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Danielle’s deaf dating experiences

Photo: Danielle in her bedroom on her phone.

Swimming champion Danielle’s love life has taught her to be confident in her deafness and to know her own self-worth.

Meeting a man for a date at the cinema, Danielle (23) was nervous. Without subtitles, she knew she’d have to be Googling the plot afterwards so she could talk about what they’d just watched. But when she arrived she realised she didn’t need to be worried. “He’d actually emailed Odeon asking for a subtitled viewing for me. There are good guys out there!”

Danielle’s deafness was progressive and picked up when she was five years old. It was a mild loss at first but then at 12 it became moderate and she was given hearing aids to wear.

At 16 years old, things changed again as her hearing went completely in one ear and never came back. “That’s when the frustration kicked in,” Danielle says. “I’ve always been sporty and I started competing in swimming when I was six. When I lost my hearing, my coaches began to ignore me because I couldn’t hear them. I hated being deaf but now I see it as a blessing.”

Being a deaf swimmer brought something new to Danielle’s life too when she was spotted by a talent scout. “They asked if I’d heard of GB Deaf Swimming and told me the Deaflympics were next year,” she says. “I went along to a training session and got into the team!

“I met all these new deaf people. It was overwhelming but so good. They opened my eyes to signing and now I know some sign language in American, Russian; all sorts of languages! When I first joined, I had beige hearing aids but the whole swimming team had amazing coloured ears. I went home and asked my audiologist for some in bright blue and sparkles! Why not flaunt it?”

After school, Danielle studied Sport and Exercise Science at Stirling University where some people on her swimming team weren’t very understanding of her deafness. “I’ve always stood up for myself,” she says. “Now being deaf has made me even more determined to break down barriers and show people what I’m worth. It spurred me on to break a world record in swimming, well two actually!”

Since leaving university, Danielle has become a personal trainer. She loves her job but socialising with work friends can be difficult. “Going out is a challenge,” she says. “I get so tired talking to people I don’t know with background music on. If we go for family dinners, I always choose my seat first. With friends, they’ll repeat back to me what the waiter says.”

Because of this, Danielle initially worried about dating. “I had a first love who was with me when I went deaf,” she says. “He was so supportive and even learnt sign language. Unfortunately he turned out not to be the one.

“My second boyfriend at university was great as well. When we went on our first date he asked my friend the best quiet restaurant to take me to, asked me all about my deafness and even visited me before the date so we could chat in a quiet environment. Unfortunately the bar we went to that night just happened to have the football team in and I couldn’t hear a thing! We were together 18 months and I told him a year later ‘You know that first date we went on? I don’t have a clue what you spoke to me about!’”

Now Danielle is dating again and she says she’s learnt a lot since she’s been single. “Dating is hard for anyone but there are extra challenges being deaf,” Danielle explains. “For example some people think if you’re deaf you can’t communicate. I feel like it’s a bombshell I have to drop on them. Often nowadays you meet people through social media or dating apps and people will learn you’re deaf before they meet you. Sometimes they ask a million questions and then disappear.

“I’ve noticed my hearing friends are nervous on the way to a date about meeting the guy but I’m not nervous about that, I’m nervous about coping with the situation. What if I have to say ‘What?’ more than twice? Am I going to hear what the waiter says?”

And unfortunately for Danielle, she had one really bad experience. “Someone stood me up because they found out I was deaf,” Danielle explains. “I shared it on social media and so many people with so many different disabilities responded saying it had also happened to them. But then lots of people without disabilities also replied and told me that guy was awful, I got so many date offers! Out of the 100,000 people who responded, there was only one negative response.

“When I’m dating, most people are lovely and it makes a real difference when people don’t pussyfoot around it. I asked the guy I’m dating at the moment ‘Does my deafness bother you?’ and he said ‘No why would it?’. At the end of the day if that person is for you then nothing will matter.

"We were all made to be different and being deaf is one of those things that makes you unique and cool."

“I would say to other deaf young people worried about dating, embrace your deafness. Don’t dare try and push it down. Wear your hair up. If you need to say ‘What?’ more than once then do it! We were all made to be different and it’s one of those things that makes you unique and cool. If you know sign language, you can speak with your hands – that’s amazing! If the person you’re dating doesn’t like it, they’re not the one, on to the next. There are eight billion people out there.”