3 Things We Can All Learn From Deaf Representation in 2022

Over the past year, there has been a boost in Deaf representation on our TV screens. The most recent of which was Tasha Ghouri in Love Island.
Millions tuned in to watch the most recent season of Love Island when it aired in June. Since the show started 12 years ago, there has been a significant number of contestants, with the latest series bringing the figure to around 259 contestants – only one of whom is deaf.
Tasha Ghouri has been the first ever deaf contestant on the show. 1 in 6 people in the UK are D/deaf or hard of hearing, so it is surprising it has taken so long for a deaf contestant to be taking part.
As RNID stated, “representation matters”. Think about how inspiring Rose Ayling-Ellis’ appearance and eventual win on Strictly was. Similarly to Rose, Tasha’s presence on reality television has stimulated conversations amongst the general public about deafness.
Lady with blonde hair and red coloured cochlear implant
So what was everyone talking about?
1. Cochlear Implants

Surely if you’re deaf, you can’t hear anything at all? Right?

Wrong. Not only are there different levels and types of deafness, certain implants and aids can stimulate sound for someone who has severe hearing loss.

One of these is cochlear implants, which “use electrical signals to directly stimulate the auditory nerve (the nerve that carries sound from the cochlea to the brain)” (source).

The implant does not make speech or sounds audible in the same way a hearing person would hear them. Instead the sound is robotic. Whilst the exact sound can vary from person to person and is influenced by how the wearer adapts to the implant, the sounds will still be robotic.

“People sound a little robotic but my brain has adapted to it and I also rely on lip reading and body language.”

Below is a useful 3 minute video (with closed captions) briefly explaining what cochlear implants do.

In response to Tasha Ghouri’s presence on the show, there have been a lot of articles in the mainstream media about cochlear implants, and there were roughly around 5 times as many searches on Google for ‘cochlear implant’ when the show premiered.

This shows that deaf representation is so important for increasing both education and awareness of deafness.

2. Deaf Speech

Tasha Ghouri received a lot of hate during her time on the show, which her father repeatedly spoke out against.

One thing that he mentioned was people picking on Tasha’s voice.

Frequently you may hear the term ‘sound deaf’. Someone may or may not ‘sound deaf’ or ‘have deafness in their voice’.

Let’s unpack what this really means.

If a deaf person has a cochlear implant, hearing aids, partakes in speech therapy, or goes deaf later in life, then it is quite common for their voice to sound similar or the same as a hearing person.

However, not being able to hear how words are spoken means that there may be mispronunciations and without hearing natural inflections, a deaf person’s voice may be more monotone. It may also sound more nasal – described as ‘hyponasality’ – which has been compared to talking with a stuffy nose, so certain letters sound different, such as ‘m’. Also, deaf voice may also be more ‘guttural’, meaning that sounds are produced at the back of the throat.

With Rose Ayling-Ellis’ Strictly appearance, a large proportion of the public were opened up to the sound of deaf speech. Tasha’s experience on Love Island had a similar effect.

However, what we can take away from them both is that deaf people do not all sound the same.

There are so many variations and fluctuations in pronunciation and tone and we can’t assume that someone isn’t deaf just because they ‘don’t sound deaf’.

3. Mental Health

It is difficult being Deaf or hard of hearing in a world built for hearing people.

It may or may not surprise you that d/Deaf people are much more likely to experience mental health problems. For example, it is estimated that 4 out every 10 deaf children experience ill mental health (see this link for more information).
There are other factors that influence this, such as Deaf people being more likely to be unemployed, and these all take a toll on mental health.

Viewers commented on Tasha being ‘overly-sensitive’, which, again, resulted in her father requesting for people to be more empathetic towards her.

Use of the term ‘sensitive’ can sometimes indicate that the speaker is not educated on deaf awareness. It can be mentally draining not being able to understand everything that everyone is saying, and having to be extremely aware of all sorts of communication .e.g. body language, lip-reading, facial expressions, sign language, and different types and levels of hearing, can be a lot for one person to process.

On top of all this, deaf people generally have lower self esteem, stemming from the barriers that they face everyday in communication, employment, and relationships.

Deaf people aren’t ‘sensitive’, they’re resilient.

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