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I’m Deaf. But that’s who I am

7 mins read

Shiona began to speak at age three. Her world before then had been muted.

Doctors after doctors told her mum Shiona was being babied or just acting up because she had a twin brother.

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But eventually, they finally got a diagnosis, Shiona was deaf.

Around 92% of deaf children are born to parents with the ability to hear.

Growing up in Lanark with her twin brother James older sisters Mhairi and Eilidh, 19-year-old Shiona, was quiet and reserved.

Shiona (left) with twin brother James,
and sisters Mhairi and Eilidh
Credi: Shiona McClafferty

Remembering her childhood Shiona said: “I was just really quiet; I didn’t talk much and then when I went to primary school I started to get a bit more confident.

“When I got to high school I started to loose that confidence”.

Playing with her sleeves, Shiona says high school was hard, but not any harder than everyone else finds it: “at high school you realise everyone’s differences”.

She’s very aware of how people may be awkward around her: “it’s not really their fault, if they just don’t know that I can’t hear”. A smile creeps onto her face as she credits her friends for being the most supportive.

She can’t hide her smile when she talks about her childhood friends who know her as just Shiona and not Shiona who is also deaf. To them it’s nothing, she is who she has always been.

Shiona is now in her second year of PE teaching at Stirling, a particularly hard course to get accepted on. At first, she hadn’t planned to come to university and was nervous to come but once she finally got here she found nothing but support.

The PE department, particularly her lecturer Wilkie, Shiona says, have been the most supportive and the other people on her course have made her feel comfortable as she can be.

Just like her school friends, the friends she has made at university don’t notice her hearing aids: “I obviously had to go through the awkward conversation about being deaf, but overall it has been completely fine.”

One thing you should know you about Shiona is nothing seems to stop her.

She began swimming from when she was physically able to and joined her local club in Lanark when she was nine years old. For the next ten years, every time she stepped in the water she felt immediately at home.

In her team already, was Jack, who is also deaf, so her coach had already had experience with a swimmer who is deaf.

There are approximately 11 million people in the UK who are deaf or hard of hearing and Auditory Visible says one or two children of everyone 1,000 babies born have hearing loss while half of the children will be deaf.

Something magical seems to happen in the water. Shiona gains a confidence like no other and there is nothing that can stop her.

“Everything changed” when she went to the 2017 Deaf Olympics in Turkey. Winning a bronze medal in the relay race in her first race at the competition in her first ever international event.

Shiona (second from left) with bronze medal
winning team
Credit: Shiona McClafferty

Continuing her success on the international stage, she went on to compete in the 2018 European Deaf Championship making a number of finals.

She talks with excitement as if reliving her experience as she talks about it. Shiona suddenly goes quieter as she says swimming changed when she came to university.

The university swimming team is a different experience to what she is used to at her old club. Back in Lanark, everyone knows how to communicate with her, they got her.

But here in Stirling, she feels nobody took the time to understand her: “I just don’t really feel like I fit.”.

The Stirling Swimming team is incredibly successful winning medals and setting records on a number of occasions. However, Shiona sadly says: “I sometimes feel the coaches don’t care, which is fine, they’ve got so much talent already.

“I think they needed to make a little more effort that they didn’t want to make, but it’s because they’ve got lots of talent and I get it.”

She isn’t giving up her on her swimming as she aims for one more Deaf Olympics with the help from herself.

Shiona with her bronze medal
Credit: Shiona McClafferty

National Deaf Awareness Week is recognised every year in May. There is an awkwardness about being around a deaf person with many people not knowing how to act.

This year, National Deaf Awareness Week will be recognised from the 4-10 May.

Shiona’s top tip is to ask: “I’ve never been offended when someone asks. I get offended when people shy away and are awkward because it means they’re uncomfortable.”

The one thing that struck me was how understanding she is of our ignorance. She never once seems to resent the fact she’s deaf, in fact she wouldn’t be her without her hearing aids.

Shiona’s attitude is incredibly admirable. There’s nothing in her that would change who she is and despite some little moments of ‘why do I have to put my hearing aids in, why can’t society just be able to communicate with me’, she is as understanding and proud they come.

She says she tells her twin brother, James, she wishes he would have a deaf child, he gets offended, but she says it would be great, it would be a gift. It was certainly a gift to her. 

Feature Image Credit: Shiona McClafferty

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