Kate Disher-Quill lost her hearing as a child. Now she's telling stori – Ausnew Home Care

Kate Disher-Quill lost her hearing as a child. Now she's telling stories of the Deaf community in a book, Earshot

deaf disability Women Women empowerment

When you are three and the world of sound starts disappearing, your life's narrative is rewritten and the script is not always controlled by you.

'I was made to think I wasn't as smart': Stories of the deaf
'I was made to think I wasn't as smart': Stories of the deaf
Author of the book Earshot Kate Disher-Quill.
Author of Earshot Kate Disher-Quill.(

Supplied: Kate Disher-Quill


For Kate Disher-Quill, it meant that some of life's hardest chapters were about to begin.

"When I was 10 and I was given hearing aids, it was a pretty painful experience for me," she said.

"I was at an age where I was already quite aware of how people were judged with any kind of difference and I also seemed to be innately aware that there was a negative stigma attached to hearing loss."

The now 31-year-old photographer felt disconnected: hearing loss was for the elderly, what other child had this problem?

"I found it quite a negative experience. I felt like I was made to think that maybe I was not as smart because I had a hearing loss," she said.

"I don't think that I was even aware that I was, I guess, nestling this shame deep within me."

Ms Disher-Quill would put her hearing aids in her bag but wouldn't wear them in public, unless perhaps going to the theatre or the movies.

"But when it came to any social interaction, I just relied on lip reading and how I would live day to day, it was never a question in my head to consider putting them in.

A generation later, now seven-year-old Abbi Keating and her family faced their own challenges.

As a baby, Abbi was bright, bubbly and could babble a little, until she was about six months old.

"She got really, really sick. We never got to the bottom of what she had," explained her mum, Amy Keating.

"They just called it an acute illness that was kind of like a gastro bug and kind of like the flu and kind of like a couple of other things all rolled into one and she was hospitalised twice.

"During this time she went from this bubbly, playful, six-month-old who could crawl and pull herself up to basically a newborn again in the size of a six-and-a-half month old, she didn't even have any control over her neck anymore."

What speech and communication ability Abbi had disappeared, so Mrs Keating pushed for her daughter and family to be taught sign language to communicate the basics as they waited to see a speech therapist.

It wasn't until Abbi was a year and a half when she was finally diagnosed with significant hearing loss.

Abbi was given her first hearing aids, and they had the option to get a cochlear implant.

"We were really getting pushed for Abbi to get an implant," Mrs Keating said.

Amy Keating sits on the floor teaching her daughter Abbi sign language.
Amy Keating teaches her daughter Abbi sign language.(

Supplied: Kate Disher-Quill 


Abbi was four when she received her cochlear implant, and with the family opting to take a bilingual route. This was followed by months of intense therapy, not just in using the cochlear, but also sign and bilingual communication.

"I still don't feel like 110 per cent [that we] did the right thing, because Abbi's been at school a year and a half and at the moment, she's kind of rejecting the implant.

"She's taken it off, she hasn't worn it for about two and a half weeks after she had a few issues with it," Mrs Keating said.

"And she knows that it's there but it's not her be all and end all. She knows she's got multiple ways to communicate that she can access at any time.

"That was always what I wanted, that she had the best of every world possible, [and] for her to ultimately make a decision when she was older … [about] which path she wanted to take."

While the Keatings were trying to figure out the best way forward for them, then 26-year-old Kate Disher-Quill was still subconsciously ashamed of her own loss.

"The whole idea came crashing down when I read an article in a magazine by a young photographer who was also deaf," she said.

"It made me realise this story had such an impact on me and there would be all these people out there that if they didn't come across these stories they might not ever go through that experience of seeing something like themselves … so that day I had this idea I could change this."

That idea turned into a five-year project of finding others like her and telling their stories in a book Earshot.

"To me the biggest thread that tied all these stories together was that everyone at some point throughout their journey struggled with the idea of coming to terms with something that was not society's representation of how they should be, and that stops them revealing that aspect of themselves," Ms Disher-Quill said.

An image showing hand signals for signing the alphabet using Auslan.
A guide to signing the alphabet in Auslan.(

Supplied: Kate Disher-Quill


"The only way you can get through that feeling is if you are open about it and if you do accept.

"And the only way to accept it is to realise there are other people out there."

The story of Abbi Keating and her mother is one of many told in the publication.

"[Other parents] don't have to fear it, everything is going to be okay," Mrs Keating said.

"There are going to be tough times, but it doesn't matter what it is or what we face, we all go through some sort of trouble in our lives.

"There are so many people who hide their hearing aids and implants. I was very conscious of that from day one so we've always gotten bright blue or bright pink because I wanted to instil in Abbi from a very young age that she does not have to hide this, it is nothing to be ashamed about and whether she wears a hearing aid or implant or nothing and wants to sign, that she is perfect just the way she is."

Abbi, who loves dancing, playing piano, singing, signing and making new friends, has her own message.

"I want people to know that deaf people are all different," Abbi said.

"Just because some have a hearing aid or cochlear, they are still deaf, it helps them to hear, but that's it, it just helps."

Source: ABC

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