For many students, high school is filled with new and exciting things: from prom, to first dances, to Friday night football games. But for Areej, high school was a challenging experience. She recalls being singled out due to her disability and bullied on numerous occasions. Diagnosed with moderate-severe hearing loss at the age of four, Areej would frequently face unique struggles. During high school, one of her teachers even told her that she would never make it to university. From then on, Areej refused to wear her hearing-aids, which left her dependent on lip-reading and made it increasingly difficult for her in the classroom. She recounts spending countless nights trying to catch up on her education.
But Areej did not let this stop her. “I was driven by a desire to prove my teachers wrong, that I could and would make something of my life.” She went on to study Information Systems with Computer Science at Brunel University and before graduating, she had already secured a position with a multinational company. But during this time, Areej began to really struggle with her hearing. Being Hard of Hearing (HoH) proved to be more difficult as an adult than a child. “There are so many more expectations of you and you’re constantly being compared,” she said. “It seemed the only solution was to get a cochlear implant, despite my parents being highly against it due to all the risks. I was convinced it was the only way I would be able to overcome all the difficulties I was facing.” Areej eventually went through with the procedure and got the cochlear implant.
Navigating the adult world and university was unfortunately not the only place Areej’s hearing loss impacted her. As the only person in her family with hearing loss, she often felt that the only person who understood her was her audiologist. Even her family had a difficult time accepting the fact that she was HoH, a common struggle for Deaf and HoH individuals. She remembers being scared to answer the phone when her parents were not home. If her aunt or uncle called, she would often be shouted at, mishear, and pass on the wrong message to her parents. It is a difficult thing for any parent to come to terms with their child being disadvantaged in a way,” she says.
But when Areej was eighteen years old, she finally began to meet other HoH people and with the help of her mother, she began to finally accept herself. With this newfound dignity, she started wearing her hearing-aids again, this time without any shame or embarrassment. While studying she also found time to take part in creative projects with her friends: photoshoots, fashion shows, and music videos. She even took part in an ASIANA Magazine
Today, Areej is a Computer Science teacher and is working to rebuke misconceptions surrounding hearing loss, which is why she started her social media platform @hear_areej. Many people think that hearing loss is an ‘old people problem,’ but Areej’s diagnosis at age four proves that this is not true. “There are also a few illnesses which can cause being HoH such as: ear infections, measles, meningitis, rubella, and mumps. To date, there is limited research on hearing loss and unfortunately it is an area which is not receiving the awareness it deserves. As a result, the real cause of many individuals’ hearing loss remains unknown.” Although an ear infection was suspected to contribute to her hearing loss, Areej herself still does not know what caused her to be HoH.
Her social media account aims to debunk misconceptions. One that Areej has heard often is that HoH people need to go to a special school or learn sign language, but for Areej and many others, this is not the case. “People often think that if you have a disability you should go to a special school, so you get the support you need. For some people this can be a preferred option, but I personally am grateful that my parents sent me to a mainstream school. It would’ve been great if I learnt sign language, but I’d have no one to sign to. It was lip-reading that helped me get through life without hearing aids.”
Areej also shared her own advice on the best ways to help a HoH person understand you. She says, “It never makes it easier for anyone to hear you if you’re shouting,” she says. “People who are HoH struggle to make out words and sounds within the noise. What does help is if you speak slower, clearer, and make sure you face them so they can lip-read you. Facetime is something I highly rely on.”
Another common misconception that Areej has found is that many people believe hearing aids make you hear perfectly, while in reality, this is false. “Hearing-aids are a treatment, not a cure. They help you hear better, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can hear everything.” When reflecting on her choice to get a cochlear implant, she said: “It would have been great if I could’ve educated the world on how to be more patient and supportive of HoH people, but I couldn’t see a way to do that so quickly. Till today, I’m really glad I went for the cochlear implant because it’s truly changed my life, the sound quality is so much better. I can hear the birds singing, which I haven’t heard since I was a kid.”
Written by Tiffany Leveille in collaboration with Areej Khan
*This story was originally published in May 2020