How not to be a dick to deaf people by Bea Webster
I absolutely love this post by Bea Webster and had to reblog it (…but didn’t know how so just copied and pasted it!). Her blog is here.
I thought I would put up my own sort of a very brief mini deaf awareness blog that may contain non-PG words (actually, it does). They are of course my opinion, and may not apply to all deaf people. I’ve thrown in a few of my experiences for better understanding, and maybe some giggles. We’ll see.
Note: if you did any of the below without ill intentions, but someone corrected you and you stopped doing it, then that’s fine… But if you keep doing it, then that’s another story.
1. Appreciate that there are many different types of ‘deafness’, and not all deaf people are the same.
For example, I’m a cochlear implant user, and for me that means I have total hearing as much as a machine can give me, but just not the hearing ‘hearing’ people have, thus I can hear and speak relatively well. In my experience, it tends to mean that I mispronounce or mishear words. Often. Very often. Like when I went camping on a summer’s day in Arran, I went into my tent which I forgot to zip up and I screamed “OH MY GOD THERE’S SO MANY FUCKING MIDGETS EVERYWHERE!” to the amusement of my laughing mum and sister, which they proceeded to correct me that it was pronounced ‘midges’ not ‘midgets’. The people on the campsite must’ve thought I was a narrow minded offensive person. Or the time I kept calling Scottish people ‘sausage people’, or the fact that I said ‘cling fling’ instead of cling film for nearly my whole life. Thanks Mum, for never correcting me.
For some deaf people, some may not have any hearing at all and only sign. Some use both. Some only speaks. Surprise, like any other human being, there is a diversity among deaf people. Who would’ve thought?
2. For the love of God, please DO. NOT. SPEAK. LIKE. THIS. Don’t exaggerate your speech. I mean, HOW. WOULD. YOU. LIKE. ME. TO. SPEAK. TO. YOU. LIKE. THIS. BACK? I mean, if you did this to a deaf person who doesn’t have any hearing (as opposed to having hearing aids or cochlear implant) what bloody difference would it make??? There’s a thing called Common Sense…
Not only this is patronising, it will also distort your natural lip pattern, making it harder to lipread. Which brings around the next point about lipreading…
2. Lipreading on its own is mostly guesswork and trying to connect the dots, which is incredibly exhausting. I rely on both lipreading AND hearing. Normally I can’t do one or the other. Most of the time if I spend so much time with someone I can hear their voice without lipreading (i.e. over the phone) so I don’t rely on it as much but it still will tire me out.
I mean, so many words probably are too similar for me when it comes to lipreading, for example mistaking clock for cock. Very different. Yes. Different.
The same goes for lipreading sick… And dick. Again, very different. I think you get the pattern by now?
3. Don’t be afraid to ask the deaf person questions on how to communicate/work with them. They won’t bite. I hope. Most of us will help, but if there’s some that snaps at you for such questions (where you try to improve communication or understand their deafness and so on), then that’s their loss. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Also, you may not know but British Sign Language (BSL) is a language on its own right, and not the same as English. BSL is not a word for word translation of Enlgish. BSL has its own grammatical rules, linguistic deeper than English, has its own regional variations (the sign for ‘arrangement’ in Scotland is the same as ‘fuck’ in England, a mistake I learnt the hard way), it uses many elements (handshape, facial expression etc) to express meaning and so on. So if you think communicating fully with just using pen and paper cuts it for all deaf people, it’s not necessarily true.
4. Don’t say “oh, never mind”or “it’s not important” when a deaf person ask you to repeat what you were saying. It’s not nice. I had it so often and it often made me feel unimportant. Am I not important enough for you to make a bit of effort in repeating it, writing it down or even rephrasing it? I do make a lot of effort communicating with people, and when it’s not returned it can be disheartening. If I’d had a pound coin every time this happened in school, I’d be rich. Filthy rich. Alas, I am not, and it did knock my confidence down as a teen.
Although, there are few times where no matter what, I still can’t get you especially in a position when you can’t write or text and that’s okay. Like I was in the car with my ex-girlfriend who was driving, and she said something and I must’ve asked her to repeat maybe 10 times (and she did it without making me feel stupid), and it still went over my head, but we laughed and forgot about it. It was slightly awkward but please laugh about it! Don’t make me feel stupid!
5. However, there are questions or statements that you shouldn’t really ask. These are some examples of questions I have actually been asked, such as…
“How do deaf people drive?”
With our eyes? We’re deaf, not blind. I think eyes are a requirement in driving, not ears… Wrong body part.
“You’re deaf? So you can’t have children?”
First of all, I said I was deaf. I didn’t say that I have some condition that made giving birth impossible. Nor is deafness connected to the womb somehow. Just because we’re deaf doesn’t mean we defy the laws of biology.
“Really? You’re too pretty to be deaf!”
You’re too ugly to be hearing. Does that makes sense? No.
“I’m surprised because you don’t look deaf!”
What did you expect us to look like, that guy from Star Wars?
(After explaining how a cochlear implant works and having years of speech and language therapy)
“How is your speech so good?” or “Your speech is so good!”
This never made sense to me, especially after explaining it. It gives me hearing, not necessarily worse than a ‘hearing’ person, just very differently. And did I not just say I had speech and language therapy? So on that basis, I should be able to form coherent words… Right? But I *normally* don’t take offence because normally a person means well.
“But you don’t sound deaf!”
What is a deaf person supposed to sound like? “Hab SoSlI’ Quch!”? Oh wait, that’s Klingon. I might have accidentally insulted you. Oops.
“You’re deaf? I’m so sorry to hear that…”
Oh really? I’m sorry I’m standing here listening to you.
6. Don’t cover your mouth while talking. Also, don’t look away while you talk. Make sure your face isn’t dark (as in poor lighting). This seems like common sense but far too many people keep “forgetting” to do this. I have seen few guide on how not to be a dick to deaf people by other deaf people where sometimes bloggers will even go as far as to telling men to shave off if they have. Like. No. Beards are good. (I’m a self confessed beardsexual.) But really, you can’t just tell people what to do with their body. Maybe… Just try to trim around your mouth area so we can lip read you? Just a suggestion? But yeah, the main point is not to cover your mouth.
Although it is hard when I travelled to Dubai, as I found it very difficult to communicate with women with headscarves that covers their mouth. I went to one for help in Dubai Airport, and she got so offended when I asked her to write down or even point at the map where the Emirates long transfer free dinner were and I tried to explain that I was deaf and I needed to lipread in order to hear people. Accents does make it harder. And I don’t know what the deaf awareness is like in Dubai, so I just told her I’d find someone else to her dismay. Sorry? I couldn’t just tell her to remove the headscarf because it’s disrespectful. If anyone got any advice on this matter, do let me know!
7. Try not to forget that deaf people are deaf. It’s very convenient when people forget that I’m deaf. Even I’m guilty of this and I’m freaking deaf myself. Especially my mum. Yes. For example, there was one time where I was waiting ages for dinner, and eventually I came out to the living room, and I asked where my dinner was. “I called you, and you never came!” “MUM. I’m deaf!” But due to the wonder of a microwave, I still had a warm dinner, albeit just a bit later. Or the fact to this day she still calls me out whenever she needs me and it proceeds something like this;
Mum: BEATRICE! (Yes, I keep forgetting that’s my name)
Mum: Beatrice, come here!
Me: Where are you?
Me: Where is here?
Mum: IT’S HERE!
Me: WHERE IS HERE?
Mum: I’M HERE BEATRICE!
And so on it goes…
It’s mostly due to the fact that my hearing processor is only on one side so I can’t tell which direction sounds comes from. So if you call my name in the middle of the street you’d probably see my head turning around like a panicked owl trying to see who called me!
I hope you enjoyed this. Part 2 is coming! There will be future PG version on how to work with deaf people and so on for workplaces and education. Bea x
If you read the first one, in the first point I spoke about my experiences of mispronouncing words and I thought I’d give you one more from one of my best friend Danielle (love ya!), who is also a cochlear implant user.
When Danielle was a wee wean, her dad asked her what she wanted from the shops. She proudly said that she wanted “black cunt juice!” I’m sure this is the last thing that her dad expected her to say, he realised that she meant another juice entirely. “No, it’s blackCURRANT juice!” “It’s black cunt!” “BlackCURRANT!” “Black CUNT!”
Danielle is a racist in the making. Just kidding. Obviously. Love you really, Danielle. It’s a story I tell to everyone I meet whenever I tell them about Danielle. Sorry. Lol.
First of all, I’m going to add more silly questions that I have been asked before, or that my deaf friends have been asked (continuing from number 5 on Part One)…
“How can you work?”
The same way you work, quite miraculously! How can this be? I have a brain, I have a body, I can communicate… It’s quite amazing, isn’t it? It’s no like my deafness has a mind of its own, telling me that I canny work or anything.
“If you pray to God, your will hear again”
If you pray to God, you may get your common sense back.
Maybe. Probably not.
“How do you live without music?”
Well, I don’t know how you live listening to Justin Bieber either, so really I’m in the same position as you!
(I refuse to listen to his latest music as it has been converting my friends, shockingly)
“How do you do it? I would die!”
I was genuinely stunned when I was told this. I didn’t think in any form or shape that I was suffering just because I’m deaf. In fact, most of the suffering relating to my deafness comes from other people, like treating me like a second class citizen, discriminating me, denying me my access and so on.
“Why do you speak funny?”
Because I am singing the song of your people; general ignorance.
“How do deaf people have sex? Like, do you leave the lights off or on?”
I assume you live in a dark room because of your ignorance?
“You’re deaf? You can’t be because you’re reading a book!”
Wow, here I am reading a book! It’s a miracle! I mean, who needs eyes to read?
Now, moving on to the rest of the list…
8. Don’t patronise us.
Really, you shouldn’t be patronising ANYONE.
I went to the passport office in Glasgow and at the security gate, I missed what the security guard said to me as she wasn’t facing me so I asked her to repeat to me but to face me this time as I’m deaf and she started signing SO. DAMN. SLOWLY. I just spoke, so maybe it’s logical to think I can communicate orally, yes? Kudos to her for making an effort I will say, but I specifically asked her to speak because I communicated better that way with this guard and she disregard that fact. (Please look in PART 1, section 3 where I talk about asking how to communicate with specific deaf people)
AND THEN she took my hand, to the reception. That was literally not even 5 seconds walk. I didn’t realise I was a 5 years old kid. Could I have a lollipop too? Pretty pleaaaase?
But the bottom line is, don’t make us feel small or stupid. We had enough to fill a few lifetime, please. You may be trying to be nice but there is other ways of being nice without patronising us.
9. Use your common sense. Please. (And don’t confuse deafness with another disability)
Naturally you can be deaf and have other disabilities, but just don’t confuse deafness for other disability, as shown in the example below…
My sister went to India to volunteer a few years back, and she was coming home. In the airport, when telling the staff she was deaf as she couldn’t hear their strong accents, they told her to wait and then they came back with a… wait for it… A WHEELCHAIR. What part of your brain makes you think, oh, cannae hear, let’s bring out a wheelchair! Since your legs are OBVIOUSLY working!
Or even the time I met my ex’s posh parents in a posh restaurant for the first time, I was understandably very nervous and then along came a waiter with the menu and I asked a question about a food item on the menu that I couldn’t understand (the menu was basically half French) and he spoke too quickly so I asked him to repeat again because I’m deaf, he told me to wait and brought me a menu…
In Braille. Oh yes, let me go ahead and read it with my working eyes. “It does sound lovely. This feels like chicken. This is chicken, right???” I mean I just read the menu, asked him a question about a food item on the menu, and he decided to come back with a menu designed for blind people???
Although they make for funny stories to share at parties…
This story isn’t really a funny one, but I thought it was important to tell this. I went on a last minute causal date and I went to this nice wee place in the West End (of Glasgow) and we seemed to hit it off. About 30 minutes in, the music was getting louder and louder and I told her to repeat myself, and she jokily said, “are you deaf?” I was puzzled at this as I already told her I was deaf, and I said yes. She was taken aback and awkwardly told me she didn’t want to date me because of how I can hear on the phone (and other lame ass excuses like not wanting a deaf girlfriend). I politely told her that we have been chatting for 30 minutes with ease, I can hear on the phone after getting used to a person’s voice, that she didn’t deserve me, it was only a causal date and then I told her to go fuck herself. I left promptly, forcing her to pay for my very expensive cocktails.
10. If you’re speaking to a deaf person via a sign language interpreter, look at the deaf person that you’re talking to!
Unless of course if you’re deaf but don’t sign and need to lipread the interpreter. I suppose. It might be weird that when you’re talking, the deaf person will look at the interpreter but they are the people that you’re talking to. When we sign, we’ll be looking at you. I don’t blame people for not looking at the deaf people but it’s nice when you do!
11.Knowing sign alphabets or swear words in sign does not equal knowing sign language
Especially in night clubs. Sometimes they would find it amusing to come to us and go, I know sign language and they’d go “Wanker! Dickhead! Fuck! Hahahaha!”
Oooh, what banter, lads!!! Do you detect the obvious sarcasm in my voice, or are you too self-absorbed and drunk to?
(Side note: see that series of hand gesture you learnt in school that meant fuck off? You all know what I mean. BREAKING NEWS: It’s not the sign language for fuck off. You all have been deceived! Sorry to break it to you, guys.)
Also, drunk people + trying to finger spell and gesturing everything very slowly inaccurately assuming we could only sign = wanting to slowly be swallowed up by a ground. Or especially when people want to do the whole alphabet to see if they got it right. Very slowly. So it goes like this…
“Erm…….. is this D?”
“Is………. this………………. G?”
“It’s like this… That’s it, you got it!”
“Hmm… I think I know this one……….Z!”
“Oh yay, I can sign! Can I do it again?”
Let me go to the bathroom and dunk my head in the toilet, please. Knowing sign alphabet doesn’t mean you know sign language. Sometimes I don’t mind helping people, but there are nights where I may not have seen my friends for a long time and want to spend time with them, and this happens every time. Sorry, but I ain’t your teacher. If you want to learn sign language, you can contact me for BSL classes as there are different courses all over the UK, such as Deaf Perspective or look it up on Google/ask around on deaf groups on Facebook. There are various BSL videos teaching you simple signs. I do end up being patient and help people, but do let me enjoy my night outs!
12. STOP SHOUTING AT US!
Why are you even shouting at someone who is DEAF? Especially when they don’t have any hearing in their ears (i.e. no hearing aids or cochlear implant), it will only serve to make you look even more ridiculous than usual. Imagine someone shouting at you, but no noise come out? That’s it.
Although (sorry Roisin!) at one of the party with the old university gang in the seedy Garage, it was so loud and dark that I couldn’t make out what one of my close friends Roisin was saying and normally I could hear or lipread her… So I told her half jokily that “remember, I’m deaf!” and she looked at me confused and then proceeded to my ears and SHOUT SO LOUD IN IT I could feel the vibration in my ears and maybe go even more deaf if that was possible! This is what alcohol does to you, folks! Throws out your common sense out of the window!
One night I was in a pub with Danielle and Susie, and then a drunk man next to Danielle kept shouting into Danielle’s ears. Susie, who’s not deaf, had to tell us what he was saying, and it turns out he just literally went to her ear and went “Are you deaf?!?!” Like, if you thought she was deaf, why the hell are you shouting into her ears?
13. We’re not deliberately ignoring you… Honestly! Well. Most of the time.
Honestly, there was a time when an ex of mine talked away for at least 10 minutes and got irked when she realised I wasn’t listening and told me off. I had to explain to her that I wasn’t even aware that she was speaking to me! She apologised and joked that she felt like she was talking to a wall for ages and repeated herself, and always made sure that she got my attention before speaking to me.
It’s funny, all my training to ensure that I can make most of my hearing and notice things, sometimes it will just go over my head especially if I used a lot of energy listening to people. Just make sure to get our attention, then speak to us. Otherwise you may as well be talking to a wall.
14. We are not an inspiration, thank you.
Don’t call us inspiring or smart because some of us can speak, or are educated. Don’t call us inspiring for doing ordinary things, for doing things other people can do.
Actually, I will leave this with this TED talk of the wonderful Stella Young, “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much“, because she explains it so much better than I could ever. This has subtitles.
BONUS: For Apple… Apple. When will you stop autocorrecting “deaf” to “dead”? As cool it would have been, we’re not the legion of the undead, thanks.
This probably won’t be the last blog of this type, and if you have any more tips or experiences to share, please do and I’ll put it on my blog. Thank you!