Madeleine Uaine has lived with moderate to severe hearing loss all her life, and at 23, she has overcome many challenges.
Now, she wants to share her journey towards acceptance in the hope that it will empower others facing similar circumstances.
Soft-spoken yet approachable, Madeleine is a warm and reassuring presence. She is clearly enthusiastic about making a difference.
Her focus is living her life to her full potential, refusing to let her hearing loss hold her back.
She is looking forward to being a valued member of NFDHH’s newly formed Youth Advisory Group. As a member of this group, she will share her thoughts on how NFDHH can prioritise youth initiatives and help to ensure that the youth voice is represented.
Madeleine’s Hearing Loss
Madeleine was born with moderate to severe hearing loss due to premature birth, but she only received the diagnosis after a few years of speech therapy, which started at age four. Originally, she was thought to have a language delay, but this delay was later attributed to her hearing loss.
At six, she was fitted with hearing aids and had no problems with wearing them - they didn’t knock her confidence.
“I wasn’t shy to tell people what were on my ears, I was a loud and vibrant kid!”
As Madeleine entered her teenage years her attitude towards her hearing loss began to shift towards insecurity and indifference. Every evening, she was supposed to put her hearing aids in a case on her bedside table, but over time it became less and less of a priority.
Throughout school she lost her hearing aids repeatedly, but even after getting them replaced she didn’t wear them as often as she should.
When she was fourteen, Madeleine lost them for a fourth time and this time was different.
She didn’t get them replaced.
“I decided not to go to the audiologist because I thought I didn’t need them,” says Madeleine.
This resulted in a six-year period during which she didn’t wear hearing aids, a decision she now realises greatly affected her psychologically and socially.
“I don’t know how I managed. I do know I was very careful with the way I pronounced my words and letters, even where I looked at someone while having a conversation. I would force myself to look at their eyes instead of their mouths so they wouldn’t notice I was lip reading.”
When she entered university, she only passed practical exams like drawing and painting, and struggled to pass written exams and understanding what was said in lectures. After two and a half years, she left university.
Six Years of Disconnection Took Its Toll
Like many with hearing loss, the added barrier to connection and communication contributed to becoming disconnected from those around her.
Since interacting with others was a big struggle, she often didn’t seek out time with friends and instead spent a lot of time alone. As a result, her mental health suffered, and she developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking excessively.
Looking back on her life growing up, Madeleine has a newfound appreciation for the importance of taking responsibility for her hearing health and wearing hearing aids.
“I wish I knew the impact [hearing loss] had on my learning, and my mental health. Also, just how important wearing hearing aids is for communication, and for a social life – having that connection with people.”
Madeleine urges people to be aware and compassionate about the needs of those who have a hearing loss. She asks hearing people to remember:
“We feel like we aren’t being included if too many people are talking at once. If we ask you to repeat yourself, please do it. Don’t just say you’ll tell us later, that is shutting us off.”
In the Workplace
At Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, she originally began working in a customer service role that didn’t require her to interact with many visitors. This allowed her to stay quiet, and in the background.
However, when she was trained to work at the front desk, everything changed. She found herself struggling to do her job, facing visitors who at times, were rude about her hearing loss, and her mental health continued to decline.
She says, “Not wearing my hearing aids for that six year period caused me to become isolated, small, and depressed...it took me to the lowest point.”
Telling the story of these dark years brings up a lot of emotion for Madeleine, and it’s clear that this is still something she is working through.
“It was a struggle, but it made me take my hearing loss seriously and consider going back to wearing hearing aids.”
“I wish I knew the impact hearing loss had on my learning, and my mental health."
Madeleine’s counsellor inspired her to try out something new. She began learning New Zealand Sign Language, and discovered the Deaf community.
“My counsellor advised me to learn something that really interested me. I thought, ‘Oh, sign language! I’ve always wanted to learn that!’ That was two years ago, and it’s really changed my life.”
While she recalls struggling to learn other languages growing up, Madeleine didn’t have the same hurdle with NZSL. Being a visual language, she didn't have to hear or discern new pronunciations.
“It’s a beautiful language, and one that I’ve picked up really fast. I love signing. I’ve met a lot of new people.”
Learning sign language has allowed Madeleine to connect with a new and supportive community where her hearing loss is embraced.
“I often don’t know where I fit. I've worn hearing aids and undergone speech therapy to be included in the hearing world.”
“Being in the Deaf community, and learning sign language, has helped me to experience both worlds.”
In Madeleine's workplace, being open and honest about her hearing loss was a huge step towards feeling like she was truly part of her team.
While working at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, she taught her colleagues sign language in order to be able to communicate with Deaf visitors, and to raise awareness. However, it wasn’t an easy decision.
“It’s not really my thing to tell everyone that I have a hearing loss, but it really helped with communicating – [my colleagues] would use some sign language with me. [If I couldn’t hear something] then they would fingerspell…It was really cool, and it was good to see they enjoyed sign language.”
While growing up with hearing loss created a lot of challenges and contributed to dark periods in her life, Madeleine is hopeful for the future. She has big dreams, and wants to help to make New Zealand a more inclusive place.
She says, “I like to share my experiences and raise awareness of hearing loss and other disabilities as well…my goal is to give back to my community of Manurewa in South Auckland.”
Madeleine is proof that hardship can teach valuable lessons that provide perspective and wisdom. There is no better teacher than facing your circumstances and learning from them.
She reflects, “I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t faced these challenges.”