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Why Howard is #AgeProud

"I think I’m quite assertive despite experiencing a sense of being on the margins of mainstream society, I am determined to be me."

Howard, Leeds, is one of five people that we interviewed for International Day of Older Persons 2019. This is their story.

Howard, looking into camera
Photograph and words by Mark Epstein

I was unable to hear from the age of 9 months after treatment for meningitis left me profoundly deaf. I have no memory of hearing. At age 3 I was ripped away from home. Not 7, not 8 – I was a baby. I had no language acquisition and was sent to live in an institution. We were forced to learn the oral method. We were taught to speak, and speak in R.P., the Queen's English; I was 9 before my dad, a Yorkshireman, told me there were such things as regional accents and dialects. School forced me to think in their mould but the children developed an underground signing movement but at school, signing was banned. We were caned if we were discovered using sign language, but despite this, I was top of the class in speech. But, when I left school I couldn't fit in with the deaf world. I’d learnt to think in English but sign language is much more natural. It’s visual and fluid and has a different syntax to English. This means that writing in English is a struggle as it doesn’t connect naturally to my speech but a non-deaf person takes it for granted because writing is connected to sound.

I’ve worked for Leeds City Council for the past 29 years, that's why I've got the grey hair. A lot of what I do focuses on deaf work: improving community engagement, advising on policy changes and working alongside other marginalised groups such as BAME and LGBT. Most of the population hasn't got a clue. Deaf people are kept apart, they exist somewhere separate and not all deaf people can lip read. Eighty percent of it is guess work anyway. You pick up a word here and there.

Deaf people also get tired eyes from highly attuned peripheral vision. Your eyes don't get a break because you are concentrating with them all the time and on top of that, traditional British reserve inhibits expression. It’s so much easier to communicate in Italy or at an Italian restaurant because there are so many more effusive gestures: thumbs-up, nods, winks and movements. The Italians make meaning far clearer.

I feel like I’m quite unique in the deaf world. I think I’m quite assertive despite experiencing a sense of being on the margins of mainstream society, I am determined to be me. It's my culture, it's my language and I’m proud of who I am. I love being deaf. I love sign language. Society has the problem; I am proud to be deaf.


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