We tend to think of hearing loss as something that comes with grey hair and retirement. But being deaf or hard-of-hearing can affect a larger set of people than you’d expect.
28-year-old Sydney artist Kate Disher-Quill was diagnosed with hearing loss at three. She had to learn how to navigate awkward social and professional situations as she got older.
Her new photography and multimedia exhibition, Right Hear, Right Now, is currently showing at No Vacancy Gallery. It’s the result of spending more than a year connecting with deaf or hard-of-hearing adults, teenagers and children and visually documenting their stories.
Broadsheet: How did you learn you had a hearing problem?
Kate Disher-Quill: It was when I was 10 and fitted with my first pair of hearing aids that I realised I had a “problem”. I hated the idea that I had a “disability” and I simply denied it. To me it was an issue associated with older people (the only other person I knew who wore hearing aids was my grandmother). I felt that people would judge me and think I was less capable. I got through high school and uni, talking very little about it, and rarely wearing the four pairs of hearing aids I was given over those 15 years. Rejecting my deafness and refusing to wear my hearing aids is not something I am proud of, but as a way of overcoming it, I created the Right Hear, Right Now project.
BS: How does hearing loss affect the day-to-day life of a young person in ways people might not expect?
KDQ: Deafness and hearing loss affect people in a number of different ways, as we all experience sound differently. Throughout my life there have been certain situations that were more difficult than others. There are little, everyday things that I’ve learnt to deal with and accept, like the awkwardness of missing punchlines or realising you’ve misheard a question and answered incorrectly.
As a teenager, it was sleepovers that I found the most difficult. I was always the first one asleep because attempting to listen to gossip in the dark was pointless. It was also when I realised that I relied on lip reading.
Surprisingly, to many people, I found working in the louder environment of a bar far easier than working in an office. In a bar, people will yell loudly and it is often expected that you would have to ask people to repeat things and get them to talk close to your ear in order to hear over the noise. In an office, however, people will talk to you from across the room, from behind you or whisper if it’s a private conversation.
BS: What is Right Hear, Right Now?
KDQ: Two years ago I read an article about a woman who was my age and was a photographer who was deaf. She discussed the awkwardness in social situations, the embarrassment of being a teenager and not wanting to tell boys she was deaf, and the satisfaction of finding a DVD with subtitles. I felt like I was reading about myself and I felt an incredible sense of comfort that these insecurities I had were not something to be ashamed of, and that ultimately there were others who clearly experienced the same. For the first time in my life I actually realised that having hearing loss was a part of who I am, part of my identity and that I should be accepting, if not proud, of it.
And so I created Right Hear, Right Now – a photography and multimedia project that explores the diverse experiences of deafness and hearing loss.
The exhibition is predominantly photography, however since it is about an issue that is multilayered itself, I believed it was important to include a variety of mediums. I wanted to show the beauty of sign language and so one of the films is a poetic sign-language film. I also wanted to show how deaf people experience sound and so another film is viewed while seated and you feel the sound through vibrations in the seat. There are also hearing aids, cochlear implants and other hearing devices on display.
I realised there would be so many others out there who felt the same as I did. If I could overcome my own insecurities, I wanted to be able to help others do the same.
Right Hear, Right Now launches at No Vacancy Gallery, 34–40 Jane Bell Lane, Melbourne, on Friday August 12 (6pm–9pm) and shows until August 28.
The closing-night event on Saturday August 27 from 7.30pm will be Auslan interpreted and feature a night of performances hosted by Musicians 4 Hearing.