lot of damage."
Coming to terms with hearing loss.
Being open about her hearing loss and accepting it as part of her life has been a journey for Hannah, but she hasn't let it hold her back from living life to the fullest.
Hannah's hearing loss is a mix of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. She got her first pair of hearing aids at age 11 but struggled to wear them consistently. It wasn't until her hearing loss became more significant that she began wearing them full-time. "I struggled through - pretending I could hear - rather than wearing them. And then [my hearing] got progressively worse, to the point where I could no longer understand or hear speech. So, I then jumped feet first into wearing my hearing aids and never looked back."
In Hannah's own words, her audiograms show her hearing is "pretty flat across the board," with "some dips in the relatively high frequencies", which means she struggles with hearing voices, especially young children's. However, she has developed many strategies to work around her hearing loss in the classroom, including being very upfront about how to communicate with her from the get-go. "The kids are great. They're probably my biggest advocates. They are incredible," she said. "They know they need to do things like get my attention first."
In Hannah's experience, kids can be more aware than adults.
"They will tell each other; you need to look at Hannah when you're speaking to her or stuff like that. They pick it up quickly, and they've got none of these preconceived ideas." For many of her students, they are encountering someone with hearing loss for the first time, and it's "cool to show them [hearing aids] are not a big deal."
Hannah didn't receive special treatment as a child, but looking back, Hannah felt this made her feel normal. She never felt like she was different from her siblings or other children. "That sort of allowed me to, especially when I was younger, not dwell on it so much."
Growing up: the school years.
It wasn't easy at school, and Hannah quickly learned it was better to go without hearing aids than be singled out as 'the girl with hearing aids.' "I would find strategies for not wearing [hearing aids] because it became quite a thing within the class...I would rather just miss out...[The hearing aids] went into a drawer, and I kinda just went through life guessing. So yeah. That's what school was like, which was hard."
Trying to keep up at school by piecing together information by lipreading and relying on nonverbal cues took its toll on young Hannah. "I look back now, and I think, God, no wonder I was so exhausted all the time!"
Hannah explained many of her strategies to get by weren't fool proof, but she found she got skilled at: "Laughing at the right time. That's why I'm quite good with kids working in early childhood; I can read the nonverbal stuff. I'm good at nodding at the right time and laughing when it seems appropriate. You know, those sorts of conversation strategies where you don't have to say anything, but you come across as this really good listener - who's got no idea what's being said! And, then you get caught out sometimes when you are having a conversation, and you're like, "Oh, yeah, yeah." And the person is giving you a funny look.”
University also came with its challenges.
"University was probably much harder than teaching with my hearing loss," Hannah said. She had to navigate lectures, seminars, and social situations where hearing was critical.
"I remember my first year, I told one of the lectures about my hearing loss, and it wasn't a bad reaction, but it just wasn't a supportive one either...So that put me off telling other lecturers about it or getting additional support. What I would do is - I'd sit up the front of the class and, you know, if anybody rustled anything behind me, I'd struggle to hear. PowerPoints were amazing. So that's where I got my information...But, I wish I'd told the actual university rather than just a lecturer and got the support that way...Because it was such hard work to try and do it all on my own...I've become much more accepting of my hearing loss and understand that asking for accommodations is okay."
Hannah said she used to worry that when people found out about her hearing loss, they would question her ability to be a teacher. "Even now, I still brace myself when I go into new places to have people say, 'Why are you in this job if you can't hear? Part of me thought that if I were more out there about [my hearing loss], people would say I couldn't teach...which now I know is not true." Thankfully, Hannah has never had that reaction from anyone.
Hannah wishes to see NZSL become more accessible in schools.
Hannah is enthusiastic about New Zealand Sign Language and is looking forward to furthering her learning. She wishes she had been taught it as a child and believes teaching sign language to children with hearing loss is so important.
"You know, the more I learn, the more I think, why aren't we all being taught this?... So many language options in school, French and Spanish, you know? Let's learn NZSL too." She believes that sign language should be treated as an essential language option in schools and made more accessible to everyone.
She also shared the story of her grandmother, who didn't have access to hearing aids for a long time and missed out on conversations. Hannah believes that her grandmother could have benefited from learning sign language. She adds, "There are so many times where it would have been beneficial to have had [sign language]. Even previously, before my hearing changed, you know. I just thought there were so many cool ways to use it."
Hannah's advice for parents whose children have hearing loss.
When asked if Hannah had any advice for parents whose children are Deaf or hard of hearing, she said if they need hearing aids, "Allow them to be part of that and help them choose colours, all that sort of stuff." She also added, "Just because your child can't hear, that's the only thing they can't do. You know, they can do everything else. It doesn't mean they're going to have a bad life; they're going to still do what they want to do. It's okay to grieve if that's part of your process, but then say - this is amazing, my child is still amazing! My child is going to thrive! I guess that would be the big thing. It doesn't make your child any less...the lines on the audiogram don't mean much. You know, they're just lines."
Reframing hearing loss to Deaf gain.
Hannah also believes she has gained a lot from her experience with hearing loss. There are so many things she increasingly appreciates. "I love taking my ears off. I love the silence. I love that I get to choose when I want to hear…I can connect my hearing aids to the TV and listen to my music… I've always had one foot in the hearing world and one foot in the Deaf world. Now, I'm embracing more of that Deaf side of me, the connections, and the amazing opportunities. One of the big things is showing the kids I teach that it's okay, that it's cool. And all the kids love seeing what colour my ears are on any given day."
In our Share Your Story series, Deaf and hard of hearing New Zealanders open up about their experiences.
Stay tuned for more interviews, which will soon be released to our blog: