For this special month of both Skincare Awareness and ASL/Deaf Awareness, we asked Heather Stewart, Hey Honey’s Online Coordinator, to introduce herself. Why now? Read for yourself!
You know, I find it very ironic that I have no problem writing content about other people and various subject matter, yet it’s very hard to sit and write about the one thing I know most about: me. My first instinct is to start babbling about Star Wars and my dog. I mean, who doesn’t want to have a conversation about cute little puppies and Darth Vader?? But anyway, here goes.
To start off, I’m Deaf. People see my hearing aids and how well I navigate my world and they correct me by saying, “No, you’re hard-of-hearing” but the truth is, I really am Deaf with a Profound loss, labeled as so on my audiograms. I don’t like answering people who ask how much I can hear because honestly, I couldn’t tell you. I was born this way and therefore have no idea how much a “normal” person can hear. There’s nothing for me to compare to in a way that others (read as: the majority) can comprehend. And don’t call it a ‘disability’ or ‘impairment’ either…it’s actually a superpower. A superpower that’s way better than invisibility or flying, in my opinion.
What sets me apart from many Deaf people is the fact that I (and my Deaf brother) grew up in a very Hearing world; no one else in the family has any sort of hearing issue, all the schools I went to were primarily hearing, and all the jobs I’ve had were primarily hearing. However, my brother along with some great friends are Deaf. Because of this, I do not say I belong to one group or the other – I float between both worlds equally.
For 25 years now, I’ve worked on fine-tuning my natural superpower. Going to mainstream schools (no Deaf program) meant I had to work extra hard to get to where I needed to be. I actually did not know any sign language beyond numbers and the A-B-Cs until high school, so I had less to go on than other Deaf kids. The greatest misconception about the Deaf community is the notion that we are ‘Deaf and Dumb’ simply because we have one less sense than most others. So by high school, I was having quite a bit of fun taking the challenges of “oh, you’ll never be able to do this because it’s meant for a hearing person” and excelling at it. I was told I couldn’t do a lot of things…things I did anyway.
At this time in high school, I had joined a small, tight-knit group of Deaf people who remain my best friends today. They taught me sign language and showed me the strong sense of community and friendship that I had been missing out on.
Growing up, my mom helped a lot by encouraging me to just go for the things I wanted to do and not listen to those who doubted me. After raising my (much older) brother, she had a pretty good idea of what Deaf people are capable of. If I tried to say I couldn’t do something, she motivated me through tough love in order to get me to fight back so that I WOULD do whatever it is I said I couldn’t do.
Because I’m Deaf, I compensate by being a very visual person – I am an artist. From painting to playing guitar, to creating my own recipes for baking, I am most definitely a hands-on, creative person. My superpower proved to others that a Deaf person can go to one of the top Fashion Design schools in the country (FIDM in Los Angeles) and graduate in 17 months with a degree, and go on to actually own a small fashion design company after moving back to Colorado. This little business stint was necessary for me to learn that fashion design was not something that would make me happy for the rest of my life, and it actually brought me front and center to Denver’s modeling scene. Hello, hundreds of opportunities.
My mother was a model for a very short time back in the 80s, and therefore I had always been interested in it. She also had a camera in my face every minute of every day after I was born, but I digress. Again, I was told many times that “only hearing people can model” so of course, I had to prove them wrong. Three years, 15 publications, and 17 runway shows later, I earned a pretty good reputation and proved that Deaf people can actually be models if they wanted to and worked hard enough. It took a lot of hard work to earn the respect I deserved simply because so many people were very skeptical about me and the Deaf in general. We are a minority group, after all, but that just means we have to work a bit harder.
Not only did I prove to others that I could become an accomplished model, but I proved it to myself. I broke down barriers and shattered stereotypes. I demonstrated my worth to an industry that finds value chiefly in things that I am not – average, “normal,” hearing. I love the looks that I get from people when they find out that I am a model. You can almost see the judgemental gears turning in their head. Then they see my work, and it’s almost as if I can physically see the shift in their mentality – I just changed their opinion on what it means to be a model and what it means to be deaf. Being able to change people’s perception about the ability of the Deaf community makes what I am doing even more important and valuable.
During this time, I had been working at a Ferrari dealership. I loved it, but it just wasn’t what I wanted because there was no room for creativity unless you count the fact that it was my job to decorate the showroom for Christmas and make centerpieces for the holiday parties. Which of course, does not count. I had become quite passionate about the fashion/beauty industry, especially after working with so many hairstylists and makeup artists. I was (and still am) toying with the idea of going back to school to get a cosmetology license. Long story short, I ended up at a job interview for Hey Honey and shortly thereafter, started my new (creative!) position of Online Coordinator.
I’ve been here for a year now, and it’s an awesome position that has molded really well with who I am. Hey Honey is a family, and since I handle all the social media, everyone who is currently reading this is part of the family too.
The whole point of this blog is this: Yes, the Deaf people are a minority, but that doesn’t mean we are any less. Part of my job as a deaf person is to help bring awareness to the fact that you should never jump to a stereotypical conclusion of who a deaf person is and what we can do. Because we have to work so much harder, we are constantly overcoming every barrier that comes our way. The biggest barrier is in the job market. There are deaf actors, dancers, engineers, architects, even musicians, and they are all extremely successful, but those people are few and far between because it seems many people are afraid to give out opportunities to someone who can’t hear well. Trust me – those with hearing issues will end up being your best employees, 9 times out of 10, if you just give the opportunity! Like I said – it’s a superpower!
Over the years, I’ve noticed an increase of awareness, with ASL (American Sign Language) classes being offered even in elementary schools, and many adults have agreed on the importance of knowing even just a little bit of ASL. Yes, we’re a small group, but you can find us everywhere and we do appreciate even novice signers coming to us to introduce themselves. We are also more than happy to teach about our superpower and language to anyone who is willing to learn. All you have to do is come say hi!
September is National Deaf Awareness Month. Stay tuned for ASL videos! Don’t hesitate to ask questions or share your experiences!