How To Interact With Deaf People & What Not to Do



Welcome, everyone, to a new monthly collaboration series between me and the lovely Simone, author of The BeautifulxImperfections Journal. Simone, like me, is hearing impaired, though she is based in the UK. We met on Twitter by chance when I came across her feed, and then as soon as I found out that she was a deaf blogger, I not-so-subtly stalked her. On her blog, Simone talks about mental health, lifestyle, her obsessions (the girl is hella fond of Philkas from Eyewitness) and a bit of this and that and everything in between.

We chatted for a bit and then the idea for a collaboration came about. We wanted to talk about deafness and spread a bit of awareness out there. We decided for our first post to be of the Do and Don't variety, because while these things should be obvious enough, a lot of people in today's society lack the common sense or tact when meeting or socialising with us.

DO

1. Ask us about our hearing. Honestly, I am more than happy to answer any questions people have about my hearing impairment because each and every one of us are not the same. We all have varying degrees of hearing ability and different levels of communication. Some deaf people are able to hold a conversation on the phone flawlessly while others may have very limited speech. They’re not all the same, so just ask and don’t be afraid. We’ll respect you a lot more.

Me: I prefer to listen and lipread at the same time, to be able to connect sound and word together. Sometimes, I misunderstand people when I can't hear at all, however, I can hold silent conversations with my mum and sister, as that is all we need to communicate with each other. I can sometimes listen to Sean without lipreading if he's right next to me and he's speaking at his normal volume because I'm attuned to his speech.

It’s always good to educate people. Hearing loss is something that is rarely spoken about, so the more we educate people, the more people learn about the different types of hearing loss. Do you want to learn sign language? Ask us and we'll happily teach you. Keep in mind that our sign language is not universal, every country has their own language. There may be some similarities, but overall, they're usually different. Ask about our devices if you’re curious. We have a lot of devices that help us with things, such as captioning devices at the cinema, Music Link Ear Hooks that work in the same way as earphones only that they connect to our hearing aids, and our hearing aids themselves.


2. Repeat things if necessary – If I don’t understand something, I will either say “pardon?” or “can you say that again?” If we ask you to do that, please repeat what you said! It’s super helpful and we just appreciate it when someone takes the time to repeat themselves, even if that means repeating themselves 3 or 4 times. 

Adjust your volume according to your surroundings. We struggle so much when we're in loud places because it's really hard to make out a conversation when there is a lot going on. Parties, nightclubs, festivals, bars and restaurants are some of the places that make it difficult for us. It’s so helpful when someone speaks up, and pronounces their words more clearly in these cases.

Simone: I find it particularly difficult to hear people in loud, overcrowded spaces with lots of background noise, so this is when I’ll most likely ask for something to be repeated.

Me: Ditto. I also tend to ask people to repeat themselves when my surroundings are dark and I can’t lipread very well.


However, do make the effort to speak to us properly. We're not going to be able to understand you if you mumble, speak too quickly or keep turning away from us. Speak clearly and maintain eye contact. Eye contact is so important, it’s polite and it’s common courtesy.

Simone: I can understand a person much more clearly if they’re speaking to me directly and maintaining eye contact. It shows that you’re paying attention to me, that you are interested in talking to me and that you are focused on me, therefore I’m more focused on what you are saying.

Do make the effort to include us in group conversations. More often than not we are left out because we're not able to follow the discussions. Take the time to be patient with us. We really like socialising with other people, and anyone who has the patience to chat with us despite potential confusion is amazing.  


DON'T

1. Don’t tell me that I’m not listening. Statements like “You never listen to me,”, “You don’t listen to what I say,” or “Listen to what I’m saying” just make us feel… well, crap. We can’t help it. We try our hardest to understand you, but sometimes, we’ll be told something and it hasn’t clicked in our brain for us to completely understand it. We’re giving you our full attention, but we might miss a sound that’s supposed to connect to a word, or we put the wrong words to the wrong sounds. This results in us coming up with entirely different results or responses, as we try to pick apart the sentence and put it back together in the way that makes the most sense at the moment.

Me: This happens to me a lot, especially when I’m tired, when people are too close to my face or are too far away for me to lipread properly. It also happens when the surroundings are too dark. It actually results in arguments and resentment sometimes. I always double check if I doubt that I haven’t gotten it right, and might even confirm it a third time just to be safe.


Don’t speak too fast or too soft. If you speak too quickly without taking a breath, there is no way we’re gonna hear you! If you’re mumbling, we have no hope. PRONUNCIATION IS THE KEY. We might also have trouble understanding you if you have an accent, and what most people don't get is that lipreading is a challenge when you speak in a way that's so different to what we're used to.

We are really trying our hardest, we try so hard that it results in us getting exhausted or headaches. It hurts when you tell us that we’re not listening because we are, but you just don’t seem to want to understand that.

2. Don't speak slowly unless we ask you, and when we do, just slow it down a tad. Otherwise, you'll come across as patronising and ignorant. Intentionally speaking slowly is rude, especially if you're opening your mouth wide and mockingly enunciating each syllable. Also, do not mime the words. It is incredibly offensive and a lot of us won't hesitate to chew your head off, report you to your boss in hopes that you get fired from your job, or if we're especially pissed off, punch you in the neck.

Don’t laugh at us when we tell you that we are deaf or hearing impaired and then ignore us. It is demoralising and only serves to make you look rude and childish. Don’t say “never mind,” and then ignore us.

Simone: THIS FRUSTRATES ME THE MOST HENCE WHY IT’S IN CAPITALS. When someone says something, but you didn’t quite catch it and you ask them to repeat it, and then they turn around and say “oh, never mind,” You are the rudest and most inconsiderate person ever, in my opinion. This indicates to me that you don’t have the time or the consideration for me to repeat what's probably going to take less than a minute to repeat. I noticed this when I was in high school, no one educated themselves about my hearing loss and when they said 'never mind' it felt like I was being pushed to the back. I wish I spoke up about it, because really, it’s just common sense and manners.


3. Don't have fun at our expense. Don't assume that the "rude gestures" that you learned in primary school is sign language. They aren't, and it just makes you come across as an ignorant and immature asshole. We are not toys for you to test your gibberish out on. Don't talk about us if you have nothing nice to say. Almost all of us are exceptional lip readers, and will most certainly "overhear" your conversation.

Don't laugh at or make fun of us if we mispronounce a word. Instead, correct or teach us how to pronounce it properly. A lot of us learn new words from reading and pronounce it the way we read it. We don't have the advantage of overhearing conversations to pick up new words or the way they are pronounced unless they're spoken to us. Also, some of us don't know that we're saying things incorrectly because we can't properly hear ourselves speak. We might get the visual speech pattern correct, but we might get the sounds wrong.

Me: Another thing that really, really pisses me off is when people push this button: shouting in my ears or playing a game where they talk behind their hand or my back to see if I can understand them. What is the point of doing that last one? The only time that sort of thing is acceptable is when an audiologist is testing my hearing. Otherwise, how rude can you get? Do you have any respect for me whatsoever? Are you asking to be kicked in the nads?

Also, don't ask us stupid questions like "Do deaf people drive?", "Can you have babies?", "Is deafness contagious?" or "Do you read Braille?" We question your intelligence and whether you were dropped on your head as a baby. Keep the dumb questions to yourself.

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If you haven't had any experience in socialising with deaf people, that's okay, because there are two ways to go about it; one is to ignore, isolate or alienate us (if you do this, prepare to be hated upon) and the other is to communicate with us like every other person that you meet. We all prefer the latter, and these days, in established countries, we are experiencing less discrimination, as well as getting more facilities suited for our deafness and hearing impairments. It's an arduously slow process, but we are getting there. Other races are not so lucky, some having deep-seated superstitions that end up ostracising people like us, or having very little education on the disability.

A lot of us have been deaf since birth or early childhood and we've grown up around our deafness, we've adapted it and turned it into a lifestyle. We have a community, we have a language, we are a race. We don't need or want pity, we don't want you to pray for us or "heal" us. We get this a lot, and frankly, it is offensive. We do not see it as an illness.

Eventually, Simone and I will talk about deafness in the media and entertainment. We're going to provide some examples and talk a little bit about each and every one. We have lots of other ideas that we hope to discuss with you guys. I really like the idea that we're doing something that goes towards raising awareness for deafness.

Do you have any questions that you would like us to answer? Maybe a request for a post?
 
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