Embracing every part of Dom's identity
Dom (17) had a very tough time growing up, but now he’s learnt more about his identity as both a disabled and black man, he’s using his voice to empower others.
After five years of hearing very little, Dom was fitted with a bone-anchored hearing aid (commonly referred to as a BAHA) and a whole new world opened up for him. “It was our miracle,” says mum Lyina. “We didn’t notice much when Dom first put it on, but when we got to the road outside the hospital, he literally fell to the floor because he could hear the cars for the first time. When we got home, he ran into the garden with his sisters and pointed to all the things he could hear.”
Born with axial mesodermal dysplasia, which causes various musculoskeletal deformities, Dom doesn’t have a fully-formed outer right ear (known as microtia). “In the first 24 hours of his life he needed surgery,” says Lyina. “It was a shocking time for us, the absence of the ear was the most shocking for me because it was visible. We lost quite a few friends because of it. We wouldn’t put up with negative comments around him.
“It wasn’t until he was two that I noticed he wasn’t speaking either. The doctor initially told us there was nothing we could do about his deafness, but when we were referred to Audiology, they gave him a hearing aid. He started school without any speech and we used Makaton around the house.”
Once his BAHA had been fitted, Dom was able to enjoy primary school – a mainstream school which specialised in supporting children with disabilities. “I enjoyed primary school because it was the norm for children to look or be different,” Dom says. With the help of speech and language therapy and much hard work at home, slowly Dom was able to speak in full sentences and express his emotions.
Sadly, though, mainstream secondary school was much tougher for Dom. “The first time the bullying happened, someone pulled Dom’s BAHA off his head and took it away,” Lyina explains. “They’d crush up his lunch, call him names, then it got physical. I called the National Deaf Children’s Society for advice, and eventually I got the hospital involved.”
Dom has since moved to a new sixth form college and made a fresh start. “I don’t want to concentrate on all the negatives,” he says. “The new school is great. They’ve given me a scribe and I find it really useful.”
Studying Applied Science at sixth form, Dom also plays the piano and is naturally talented at languages. He’s the only one of his five siblings who has learnt any Shona – the Zimbabwean language his parents speak. “It’s been really important to me to learn more about my history, especially my African side and the languages they speak,” Dom says. “I also enjoy learning about African music, culture and how people migrated from one part of Africa to another. I think researching my family history is a particular passion of mine.
“I was able to visit Cape Town in 2014 where my aunt lives and that’s where my interest partly came from. I loved hearing the local language on the train and noticed it sounded similar to my language of Shona. That’s when I did more research into languages and found they all stem from Bantu, which just means ‘people’. I find it really interesting.”
The month of October marks Black History Month, and Dom wants to use his voice to continue to raise awareness of double disadvantages. “Liverpool, where I live, is a very diverse city and you rarely see racism here,” Dom says. “Even my bullying was never to do with race. But when people look at me, I’m black first, then disabled. Those are two parts of me. I do think it’s important to speak up because not everyone is as lucky to live in such a diverse place as me. It’s important to speak up for deaf people and for black people.”
Joining the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Young People’s Advisory Board (YAB) has also helped Dom to learn to use his voice. “I joined the YAB because I want to be a voice for those who are at a double disadvantage like me, being black and deaf,” Dom says. “I got to meet another black deaf young person on the YAB too. It was good being able to build our campaign about deaf awareness in schools using many different voices, ethnicities and types of deafness. I just want to see better treatment for all in social environments like schools, workplaces and hospitals.”
Through the YAB, Dom even got to ask Labour party leader Sir Kier Starmer a question. “He actually responded to my question about how we can improve support for those who are doubly disadvantaged – I was shocked,” Dom says.
Now Dom has found his voice, he has very big plans for the future. “I’ve found my voice and I think I now need to be speaking up,” Dom says. “The first thing people see is that I’m black and then that I have no ear. The assumption is I won’t achieve anything, so people don’t bother.
“But I’ve got a whole life plan for the future. I want to do something in the medical field, I want to give something back. Maybe I’ll be a pharmacist or something within paediatrics. I would like to continue campaigning too. One day I might be Health Secretary. I didn’t see many faces on the TV that look like me growing up; I’d like to inspire others that if I can do it, then they can too.”
Autumn 2022 Families magazine