Tara is a 26-year-old Trainee Primary School Teacher. She lives in Auckland with her partner and their close friends.
As a baby Tara was diagnosed with Bilateral Hearing Loss and Atresia in her right ear.
She had cochlear abutment surgery at 6-years-old and now wears a BAHA (Bone anchored hearing aid).
“I’m lucky that I have been deaf from birth as I don’t know any different. The only hearing I can remember has been ‘man made’ from my hearing device.
I think it would be much harder to lose hearing later on in life when you’ve had a taste of what ‘real’ hearing is.”
Growing up in the UK, where hearing loss is fully funded, Tara feels she has had a relatively easy journey compared to most.
“I was given the device I needed young. I grew up in the UK where hearing loss is fully funded and so when I would lose or break a hearing aid it was replaced immediately without charges.
I have long hair and my cochlear abutment and BAHA sits behind my ear, so it’s easy to hide. I don’t ‘appear’ deaf to those who first meet me, so it’s never defined me.”
But it hasn’t been without its challenges.
“My dad is from India, and in certain Asian cultures, disability isn’t as openly accepted.
My dad has never had an issue with my hearing loss and has always been supportive, but I did notice that he was very quiet about telling other family members and was always extra pleased when I met ‘normal’ standards and very rarely mentioned my BAHA.
Compared to my mum, who has always been open and willing to talk about my hearing loss with me and others.”
“I also used to be sad that I couldn’t wear in-ear headphones and listen to my music. It impacted my mental health slightly because I felt like I was ‘missing out’.”
“[I’d] get frustrated about not being able to wear it [hearing aid] at pool parties or in heavy rain or at theme parks.”
At 26, Tara is open about her experiences with hearing loss, but it hasn’t always been so easy.
“When I was younger I was worried about what other people would think of me.”
“In primary school, everyone just knew about it because my Mum had told the teacher and I was still wearing my softband at first. People were generally very accepting… it was only when I got to about 7 years old that anyone made any comments at all.
I was never bullied but people sometimes did make me feel different and so I hid it from all my peers in High School.”
“It was only at university I started to feel comfortable sharing it with others again... I try to be as open as possible, especially as a teacher. I want to normalise deafness for my students and combat the stigma associated with hearing aids!'”
Even sharing with her partner was a challenge at first.
“When I was younger I worried that I would never find a partner who accepted it...”
“It took me 6 months to tell my current partner that I wore a hearing aid, even though I was 24 when we got together. I wanted to tell him but I overthought his response.
When I did tell him, he was ABSOLUTELY fine. Didn’t care at all. Thought I was going to tell him something horrific and was relieved when it was ‘just a hearing aid’.
He’s been incredibly supportive.”
With supportive family and friends around her, Tara has become confident and accepted that her hearing loss is just another part of her.
“Knowing that hearing loss is more common than not [has really helped]. More and more people normalising hearing loss and talking about wearing hearing aids in such a nonchalant way, makes me feel like it’s much more acceptable and not a big deal.”
Getting her BAHA early has also made a huge difference, something Tara recently became even more grateful for!
“I have always had and worn a hearing device from a very young age, so my level of hearing has always been good. Which means I’ve never felt withdrawn or any personality changes because I’ve always been able to form relationships and achieve all the things I wanted to…”
“I am eternally grateful to my hearing devices for that.”
“HOWEVER, recently, my BAHA that I had been wearing since I was 15 broke (almost 10 years later). I had no backup and being in NZ meant that access to healthcare was limited.
I went without a hearing device for 3 days while I was waiting for a new device and I cancelled all my plans with friends and stayed home. I was unhappy and overly tired (probably from having to listen twice as hard).”
“I can only IMAGINE how much it affects the personality of those who don’t have access to these devices because without hearing it’s hard to do day to day tasks and build relationships.”
Looking back, Tara wants others to know that they don’t need to be ashamed.
“Be more open about your hearing loss, it doesn’t have to be a secret. People don’t care as much as you think they do. And if they do care then they’re not your kind of person anyway!”
“Treat it like any other sensory loss. If you were struggling with sight, you wouldn’t hesitate to get glasses. Society has normalised certain sensory losses and not others.
If you normalise and understand that it really is ‘no big deal’ then other people start to see it that way too.”
“Just ‘own’ it.”
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: