Disability and I: Courtney McGrath


“What did I say?” – a question somebody regularly asked me when I was younger, after trying to test my lip-reading skills by making exaggerated expressions with their mouths while looking rather foolish

I used to think this was a cool skill to have when I was younger, because no one else in my class was able to do it.  Because I was deaf and my classmates thought I could lip read every conversation, they would never talk about me, or so I thought.
I have worn hearing aids since I was five year old.  My hearing didn’t really affect me in my primary school years; kids did not care or understand what ‘those things in my ears’ were, so I barely thought about it and just got on with being a kid.

Things changed towards the end of primary school. One day, a friend told me that there was a guy in my class who didn’t like me just because I couldn’t hear. This was the first time I felt different, and it was a turning point for me when paranoia set in and I believed everyone thought this way about me.

So, going into secondary school, I made it my mission to make sure that people didn’t think I was any different from them.

I always wore my hair down covering my hearing aids, and if, for PE, I needed to tie-up my hair, I’d style it perfectly to hide the aids.  I became an expert in lip reading every conversation I could. Unfortunately, this only worked for a while: some of my classmates began to think I was rude or stuck up if I seemingly ignored them because I didn’t hear.

A favourite trick of mine in group conversations was reading the person’s facial expression and mimicking their emotions or actions. Nine times out of ten I just laughed and hoped it was an amusing story.

I was born with a mid-frequency hearing loss, which meant I could hear high and low pitched sounds but not in the middle – not ideal for hearing conversations.

When I was 15 my hearing got drastically worse and I realised I could not hear my teacher. An unideal situation considering my Junior Cert was looming.  I had just started going out with my friends and I had great difficulty hearing conversations in noisy situations, I wasn’t enjoying social gatherings that are meant to be fun rites of passage for teenagers.

I concentrated on my teachers and lip read as much as I could and did my best with the help of good friends to deal with social gatherings.

My life changed just after my 16th birthday, when the team in Beaumont Hospital explained, that I had now become profoundly deaf and would be eligible for Cochlear Implants.  

On the 17th of December 2014 I underwent an operation for bilateral cochlear implant surgery. This meant that my original hearing in both of my ears would be taken away.

A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. Unlike hearing aids, which make sounds louder, cochlear implants do the work of damaged parts of the inner ear (cochlea) to provide sound signals to the brain’.

For a whole month I was without hearing and while I was spoilt by my family and it gave me time to reflect about what it would be like to never hear again, I was anxious and excited for that day in January 2015, when it was time to be “switched on”.

I will forever be grateful for the great work of the implant team in Beaumont, especially Professor Laura Viani and Mr Peter Walshe.

My life changed forever on that January day.  I can now hear clocks ticking, doors creaking and birds chirping, these may seem like not a big deal for the ordinary hearing person, but they mean a lot to me.

Some people presume that if you are deaf you can’t hear a single thing, but there are different levels of deafness and different aids that people use to help them achieve hearing and being able to communicate, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, sound amplifiers, lip reading and sign language.

I am proud to be deaf. It is  just who I am, I can’t change it, all I can do is own it and not let it stop me from getting to the places I want to go and doing things I want to learn and experience.

Now, I’m in my second year in Trinity College studying Business and Sociology, and I’m truly loving every minute of it. I’m also studying sign language (ISL) in my spare time.  I’m planning on where to work abroad this summer, so to think I used to be scared of ordering what I wanted in my chicken fillet roll is a huge plot twist. It’s being a crazy four years since I got my implants and I’m so proud of how far I have come.

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8 thoughts on “Disability and I: Courtney McGrath

  1. Well said Courtney. You are an amazing girl, of course you are, Sandra Courtney being your mammy and all. 😘 seriously though you are a brave, intelligent, strong and beautiful young woman. A true role model!

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  2. Fantastic read my daughter is 19 and was implanted age 14 her journey was similar to yours, congrats on your achievements you’ve done great !

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  3. I really liked your writing style and your story! I remember my friends doing the same “lip reading test.” Definitely missed out on some rite of passage rituals like junior/prom dances.. It is definitely reassuring to be able to find common ground amongst others and know that you aren’t alone in your experiences.

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