Disability Awareness Month

Pure Integrative Pharmacy interviewed Camila from its Online Store. Camila has been hard of hearing her entire life, and in this interview openly shares stories of her experiences.

Our conversation below covers advocating for people with disabilities, tactics for supporting and including them in society, and how to help and interact with hard of hearing and D/deaf people — here are the highlights.

Pure Pharmacy: Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in Sao Paulo – Brazil. Before moving to Canada, I used to be a wedding photographer on my family's business and worked for a multinational company as a Trade Marketing intern. After finishing my University back home, I moved to Vancouver in January 2014 for an exchange program experience - good times!

However, things changed after I started to experience my independence and safety here in Canada, and I never looked back. I went to a college here and got my Marketing Communications degree, and now I am working and learning with Pure Pharmacy. 

Can you tell us how your hearing loss started?

Of course! My parents told me I was born with hearing troubles, and when I was three years old, I was diagnosed with moderate hearing loss. 

I was a clever kid but not very sociable with kids and teachers. A teacher noticed something was off with my attention and response, but no one could tell what the problem was. After a few months with tons of exams, they finally figured out that I had hearing loss. My mom told me she was delighted with the result because she knew that I could have an ordinary life. Nowadays, I have moderate to severe loss (loud music - one of my biggest passions, but it can damage your hearing!). 

Growing up with hearing loss was significantly complicated for me. I couldn't accept that I was different from others, affecting my self-esteem and personality, and I hid my condition until my 27 years old. After realizing that most people had some issues, I finally accepted who I am, and I stopped feeling sorry for myself.

I am glad that I am slightly different from others; it made me empathize with people, understand others' struggles, and support them with my life's experience. I refuse to live my life trying to make everybody happy and waiting for validation. 

I can tell my parents didn't expect how much I've achieved so far, even with the challenges I dealt with my entire life, such as miscommunication and disrespect due to my impaired hearing and communication. 

What challenges do you face daily?

If people with vision impairments use eyeglasses and people with mobility issues use wheelchairs, hard-of-hearing and D/deaf people use hearing aids (or cochlear implants), lip-reading, and writing to communicate with hearing people. Due to COVID-19, people now wear masks, making our conversation and connection with others even harder! 

Since I remember, I always have relied on reading lips on any interaction with people. I have to read subtitles while watching movies or YouTube videos; otherwise, I might not understand what is said (English is my second language too).

Recently in a restaurant, I didn't know what the server was saying in a noisy environment. I politely asked him to remove his mask for me to be able to understand what he was saying, but he couldn't because of policy. If everyone's vaccinated, it's safe enough for short periods of time: please consider lifting your mask if someone asks, to let people lip-read.

To sum up, the funny story of my life is that a male friend who didn't know I had hearing loss thought I was into him because I looked intensely at his lips every time. After all, I always look at people's lips instead of eyes because misunderstandings may occur.

What is the difference between Hard of hearing and D/deaf? Do you know sign language?

Severe hearing loss with very little or no functional hearing is generally called deaf, and hard of hearing (HOH) refers to hearing loss where there may be enough residual hearing that people can understand spoken words with an auditory device and lip-reading. Deaf with a capital D (as opposed to deaf, lowercase) can also refer to people who identify as members of the Deaf community specifically.

Unfortunately, I don't know sign language, but I am very keen to learn it one day because I would love to see a deaf person smile and feel included in society. We all have the right to be treated as we deserve and not seen as ''unfortunate'' people.

How should we talk to a D/deaf or HOH person?

If you noticed someone is having a hard time understanding you, these tips might be helpful next time you talk with a deaf or hard of hearing person: 

  • Get the person's attention.
  • Face the person and stand close to them.
  • Wear a clear window mask if possible, or consider removing your mask to help them read lips: if you're vaccinated it should be safe to take it off for a minute.
  • Speak more slowly than usual and articulate your consonants.
  • Raise your voice if you have to, but try not to shout.
  • Be prepared to repeat or rephrase sentences if asked.
  • Remember that if we don't know what you're saying it's not that our brains don't work, it's that we didn't hear you.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for someone experiencing hearing loss?

The first and the most crucial step is to accept that. Don't think being deaf or hard of hearing will ruin your life, because it won't. You will have some challenges in your life, but the more you accept it, the easier you can manage it without struggles.  

Also, here is the list of what I do daily:

  • Tell people about your hearing loss and ask them to speak clearly. If they are being rude or not accepting your disability, you aren't the problem, but the person may be ignorant about it, smile at them and be patient;
  • Encourage your communication partners to face you, speak up or speak more slowly;
  • If necessary, ask people to remove their masks because it is easier to understand the message by reading lips;
  • Ask questions about what you missed. If you think you understand but are unsure, repeat what you think you heard back to confirm

Pure Pharmacy: Is there anything else you want to share with us?

For everyone who is facing any disability:

Disability is always contextual: the systems we live and work in were designed for a specific demographic of people and everyone else is an afterthought, if accommodations were thought about at all. If you're struggling, it's not your fault! It is ok not to be ok. Always reach out for help if needed: we are not alone, and there are more people like us! Don't let your disability define who you are; that is what makes us special and unique.

The disabled community has a hard time gaining acceptance in their everyday lives, and even if you don't understand what that's like, try to step out of your comfort zone and welcome us into your life!

Thank you for your time!