9. Living with the Invisible Disability

Posted: April 2, 2009 in African American, Christianity, daughters, faith, fathers, Religion
Tags: , , , , , , ,


The following is an article written by Sabin Duncan, educator, philosopher, leader.  This article was previously published by “Written” sabin-1Magazine (Michelle Gipson, Editor in Chief).



“What you say?”

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”


“These and other requests for repetition are recurrent lines in my everyday conversation.  I’ve been called self-centered, a poor listener, deaf and a litany of other things.  While none of those labels accurately describe me, two words do: Hearing Impaired.


Being hearing impaired has shaped my personality, my relationships and my confidence.  While I have been blessed to experience some success in my life, I also had to work twice as hard to achieve it. Graduating with honors from college did not happen because I was so smart.  It happened because I went to every class, sat in the front row and read the entire textbook to compensate for what I did not hear in class.  Friends trust me with their deep whispered secrets, assured that I will never repeat.  However, what they may have never known is that repeating whispers is beyond my capabilities.


As a Black man in America, unfortunately I am keenly aware of how people attempt to define me by what they see.  So much of my life experiences have been spent countering stereotypes and disproving myths.  I have been equipped to deal with society’s fears regarding Black males.  I developed a knack for progress, despite racism.  Yet, being Black and being a man are things people can see; living with a hearing impairment is not. 


To my knowledge, there are no scholarly manuals, no public service announcements, and no talk-show debates for people with invisible disabilities.  We just live subjected unfair prejudges and frequent misunderstandings. 


Simple life experiences such as hearing the purr of a cat, the coo of a baby and the intricacies of a conference call, have been experiences I missed.  Not that I was not paying attention or was too self –absorbed, but because I simply could not hear them. 


Before I was married, I attempted to dissuade dating prospects from talking on the phone.  Instead, my meager romantic cover-ups were along the lines of “baby, I’d rather hold your hands and look into your pretty face, so I can see what you’re saying.”  They were unaware that because I rely on lip –reading, my comments were to be taken literally.  Now within the safety of marriage, my wife and I have a co-dependency, I can see very well so I point out what’s ahead and she can hear, I suppose with regular hearing, so she restates information I miss.  Thank God for her patience, because at the movies, I nudge her constantly to catch up on the dialogue.


Once I had a friend over to watch the game.  He made a flippant remark about the close captioning blocking the view.  His intentions were innocent, but the wound was deep.  Another time in college, I was in the backseat of a car exchanging erroneous dating tips with some classmates, one quipped about me being deaf after I continued to say “what’s that?”  That was my last time hanging with those clowns and the other friend still wonders why we don’t watch the games anymore. I know that those brothers are good guys, but in the years that have passed I haven’t been able to resolve the bitterness.


People who care have attempted consolation by assuring me that no one is perfect, that we all have flaws.  True, I have flaws but I never believed being hearing impaired was a flaw.  I never believed that God made me this way as some sort of sentence. I have wrestled with the idea of getting hearing aids and whether that is a rejection of how God made me.  Sounds like a cop-out, another barrier erected by fear, but since I am a progressive brother I just masquerade my intent to get hearing aids as an annual New Year’s resolution. 


I have become adept with perfectly timed, “is that right”, “get out of here”, “for real”, “I see”, “wow”, and other conversation fillers, yet I know that I have no idea what the other person is talking about.  And my ability to tune out is almost uncanny simply because I have to work so hard to tune in, tuning out is nearly a natural state.  Moreover, my patience and understanding for others is high, because I hope that by being patient and understanding to them, hopefully they will return the favor.


My daughters are hearing impaired.  Earlier this year, my eldest was enthralled with another episode of Yo Gabba Gabba! when she innocently turned to me and asked, “Daddy, can I have those things in my ear so I can hear better?”  Being the cool father that I am, I replied “oh baby, daddy will get those things for you and I’ll get some too, we can get them together!”  Her response was “yeah!” as she returned to DJ Lance Rock and the rest of the Gabba crew, which was good, because she did not see the tears that followed my statement.  She wouldn’t have been able to grasp how her little inquiry sent a massive wrecking ball through years of fears and insecurities.  She may never understand that without her, Daddy would have never gotten hearing aids.


Each morning, I walk my little angel to her kindergarten class.  Each morning, before we enter, I take the time to put her hearing aids in her ears.  I do that because I admire her casual strength in allowing her classmates to witness this moment.  I also use it as a daily reminder not to project my anxieties onto her.  She gives me a kiss and a big hug and joins her classmates in their morning routines with letter games, blocks and puzzles.  I stand there, thanking God and reliving the irony that the child helped the parent.  I’m supposed to bandage scrapped knees, smush spiders, turn on the nightlight, and all those other things to help my daughters overcome their fears.  But it took a simple question from a five year old to release me from a prison of barely audible fears.”


 Sabin and I now both don hearing aids.  Our hereditary disability has not stymied our stronghold on becoming intelligent, educated, responsible Black men.  Thank you Sabin for having the courage to say what I’ve been thinking.  I extend to you all the love one human being can muster up.


Your Big Bro,


Damon signature 


It should be duly noted that Sabin is in the final stages of completing his Doctorate of Education degree at Eastern Michigan University.  He is presently the COO of the fastest growing church in Detroit – Triumph Church, where Solomon Kinloch is the Pastor.  Sabin also owns and operates a professional education consulting firm, Measurable Advancements.







  1. Rashad says:

    I can honestly say that during our college years, I barely noticed Sab’s disability, so when I initially read this, it was educational for me as well.

  2. matt says:

    This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

  3. Kelly says:

    This article was beautifully written and very thought provoking. In many ways, Damon and Sabin we all live with some type of disability; we have to first accept it ourselves before we can move on. I have been a special education teacher for twenty years and some of the strongest people I know are the children that have come through my classrooms, that struggle to overcome whatever problems they have; some are learning disabled, some are emotionally impaired. Each struggles everyday to become something different. Within my own family, I have my nephew who struggles with the social and emotional problems that stem from ADHD. He is teaching us all that we have to encourage more, love stronger and harder, and be more accepting of others. I commend you for each trial you have overcome, because it has only made you stronger, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Keep doing the work you were meant to do, and keep encouraging others.

  4. Kim says:

    THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I’m not much of a blogger, but I had to get in on this one. Let me explain… My mother received her Masters Degree in Audiology and has been a Speech Therapist since I was 9 years old. She would test my hearing for her class assignments, teach me about all the intrical tiny parts of the inner ear, as well as sign language. She put so many beeps in my ear, I heard them in my sleep! LOL I complained for years how much she corrected my grammar and emphasized my diction and articulation…not knowing that I’d be singing and speaking/preaching before crowds of people one day. After she finished school and was well into her career, I never told my mother that my hearing slightly declined as an adolescent. (When she called me and I didn’t answer, she thought I was just being a rebellious teenager with an attitude problem LOL) Here I am almost 25 years later and after reading this blog today, I am openly sharing with the world what I have only told 2 (maybe 3) of my closest friends — and that was only because they had their hand over their mouths and I really wanted to know what they were saying. Yes, it’s true. I READ LIPS. There. I said it! It may not mean much to many people, but it has been a source of “volume” for me. Not speaking with your mouth full has been more than just good manners, but a lifelong pet peeve for me because I’m reading your lips and get to see all that you’re chewing…YUCK 🙂 I could go on and on…but I will stop here by saying again to the Duncan Duo… thank you!

  5. Aisha says:

    What a great peice! Thank you, Sabin, for sharing this.

  6. MichelleP says:

    Thanks for this Damon. This article is definitely a source of encouragement and enlightenment.

  7. Mel B says:


    You are wise beyond your years. Thank you for sharing – you… with all of us. Your thoughts are our thoughts. Your fears are our fears. We are all incredibly the same and splendidly different.

    Thanks Brother.

  8. Lisa says:

    This is an enlightening statement. A testimony to all that have experienced hearing impairment personally or second hand. As the mother of a hearing impaired son, the ‘situations’ you describe ring true daily in the life of my child. I recall him wearing hearing aids while in elementary school which helped. I also remember the point in time when he decided they looked too big and awkward and he refused to wear them. When he changed his mind, my insurance stopped covering the cost of them. He wanted the smallest ones available, completely in the canal (cic) which were priced at about $5,000. I prayed that since he was now willing, a way would be made. Surely enough, a few weeks after an appointment with an audiologist, I received a phone call. The woman who had just re-tested his hearing was telling me that a company gives away free hearing aids internationally. In the next month or so, they’d be donating brand new hearing aids in the Detroit area. She had selected my son as one of the recipients and all we had to do was come in so he could be fitted for the hearing aids of his choice, completely in the canal. No strings, no costs, no fees- I took a day off work and he missed a day of school. Last year was his senior year in high school. It was a gift beyond words… I am so grateful! Thank you for sharing this. It opens the door to deeper understanding for those who may not have understood~

  9. taupmayot says:

    Great site this fathersfootprints.wordpress.com and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

  10. Charisma says:

    Wow! Sabin your testimony really touched my heart. As you can see my vision is not the greatest. I’ve had my times when I didn’t want to wear my glasses but now you won’t catch me without them. I’ve had issues with people laughing at me because of my glasses and now I have to be careful because I’ve been robbed for my glasses. I understand your frustration! I’m glad you were able to put your fears behind you. Once again thanks for the encouragement and I agree with Mel B. You are wise beyond your years.

  11. Written Magazine was proud to share this article with our readers and hope that we were able to inform and educate through Sabin’s words.

    We all have our burdens and our test as Christians is how we carry our cross. Sabin has shown a way to transform his challenge so that his daughters will not have to carry one at all.
    Keep up the good work Duncan Brothers.

  12. Ivan B. says:

    Sabin – Thank you for sharing, Brother. Your words of wisdom and revelations are remarkable. As much as we try to impart truth, knowledge, and morality into our children – often times our children have a way of touching and teaching us with their innocent and wondrous spirit. We all have challenges to overcome. It is truly a beautiful thing when we are able to face them head on and conquer them. Thank you for the inspiration!

  13. M&M's Mommy says:

    I enjoyed reading every single word. The most touching part is how the child helped to heal the parent. My children heal me, teach me, and strengthen me almost everyday of my life. Isn’t God amazing! Our children can reach our innermost being and touch places we never knew existed. Mad love for Damon and Sabin. Keep doing the thang!

  14. Bells Royal says:

    The Duncan Brothers are the best. I read the artcle and as close as we were Damon, to tell you the truth, it wasn’t that I didn’t have compassion for your disability. You were the bomb and that was all that mattered. I felt the same way about Sabin. What role models!!!

    Blessings to you both. I admire both of you and I am also very proud of you.

    Bells Royal

  15. Cherie says:

    Amazing article that touches many subjects: the strength in our children, patience, overcoming our own fears… I’m reminded of a conversation I had with one of my line sisters just yesterday. We grew up in the same town, attended the same college, pledged on the same line and are closer friends now; and with almost every conversation, I learn something new that she’s endured, things that make me understand why/who she is today. You never know a person’s struggles, so it’s important that we remember to exercise patience and understanding with everyone we encounter. Thanks for that reminder!

  16. Charmaine says:

    Absolutely beautiful piece!


  17. LB says:

    I’m inspired to see that the disability did not hinder you guys from being great men in your communities. Much love and keep blazin new trails!!

  18. C. Moore says:

    Re: Father’s Footprints Blog

    Dang Sabin! I may not have told you this, but I’ve always admired and looked up to you, just as a strong, intelligent, positive Black man whose focus and discipline I’ve always envied. That feeling increases exponentially knowing that you had an additional impairment to overcome. I can’t believe I never knew you had a hearing impairment, and I’m proud of you for admitting your vulnerability and seeking assistance.

    On another note, you brothers should seriously consider starting a Fatherhood magazine. It’s an unexploited niche and I for one would subscribe….

    Stay up!

  19. Gaicyprar says:

    nice site this fathersfootprints.wordpress.com excellent to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

  20. Kelly T says:

    I really enjoyed this blog…wow it really touched me. I loved it

  21. Aaron T. says:

    Sabin…..truly inspiring! My eyes welled up. My wife juts let go:) You have taught me a lesson which I will never forget.

  22. Gaicyprar says:

    terrific site this fathersfootprints.wordpress.com great to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

  23. Anonymous says:

    Hi, nice post. I have been thinking about this issue,so thanks for sharing. I will probably be subscribing to your site. Keep up the good posts

  24. Awesome testimony, transparency, and example of who and what we were designed to be… witnesses! Sabin is an awesome colleague, friend, and little brother who not only talks the talk… but walks the walk daily–carefully, cautiously, and purposefully. The article and work that he does on behalf of children and creating high quality educational settings (via Measurable Advancement) daily are examples of the big impact we have when we allow God’s Light to shine through.

    Damon I have heard nothing but good things about you. Glad you decided to share it on your blog. I love the blog and will definitely return again soon.

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