EastEnders and Corrie are both tackling deaf storylines and it's a big deal

As I watched EastEnders character Ben Mitchell learn he had an additional loss of hearing this week following a dramatic boat crash, it felt very familiar to me.

In my case, it happened in a soundproof room when I was 13. I’d gone for a hearing test after my parents noticed I was shouting a lot more in everyday conversation (essentially, my perception of a ‘normal’ talking volume was a little off) and increasingly asking for people to repeat themselves.

At the end, the audiologist suggested I may benefit from hearing aids. While it’s different to Ben finding out he has an additional hearing loss, I imagine the initial shock is rather the same. My mind was flooded with questions: what will other people think? How will hearing aids work for me? There was also an overwhelming feeling of anxiety about what the future held.

Fortunately, the audiologist had most of the answers, but even then, I soon learned it was helpful to find other deaf people to talk to.

I found mine through a youth panel run by deaf charity The National Deaf Children’s Society, who I have to thank for helping me learn sign language and discovering my deaf identity. Now, as I read that Ben’s soon to meet fellow deaf person Frankie in future scenes, I’m excited to see a similar journey of discovery to my own represented on screen.

At this point I should mention that Ben acquired an additional hearing loss after the crash. He was already partially deaf after contracting meningitis as a baby, though there was some confusion last year over how this has been represented in the soap following Max Bowden’s turn in the role.

The actor later clarified the situation on Twitter, showing Ben still wears the hearing aid. With such devices often being the only visible signifier of an otherwise invisible disability, we shouldn’t focus on whether the small hearing aid can be seen in every single shot.

Instead, as we now get stuck into a new deaf storyline involving one of the Square’s resident villains, it’s more important that hearing audiences focus on the different barriers Ben will face, especially when some disabled people say that these are actually what disables them, as opposed to the actual condition.

To hone in on how Ben’s deafness is represented visually, rather than how it fits in to other aspects of his life, risks presenting Ben’s particular type of hearing loss as the only kind out there – a dangerous ‘one size fits all’ approach to disability representation.

After all, my deafness is very much different from my friends’. Some use British Sign Language, others lipread and a couple more combine speech and verbal communication.

While we all have varying levels of hearing loss, we all come across pretty much the same – if not similar – barriers, and the best representation recognises that. Lily, a deaf teenager from East Sussex, sums it up well when she tells me that ‘there are many forms of deafness and there are so many angles one can portray – whether it is humorous, political or general’.

So it is refreshing that we have two forms of deaf representation on our TV screens each week at the moment.

Over on Coronation Street, new parents Gemma and Chesney are processing the news that their son Aled is deaf. Their journey so far has seen them explore cochlear implants (a surgery where a hearing device is placed inside the skull and connected to the inside of the ear, which looks a little like a snail’s shell) and baby sign language courses.

As both soaps show their characters search for information and understanding, I suspect many hearing viewers will be doing the same as they learn more about my condition.

The fact that these storylines will run alongside each other demonstrates how deafness can affect people differently.

If done right, which I really hope they will be, the representation brings a new wave of awareness among hearing people, and helps to remove a feeling of isolation that so many deaf young people like me can face.

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