Does “correcting” a disability alter your identity?

How much does a disability define someone? Numerous charities, role models and awareness campaigns have taught society that an individual’s entire personality is not geared around a physical identifier. Yet, what would happen to a person’s own view of themselves if their disability was corrected?

Researchers in the US and Switzerland have discovered a potential way of treating forms of deafness that are associated with DNA. People, such as myself, who suffer hearing loss from birth are the most likely to benefit from a radical treatment that would use a virus to stimulate hairs in the air.

Initial tests have shown positive results by improving the hearing of mice and experts suggest that this could lead to a human treatment within a decade. That’s not to say that it would be a cure for deafness but, at the very least, it is still far greater than anything I could have imagined within my lifetime.

So why do I feel like I might refuse treatment?

I have lived with hearing aids since I was two years old. In the 24 years I’ve had them, my relationship with them has changed. As a young boy, they didn’t bother me. Most children are accepting and I never really encountered any problems. The teenage years were different. At 13, I started to grow my hair to cover them and I became increasingly self-conscious. What teenager doesn’t get unsure of themselves?

The last few years have seen me grow accepting and even fond of them. I take an odd pride in knowing that they’re what makes me different. There’s a strange satisfaction in challenging stereotypical views of hearing aids being for old people who struggle to keep up in conversation. Most of the time, it barely registers as a thing in my life.

Would having treatment make my life better? Absolutely. Would it come at the cost of altering who I am as a person? That is the question that is more difficult to answer. I can imagine getting old and struggling to walk. I can imagine the pain of losing my hair. I can even imagine hearing a doctor’s diagnosis of cancer.

What I can’t imagine is waking up and not reaching for my bedside table to put in my hearing aids.

Admittedly, there are millions of people who would jump at the chance to have a healthier life. There are far more serious disabilities than mine who deserve greater support and funding for research. Yet, I feel that there is a consideration to be made for the affect these improvements would make on how this person views themselves.

To put that in perspective: if a treatment is found that can radically improve my hearing to the point where I no longer need my aids, would the personal journey of acceptance that I have taken be for nothing?

That’s not a question that can be answered in 500 words.


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