Someone shared an interesting story about a teacher who gave her students a writing prompt: “Can hate be stopped?” Nine out of her 10 students answered, “No, hate cannot be stopped.” Only one student answered, “Yes, it can.” That student, the teacher said, is the most bullied student in the school.
How can we stop the bullying of people with hearing loss? Part two of my series, “Hearing Loss Bullying: A Troubling Phenonemon,” tackles this weighty subject. Read the first post in my series here.
First, let’s visit a couple of people who have experienced hearing loss bullying themselves.
Melanie’s Story: “They Gave Me the Nickname ‘Dumbo'”
“My bullying experience lasted the day I entered school until the time I finished eighth grade,” says Melanie (not her real name), who has genetic hearing loss. “They gave me the nickname ‘Dumbo,’ because I had ears that stuck out. They gave me ‘Blubber,’ because I was a chubby girl in school… They’d tell me I was a ‘bastard,’ a ‘slut.’ ‘Fatty/Fatso’ were other favorites. So was ‘stupid,’ ‘idiot,’ ‘moron,’ and ‘mentally retarded.’
“Two kids trapped my index, middle, and ring fingers of my left hand between the door jamb and crushed them by pushing the heavy oak door closed,” Melanie remembers. “I luckily didn’t break any fingers, although I did lose my fingernails and watched them grow back… Another girl said she wanted to kill me in seventh grade.
“Most of the time,” she says, “the school did nothing.”
How can hearing loss bullying be stopped?
Melanie responds, “All the presentations and zero-tolerance policies in the world will not stop bullying unless we take a look at the attitude we have toward the bully and toward the victim. We need to force the bully to take total responsibility for their actions toward their victims. It’s not their victims’ responsibility to do it for their bully.”
Andy’s Story: “I Did Participate in Bullying…Within the Deaf Community”
“I will admit as a kid I was bullied, but I also did participate in bullying,” reveals Andy (not his real name). “There’s also a group mentality that takes hold of kids who might otherwise not have initiated any bullying on their own. We all might have made certain comments because we were in certain situations, but where did we get that idea from?
“What’s interesting,” he says, “is that there has been bullying taking place even within the deaf and hard of hearing community. I remember kids making fun of me because I was a (sign language) cuer at a 4-H deaf camp. Looking back, I wonder how they came to find themselves in a situation where they felt the need to verbally attack someone who was different from them when we could logically assume they’ve experienced bullying of their own due to their hearing loss or communication preference.
“It all starts somewhere, but then the question now becomes how do we stop it since it seems that our culture tolerates bullying to an extent that it can become pervasive.” Andy’s advice: “Reach one kid at a time and empower them to learn more about hearing loss.”
Stacy’s Story: “I Spoke Out in Front of My Entire School”
My ex-boyfriend told “me that I had selective hearing and that I was faking it,” writes Stacy (not her real name). “One day, he decided to only say everything once. That’s not very helpful when you are deaf. He wouldn’t repeat anything because he was sure that I wasn’t deaf.
“I was bullied a lot at the beginning of the school year for being the deaf girl and using sign language,” she says. “I then spoke out in front of my entire school, and now walls have been broken down. People are accepting of me having a (sign language) interpreter, and they are more understanding because I spoke out about being bullied. Friends of mine and others have joined in a signing club that meets every week. In there, we are breaking down barriers that would have otherwise led to bullying.”
Hearing Loss Bullying Is Hard to Stop, But Is Possible
Lipreading Mom embraces Stacy’s idea of coming forward at school to share that she was bullied. I wonder if any bullies, upon reading Stacy, Andy, and Melanie’s stories, will also come forward to admit what they have done.
Communication, courage, and class—that is the key to ending hearing loss bullying
Step forward to report all cases of bullying in schools, at home, and in the community. Look for opportunities, like Stacy did, to publicly speak out against hearing loss bullying. If you are currently experiencing bullying, report it immediately to a trusted adult or call 9-1-1. Don’t wait.
Bullying begins for a reason. The bully’s story is as equally important in understanding as the victim’s is. Courage comes from investigating why bullying starts—to vent anger, to be popular, to have power—and publicly addressing these trigger factors. In bringing his bullying problem to light, Andy was able to see it for it was: a problem that needed to stop.
More communities need to follow New York City’s lead in planning events that put a classy face on hearing loss.
On February 26, New York’s Center for Hearing and Communication will host an Iron Man Poster Party. Guests are invited to get their picture taken with the Marvel Comics superhero, Iron Man, and receive a copy of the new Iron Man “Hearing is Believing” poster. It is an educational initiative from Phonak and Marvel Comics designed to reduce the childhood stigma of hearing aids.
Add Your Thoughts
Let Lipreading Mom know what you think of the series, “Hearing Loss Bullying: A Troubling Phenonemon,” by commenting below.