Saturday, July 7, 2007

What To Do When You Meet A Deaf Person

Unless I am surrounded by other Deaf people and we are using our hands to communicate in sign language, Deafness is a hidden disability. No one knows you're deaf until they try to speak with you and get no response. People can't tell you're deaf until you whip out a paper and pen and start writing to them. Unless your hearing aid is visible, they don't know you're deaf. Having a hidden disability can be both a blessing and a curse.

There have been too many times to count, where I have gone to the stores and had a sales clerk come up to me and start talking to me from behind. I don't notice them walking up to me, being busy looking at something. Then sometimes I get a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, like something doesn't feel right. Looking up, I'm startled to see someone standing so close to me, looking a little irritated at me. I realize at the moment they must have been talking to me and I do the gesture, 'point at ears and shrug'. When the person understands I can't hear, they get all sympathetic and apologize. Most of the time, they walk away, never to return and even to the point of avoiding me. Sometimes, I'll get the occasional beginner signer that wants to practice with me-- "I know sign language!! Look--" then they proceed to finger spell very slowly, "m...y n...a...m...e i...s k...no wait, I mean p...a....t...t...y." They don't realize that they take so long to sign and I really have better things to do.

Don't get me wrong, I AM glad that they are learning sign language and I know they need to practice to keep improving and sign faster, but when I am shopping, you are intruding on my time. You have no idea if I am in a hurry and do you do that to hearing customers??

I have been to restaurants and instead of telling the waiter (or waitress) what I want, I point at the menu. It is unbelievable how many times I have gotten dirty looks and the roll of the eyes! Maybe hearing people don't realize how expressive their faces can be, but Deaf people rely on facial expressions and we can usually tell how you feel just by the look on your face, no matter what your words may be saying. There is nothing more frustrating for me to have the waiter start telling me what the special is, going on and on, all his words falling on deaf ears, even after I told him I am deaf. So I sit there and wait until his mouth stops moving and then point at the menu.

It's always a pleasant surprise to go somewhere, say a yard sale, and finding the person to be fluent in sign language. I can relax a little and sign back. If they are a hearing person, it's always curious to me where they learned sign from-- Deaf relative, co-worker, friend?

There are also people who understand that I am Deaf and make special effort, umm, too much effort. The louder voice, exaggerated mouth movements, wild hand gestures, or just talking to me like I am a 5 year old. Or how about the hearing people that, no matter what they do, you just can't understand-- long mustache covering the lips, really bad teeth so that you are distracted looking at the teeth instead of the lips, hands covering the mouth, to name a few.

When you meet a Deaf person, please know that they are normal humans just like you, they simply can't hear. If you talk and get no response, tap them on the shoulder so we don't jump when we find someone strange standing so near. Talk normally, but a little clearer than normal-- like if you usually mumble your words, slow down a little and don't use complicated words. Keep it simple. And if you are a beginner signer, ask permission first, to practice your spelling or signs on us. It might earn you some free signing tips because you were nice enough to ask.

One more thing, there are DIFFERENT levels of Deafness. Some Deaf people can talk well, some can't talk at all, and some talk a little strange, what we call 'Deaf voice'. Some Deaf people are more comfortable than others in communicating and willing to do whatever it takes to get the point across. Then you have your more subdued Deaf people who would just as soon get it over with as quick as possible. So because you meet a Deaf person that can talk well, please don't get frustrated when you meet another that can't talk at all.

We are all different, whether we are hearing or deaf, in wheelchairs or blind, but we are also human. No one is perfect. You might meet someone that makes you feel uncomfortable, maybe you could get to know them a little, understand where they are coming from and just treat them with the respect we all deserve. What goes around comes around, and some day, you might find yourself in the same spot.

22 comments:

DJ Kirkby said...

Ah what a beautiful post. I learnt a lot thank you. I have to confess that if I saw a hearing aid in someone's ear I would assume they were able to hear to some degree, otherwise why wear a hearing aid? Please explain... I would never normally touch a stranger, not even to tap but wil def do so if I see someone has a hearing aid and I am behind them.

The Good Woman said...

Once again, Jenny, you've got me thinking about something I've not thought about very much before. Thank you. I'll remember this.

Piedmont said...

Your quote for 7/5 is not true...God is omnipresent according to Holy Scripture. Arab bible is not reliable. Thanks

Krissie said...

I am learning so much from you with every new post. I am so happy I stumbled upon your blog!

Iota said...

What an informative and feeling post. I have learnt a lot. Thank you.

Dana said...

Thank you for the pointers!

lady macleod said...

well said. I have had such positive response here to the fact I can sign even though I am one of the slow ones for sure! I think you are a kick, deaf or hearing!

Bill said...

I posted part of your article, and linked back to you

http://billcreswell.wordpress.com/2007/07/09/what-to-do-when-you-meet-a-deaf-person/

I ask, as a hearing person, that you apply mercy to us. Most of us have met/know people in wheelchairs, some who are blind, but the deaf, if they are as many, are not "visible", as you mentioned. I had no idea how many lived in my are, because interaction is not common.

Only through a misunderstanding, did I even start communicating with people in the Deaf community, and it has opened up a new world.

Back to learning ASL online.

jenny said...

Dj-- Thank you. There are some Deaf people like me, who wear hearing aids to hear sounds. I might not hear everything (can't hear high pitch) but I will be able to hear the loud bang of the door slamming, or I can hear someone talking, but don't know where they are, or who they are talking to or what they are saying. I just hear someone talking. I can hear my kid crying but have to run all over the house trying to pinpoint where the crying is coming from.

there are some deaf people that can hear well with a hearing aid to the point of talking on the phone. That used to be me.

Some deaf people wear them out of habit, even if it doesnt help them much any more, it's a little bit of denial there, I think. that might be me someday...

Good Woman-- You're welcome!

Piedmont-- Maybe it isnt true for you, but I like it and it's MY blog. Thank you for coming by.

Krissie-- Aww, you're making me blush! Thanks!

iota and Dana-- You're welcome!

Lady M-- I knew you had lots of other languages under your belt, but had no idea you knew sign, too! You are just full of surprises! Thanks!! You're a kick, too! Thanks for coming back!

CAS said...

This is a great post. I have a deaf cousin (actually both he and his wife are deaf) but it isn't talked about at all and as far as I can remember it was never addressed so it is nice to get a little perspective. We just spoke a little slower and directly to them as kids and both spoke back in what you call 'deaf voice'. It is good to be reminded and informed. Funny how the internet eliminates this particular disability because honestly until you mention it I almost always forget you are deaf but then I haven't met you in real life so there is no memory to call to mind. Again, thanks for this post.

sufferingsummer said...

oops I left that comment signed in as my husband...but it was me, summer...sorry.

Darlene Q. said...

Thank you, Jenny for clearing it up for me when meeting a deaf person. I always wondered how I would approach a deaf person. This gives me a head up and the polite way. I am currently one of those beginner sign language students and is loving the new signs I learn each day. But thank you for sharing your life experience with us all. I would to get mad if I was shopping and someone was trying to learn sign and tale so slow.. I would too be mad. I understand you there. Anyhow I love your page and take care.
Have a great day.
Darlene Q

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Thanks, Jenny, for an informative post. Many of us don't know what to do when we meet a deaf person. And as you point out, there are different degrees of deafness. But you got me thinking because I often don't hear people who are behind me and speaking to me. I think I better get my hearing checked.

jenny said...

Bill-- Welcome! Thanks for linking to me, but I wasnt able to find your post. I would not intentionally brush aside someone that genuinely wanted to learn sigh language. I like to think I have more patience than most, but catch me while I have 3 little kids hanging on me, then that's another story! Thanks for stopping by.

jenny said...

Summer-- I have known some deaf friends that come from hearing families and it is often that way, not talked about. When hearing family members outnumber deaf members, usually no one bothers to learn sign. And then the deaf person is desperate to socialize with other deaf people. I'm not saying that your family is like that, I'm just saying that's what I have seen. I am one of the lucky ones to have a deaf family and grew up feeling quite normal. It wasnt until going to school did I discover there was something "wrong" with me and my family. Normal is relative...

I always like hearing from you and thanks for coming back!

jenny said...

Darlene Q-- Welcome! and Thanks for your kind comments. I am pleased you like my blog. Keep practicing and before you know it, you'll be a speedy signer! Please come back again.

Coffee-- It could be you're distracted, but it doesnt hurt to get your hearing checked out. If I could hear, I would be one of those "line talkers", making small talk with people while in line. But I can't always understand people so I busy myself with whatever I am doing. Thanks for coming by.

Drunk Mummy said...

Fascinating post - I agree with dj though, I would feel rather rude tapping a deaf person on the shoulder. Although judging from your post, some people do far worse things than that!

Lantana said...

Mountain Mama,as usual you covered some great points!

Another thing that really galls me is hearing people who constantly give me the "thumbs up" sign. An affirmitive head nod is plenty! And what about when a waitress comes up to you after you have finished your meal and rubs her tummy, meaning "Was your meal good?"

Arrrrgh!

Lantana

abc said...

Here's a funny story (true)...

Several years ago a Deaf man was walking in a rough neighborhood, about 11 pm... very dark street. Suddenly he felt someone was near him and he turned around. Yes, a guy was right behind him with a GUN!!! He was trying to hold up!

The Deaf man pointed to his ears and used his Deaf voice to say "I'm Deaf"...

The mugger got so frustrated he turned and ran off!!

When my friend told me this story, he agreed, he could easily be Dead too!!!

Annie said...

Well said, and thank you for the insight.

hearingaustintx said...

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Mia said...

A very good post. I'll definitely keep what you've written in mind.


One thing I wonder about, though, is the dirty looks for pointing to the menu. Is this always people whom you've told you're deaf?
If not it may not be that they're prejudiced or even just ignorant, it's that you've offended them.
You said yourself deafness is an invisible disability, and for a hearing person to point instead of speaking to a server is considered incredibly rude. I worked in retail for a long time and I encountered deaf people, however, I encountered FAR more rude people. There are people out there who treat service workers like they're inferior, so if they don't know you're deaf they probably think you just don't care to interact with them.