A conversation with Jermy Pang

In this webinar, Ann Porter chats with Jermy Pang about her lived experience growing up with hearing loss and being mum to a child who is hard of hearing. 

Jermy Pang is a research audiologist working at the National Acoustics Laboratories. With personal experience in dealing with hearing loss, she brings a unique perspective to her work. Jermy is a mentor with Hear For You, a program that supports young people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

In 2022, Jermy commenced her PhD in Audiology at the University of Queensland. Her research is exploring the transition of hearing health processes from paediatric to adult services. She is passionate about participatory action research and actively involving emerging adults who are deaf or hard of hearing throughout her research.

Ann Porter is the founder and CEO of Aussie Deaf Kids and her daughter is deaf/hard of hearing.

Jermy reflected on some of the questions after the webinar and sent some further thoughts.

Question: Did you have trouble communicating at school? I am 9 years old.

Jermy’s response: Growing up, I always tried to fit in where I thought there was seemingly no other choice but to ‘go along with it’. Looking back, I wish I had been more assertive and authentic, and said: “Excuse me, can you say that again? I really want to join in but had trouble hearing you.” Quite a mouthful but if that’s what it takes to not miss out – I’d try it. But it doesn’t work for every social situation. And you’ve got to start somewhere.

There are friends who we feel comfortable with, they’re our safe folks who we can share any kind of conversation. And there are friends who aren’t as close. Find that supportive community –  there’s more of us than you realise. Hear For You is one of those spaces, and I hope we can come to your community too. Please reach out to let us know where we could go and what you’d like to do with other folks with different kinds of hearing difference. Online communities like Aussie Deaf Kids where parents meet others who have similar experiences, might mean that you have a ready network of young people who are similar in age, and hearing differences, who may live locally, or can make time to meet online where and when it is safe to do so.  

Safe friends don’t always exist in the same classes we have, or necessarily go to the same school or work in the same office. And that’s where it might be handy to consider sports, and other creative or outside-of-school pursuits to find our people. Be adventurous and find those you connect with, those you feel safe with. These are the people we feel comfortable communicating any time and about almost anything. Try your voice in those circles, and craft your communication skills, get comfortable and confident and only then, we may try branching out to others. Being deaf or hard of hearing is only a part of who we are. And we are much more than that, and that’s up to us to show them, but in our own sweet time and space. If they don’t want to make an effort to communicate better with you? I’m sad…FOR THEM! They’re the ones missing out. Real friends have integrity; they don’t change the way they treat you as a person, irrespective of whether we have visible or invisible differences. Unless they change in ways that are respectful and considerate then that’s ok!

Consider how we communicate at home – what feels safe about it? What things can be expressed at home without fear of – well, anything? We often share our thoughts and communicate openly because we know we can feel safe, and be free from judgement, we trust them, they care for us, and we know family can give supportive advice at times. Just the act of talking about something can make our minds and hearts lighter, right? At the core of communication is about connection.

The mode of communication matters very little, but sadly, our society puts so much stock in verbal communication. I long for the days where my friends and I would wait for our letters to arrive in the mail! Did you know that it used to take a month for a reply to arrive from overseas? That’s what happened when I used to send letters to my pen pal in Wisconsin, U.S. Pen pals are great by the way. I’m still in touch with mine after 30 years, after my high school arranged for us to connect with pen pals via an agency (via official avenues).

People aren’t often aware of the fact that young people wear hearing devices too, or have hearing difference. Not until we show them and talk about it. It is something society typically relates to older people. To Ann’s point, sometimes, people don’t know how to communicate with people with hearing difference, because they’ve never had that experience. So, a bit of courage is required to say what would make it easier to communicate with us, what they can do to make it easier, and how we could complement that too. Personally, my go-to tactic in primary and high school is to carry my notebook/note pad with me and write a question or share a joke, make a comment with an air of mysteriousness I always carry coloured pens and markers to make my preferred mode of communication more interesting and accessible to me. Obviously younger folks like to send texts and messages, but I still prefer writing little notes, or tuck in a Post-It in school bags and lockers. Let’s bring back that trend!! There will always be a time, and place for verbal communication. Be the strategist and think about where conversations take place: can you have a say in where you meet (away from places with echoes or lots of background noise)? Can you sit in the group where your hearing can be optimised? Is the music too loud? Is the floor carpeted? We can be so crafty and creative with our solutions sometimes!

The older I get, the more I feel it is ok to miss out. No one should be allowed to judge you for ‘not participating’. Sometimes I embrace being quiet and still, preferring the silence and meditative moods. I make it clear at home and at work where I stick a note on my door to say that I’m switched off because I want/need to. No reason, no excuses: it’s just what I wanted in that moment. Do not be afraid to be you. It can be uncomfortable for others to get used to the fact that we are entitled to our opinions, our ways of being and doing (duh!). But it should never be uncomfortable for you and I promise you – it gets easier. Especially if you find your people – hearing and/or deaf allies 

One day, you will come to realise that our deafness is our strength, not a weakness.

Question: Doesn’t advocacy get tiring?

Jermy’s response: It can, no doubt about it! But the prospects of moving the dial little by little makes me excited! We never start from zero, and I will always be grateful to the OG advocates in these spaces: people like Ann Porter, Snigdha at GPODHH, Hear For You founders (and many more) for getting things going so that we never start from the same starting line. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and stand shoulder to shoulder with them all. Everyone in that virtual room that evening are already experienced advocates for their children. Any/every time you turn up the volume on the TV/radio in the car for our kids so that they could hear better, that’s advocacy; buy tickets for a movie with subtitles, that’s advocacy; moving closer and repeating a question for someone with hearing difference – that’s advocacy. It’s all the small things we do. I hope you see what you do as always contributing to a bigger movement.

Your children, and those around you will see the way you act, and in time, may learn from that kindness and consideration and pay it forward to those around them who find things accessible across any contexts without even asking for these adjustments. Keep on keep on going, and together we can. More importantly, practice self-care always. As parents and carers of children who need us in whatever ways – we don’t always pause to think ‘what’s making my day/this situation so challenging/tiring/frustrating, etc.? The act of pausing and listening to ourselves, our bodies, and being gentle with ourselves will make us better advocates and ensure that we don’t think that we overreact/overthink. Or perhaps that if we do – there might be a reason for that.

Allow me one more tasteful quote from Brene Brown: “One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide.” Best wishes, – you’re doing a GREAT job!