A deaf life

Looking at the impact that her deafness has had on her life and communicating her experiences to the parents of deaf children is the focus of a new book by Griffith University’s Dr Donna McDonald.

Born in the 1950s and diagnosed at the age of three as ‘moderately-severely deaf, sloping to profound,’ Donna’s parents’ aspiration was that she would live and succeed in the hearing community, kept separate from the deaf community.

After first attending the Oral Deaf Pre-School at Yeronga for five years, she was then transferred to All Hallows, an inner-city private girls’ school. She grew up without access to Sign Language. Donna’s efforts, combined with the determined advocacy of her parents, resulted in her achievements including a thirty year career in public policy and currently, the position of Senior Lecturer and Convenor of the Disability Studies Program at Griffith’s School of Human Services and Social Work.

A lightbulb moment

Yet despite her willingness to fit into the hearing world, Donna eventually had a ‘lightbulb moment’ where she suddenly realised she was not living the life she really wanted.

“There was a trigger point when I was about 48 and working in the UK, where I felt I was not really living an authentic life and that I desperately needed to explore all those closed off feelings about being deaf and what it means,” says Dr McDonald.

“I was ready to break my self-imposed silence about my deafness, and in writing my memoir, I reconciled my childhood deaf self with my public deaf-hearing persona. This became my PhD which later turned into my book.”

An attempt to talk back to the hearing world, The Art of Being Deaf also looks at what Dr McDonald calls the ‘forgotten generation,’ the orally raised deaf kids that no one wants to think about.

“These are the people who are neither embedded in the deaf community nor completely accepted in the hearing one, and there are many within this group who feel lonely and isolated,” she says.

“To this day, I continue to be horrified at the extent of some parents’ grief when they learn that their child is deaf or hearing impaired. With my book I hope that by sharing my personal experiences, I can help parents see the potential for the opportunities that lie ahead and realise that deafness is no death sentence.”