[Photography by David B. Cluff]

My name is Hayden. I am 17 years old, a junior in High School, and from St. Louis, Missouri.  I have been deaf since birth. I can’t begin to tell you hard it was for me growing up deaf when I was little even though I got fitted with cochlear implants when I was three years old and was oral by five years old. I was very aggressive, would throw tantrums, and would constantly isolate myself from others. I felt like no one wanted me because I couldn’t hear and that really depressed me. It pulled me down into this dark world I had created for myself.

Then I enrolled in kindergarten when I was six. It was then that I met another deaf person for the first time. I still remember her name, Annie.  I realized that I wasn’t the only deaf person in the world. There were plenty others like me! Unlike me, she didn’t hate her deafness, she loved it! She didn’t isolate herself from others, she hung out with everyone. She didn’t let her deafness drag her down, she used her deafness as motivation. I hung out with Annie and the other deaf people in the school. I learned ASL but more importantly, learned to accept my deafness as a key part of my identity.

Annie moved away but I still had plenty of other deaf and for the first time, hearing friends. I got more involved in my education, got into reading and writing, played sports, and traveled all over the country and the world, meeting other deaf people along the way. In middle school, I decided to spread my passion for sports to other disabled children, so I joined my local Disabled Athletes Sports Association. With them, I had the privilege of helping not only deaf children but children of every disability you can imagine, play various sports. It was through the program that I met Josh. Not only was he paralyzed from a car accident, he was also deaf. He inspired me with his passion for sports and spreading it to others. There’s one thing he always told me that I keep close to my heart: “A disability is not a disability, it is an ability”. Josh left the program a while ago, but I will never forget those very words he said.

Now as a junior in high school, I look back on my childhood and realize just how lucky I am to have met Annie, the deaf children in my elementary school, and Josh. Without them, I would probably still be stuck in my own dark world. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have gotten good grades, a job at Home Depot, a passion for sports and spreading it to others, and most importantly, a respect and appreciation for my deafness. Being deaf is not easy. As long as humanity lasts, people will judge deaf people on their deafness, rather than what is inside them. Do not let it drag you down into your own dark world as I have. Instead, let it motivate you, let it help you to spread understanding and kindness to a world that badly needs it. Most importantly, let it be a beacon of hope and inspiration for other deaf people, especially those in most need of it.

“Don’t let your disability drag you down. You can do anything you set your mind to if you believe in yourself. ” -Hayden [Photography by David B. Cluff]