When two-year-old Emily dances, her mother Annabelle Xerri always dances with her – even though she cannot hear the music. 

“This is my normal. I don’t hear my daughter crying at night, yet I still wake up, as the baby monitor vibrating pad under the pillow alerts me. I don’t hear the doorbell, yet I still open the door if my daughter alerts me by pointing at the doorbell monitor. I don’t follow everything being said at university, yet I still attend lectures as I use the sign language interpreting service. I don’t hear the music my daughter is dancing to, yet I still dance with her. All this is part of my normal,” says Annabelle, who became deaf when she was six.

Annabelle and Emily form part of an awareness campaign launched today by the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability. Entitled ‘Different is Normal’, the campaign aims to increase the visibility of persons with a disability.  

The campaign kicked off with an exhibition of 12 activity shots, by photographer Darrin Zammit Lupi, showing people with various impairments doing what comes normal to them – from theatre and dance to running and swimming. 

Annabelle explains that after becoming deaf she first learned to lip read and eventually started learning sign language – something that immediately improved her life and opened up new opportunities.

She strongly believes that deaf children should learn sign language, insisting that this will improve their lives.

“Sign language will not stop deaf children from learning spoken languages. That’s a myth. Children can learn both types of languages,” says Annabelle, the vice president of Deaf People Association Malta and chair-person of the Maltese Sign Language Council. 

The young mother uses her Facebook page ‘A Silent World’ to lobby about the importance of sign language and offer support and awareness about the deaf community, by acting as a role model and giving readers someone or something to relate to.

My life is as normal as any hearing person’s

In the page she shares anecdotes about her life as a mother to Emily whom she describes as “a happy, stubborn little girl”. 

“On becoming a mother one of my fears was communicating with my child. Yet I am teaching Emily sign language, and when she signs it makes communicating with her so much easier,” she says.

Emily has a life-threatening rare disease – a type of inborn error of metabolism. This means endless hospital appointments during which Annabelle uses the service of sign language interpreters.

“There was once a person who told me that it was unfair for me, to have a child with a rare disease when I am also deaf. Yet I do not look at it that way – being deaf does not make me any more special. I am a normal human being, and my life is as normal as any hearing person’s life, and this includes life’s ups and downs,” she says adding that she gets lots of support from her husband.

The way she sees it, deafness is part of her identity. It is often society that makes her feel “different” due to lack of accessibility and lack of services for the deaf community such as subtitles.

“Being part of a minority does not mean being different. I am lucky to be surrounded by people who see me as ‘Annabelle’ – as a normal human being. My life is actually pretty normal – I drive, study, work, travel, swim, dance. I am married, we bought a home, I am a mother, I reached milestones, I am not perfect, I make mistakes, I failed, I cry, I laugh. I live! 

“I do not feel different at all, probably due to having a positive mindset and due to my determination,” she says adding that, like her daughter, she too is stubborn.

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