Bits and bobs from a British glasses-wearing, sweary, fat, disabled, atheist ex-Catholic, anti-capitalist, pacifist feminist lesbian with eclectic tastes.
I normally blog at incurable-hippie.blogspot.com.
15 tips on what it means to interact with a Deaf/deaf person:
(please note: This is semi-specific to people who sign, but not entirely. I think it is pretty general unless otherwise specified. Also, some of it may seem really focused on the DON’T, but there’s some good things thrown in, too!)
1) When someone says to you, “I’m Deaf,” they do NOT mean:
a. I have no interest in talking to you.
b. Please go away.
c. I do not have the mental capability to understand you.
d. Assume that you can only talk to us through an interpreter.
It actually really hurts my feelings when people do that. I want to know what you’re saying. I WANT you to talk to me (in most cases). Me being Deaf does NOT mean that I have no interest in communicating with you, meeting you, or hearing what you have to say. I don’t go home and cry about it or anything, but it’s mildly disappointing to be brushed off, ignored, or overlooked like that.
Also, Deaf/deaf people communicate with hearing people on a DAILY BASIS without an interpreter. We know ways around it. Most of the time we get by without even having to write stuff down. Minimal amount of voice (or even just mouthing), gestures, pointing, facial expression and body language: It’s ALL a part of communication. Thinking you have to have an interpreter to communicate with me is silly. This is COMMON SENSE! We don’t sit around all day long alone until someone comes along we can sign with or whatnot. We’re out in the world just as much as you are. ;)
Personal experience: I’m a girl, and when guys approach me to talk (at a bar or party) and I have to turn to a friend and ask them what they said or tell them I’m Deaf: If you’re face gets all screwed up (“E gads! What have I gotten myself into!”) or you just turn around and walk away to go and tell your friends you just tried to hit on a Deaf girl… It makes me angry. I’m a person, and that’s insulting. If you see me and my friends pointing (just like you’re doing with your friends to me) and making fun of you and your reaction- deal with it. It’s common sense that that would hurt someone’s feelings and I rarely feel guilty about doing it. I know that seems harsh (preaching acceptance and then making fun of people who don’t understand and may not have exposure to it), but I’m being honest. I’m not perfect, and once in a while, it sucks. I’m Deaf, I’m proud, and I wouldn’t change myself for the world. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the negatives of it sometimes.
Side note: When you DO take the time to communicate with me (even if it’s about something I don’t care about or don’t want to hear particularly), it makes me happy. It gives me faith in people. I’m a person to, so talk to me!
2) Please, when we ask you to repeat something, don’t say, “Nevermind.”
This may be my number one pet peeve, and many of my Deaf/deaf friends say the same thing. You wanted to tell us something; we missed it. It should not take that much effort on your part to repeat a line or two of what you just said. Dismissing us like that is really annoying.
3) If we’re out in public, a crowd, or a noisy environment: Don’t expect my hearing aids to work as well. Understand that things are LOUDER, BUT NOT CLEARER. Have you ever been to an event where someone uses a mic and it just sounds like a garbled mess? That’s pretty much what we can hear. Not to mention we can hear some pitches and tones better than others, so things fade in and out. Sometimes, we may take them off- it may be easier to focus without them on. Be patient.
4) One of my favorite feelings in the world: When I’m out in public, someone says something to me, and I miss it— When one of my friends who even only knows a fraction of sign language takes the time to tell me what they said. Thank you for the help! Even better when they don’t try to interpret EVERYTHING for me, but let me decide when I want their help. I’m not helpless, but every now and then, I appreciate your help.
5) If you DO know a bit of sign language, don’t be afraid to use it. I know in public it can be embarassing. “Everyone stares at me!” Welcome to our world! People stare at me when I sign all the time! You get over it. But lipreading is very taxing on both the eyes and brain. Not to mention that it makes communication a burden- a burden that lands on the deaf person’s shoulder oftentimes. We get told to use hearing aids all the time- sometimes they hurt, don’t work, are uncomfortable, or we just don’t want to wear them! Try and meet us halfway, and we’ll love you forever! :)
6) For goodness sake: understand the difference between disabilities!
It is REALLY annoying to tell a waitress you’re Deaf and have them bring out a braille menu…. really?? Or when I was at the airport and told them I would need assistance (they have to let me know when I can board a plane- I can’t hear announcements) and they bring me a wheelchair. O.o ummmm….. no.
7) Assume that we don’t listen to music. I LOVE music. I have not given it up. At all. Several of my Deaf friends like music. Sometimes its just to blare it and feel the vibrations, and some of us learn the songs word for word. It takes more work than it does for hearing people, yes. But that doesn’t mean we’re not interested in it.
8) Look at us when we talk. Lipreading is a pain sometimes, but it DOES help. Eye contact is a huge part of the Deaf culture. We know that you’re hearing and it’s a habit to be able to turn around and still talk. And if we remind you, don’t take it as us trying to nit-pick or call you out on something. It’s just a little reminder. We know you don’t mean to. :)
9) DON’T YELL! It does way more harm than help, and frankly, it makes you look silly. Haha.
10) If we sign, and you know some ASL (ANY ASL) use it. We know you may be shy, but I’ve yet to meet a deaf person who is annoyed when someone tries to sign and is slow at it. We know it’s hard for you- it’s not just a different language, it’s a different MODE of communication.
11) Don’t feel like we’re criticizing you if we correct a sign. If you’re parameters or technique are off, we aren’t telling you you’re stupid. We’re just trying to help you improve. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. You can tell us. But sometimes if we don’t correct it, you won’t be understood. It’s like mispronouncing a word in English. Sometimes its a slight slip and it’s not big deal. Other times, you either signing nonsense or signing a completely different sign altogether. We don’t mean offense.
12) Don’t freak out when/if we touch you. Touching is part of Deaf culture. I don’t mean inappropriately, but tapping on the shoulder to get attention, a hand on an arm, or giving a hug. It’s natural for us. We don’t mean to scare you or invade your personal space. Promise! :)
13) Pretend to be Deaf too. If you know ASL and are out with a deaf person, be careful on this one. I have friends who do that, and it kind of makes me upset sometimes. They think it makes us even (on the same page, equals), but it doesn’t. We don’t get to turn our deafness on and off. In doing this, you get to experience all the positives of being deaf and exploring our culture, but you don’t experience the negatives. You can still hear. We’re not ashamed of being deaf, and we don’t hide it. So don’t hide that you’re hearing. We don’t care. We’re not angry at you for being hearing and we don’t feel that we’re not equal with you. We know you may mean well, but it’s not the same. Wearing ear plugs for a day doesn’t mean you know what it’s like to be deaf. This is our world- we live this every day. It’s a lot deeper, emotional, and psychological than you can imagine. I don’t know what’s like being black (I’m white), or being in a wheelchair (I can walk), or being poor (I’m not rich, but I’m middle class). I don’t pretend to know what that’s like. So don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be in our shoes. There are RARE CASES when I can see this as being acceptable. Usually it’s not pretending to be deaf, but rather just not saying you’re hearing and signing without saying so.
14) Tell us that we’re signing something wrong. It’s OUR language, and there are tons of variations on even one sign, and several ways to say the same concept (just like in English). We’ll tell you if you’re signing something wrong, perhaps (and if it’s a variation and you tell us so, we’ll probably think that’s interesting and want to know where you picked it up. It’s interesting to learn different variations and dialects!)
15) (and this is probably the biggest) KNOW THAT WE REALLY APPRECIATE WHEN YOU TAKE THE TIME TO COMMUNICATE WITH US! We’re people too, and are not always treated as such. Most of my friends are hearing, only a few of them know sign, and even my parents don’t sign. That’s okay. I don’t grumble about it. The fact that they accept me for who I am is one of the brightest parts of my life.
I LOVE to meet ASL students. I LOVE when people tell me my language is beautiful even when they have NO IDEA when I’m saying. It’s just another form of support for our community. I’m a theatrical interpreter (yes, even though I’m deaf), and put a lot of time and effort into my work. When people tell me that I did a good job and they enjoyed watching me as much as the show, I really take that to heart. It means the world to me. TO US!
If you’ve taken the time to read this long blog, thank you. I appreciate it. I don’t mean to preach or to stand on a pedestal and tell you all what to do. I’m just sharing some wisdom. I’m not saying everyone has to agree with me or that what I say is the only thing that’s right. It’s just things that I’ve noticed and have impacted my life. Thank you for you time, understanding, open mind, and willingness to learn. ILY!
YOU ROCK!!! lml/
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