Our hearing privilege can make us disconnected from the realities of deaf people. This happens despite the fact that there are over 466 million people worldwide with disabling hearing loss.
Misunderstandings can be amusing, but they can also cause frustration. There are many things that deaf people want their hearing peers to know, including some fascinating facts to learn about. Let’s take a look!
Not everyone can lip read – and it’s not easy
Making assumptions about deaf people is the number one mistake to make, so be sure to avoid doing that. While there are people who speak sign language, there are some who don’t, and while some know oral languages, some don’t – every case is different.
The same goes for lip reading. When you meet a deaf person, don’t jump to conclusions, and instead inquire about how they prefer to communicate. Don’t assume they will just read your lips: Deaf people aren’t there to get you – they are there to communicate, so make an effort. You can also ask whether they want to choose alternatives, such as typing on the phone.
Still, if a deaf person decides to read your lips, know that it’s no easy feat! Statistically, people who read lips only understand about 30% of what’s being said, and a lot of meaning is gathered purely from context. Add expression to your face – but don’t go talking slowly or trying to pronounce too hard, as that will just make it harder. Being in a place with a lot of light also helps, just make sure to stand in line with the light – never against it. Facial expressions, eyes, and lips play a key role.
Another useful thing to know is that when you meet a deaf person, you shouldn’t shout to get their attention. Instead, try to wave or even tap on their shoulder – this is a common practice for deaf people.
Deaf culture has many great aspects
Deaf people don’t need your pity. They are not broken and don’t need to be fixed, so there’s no need for hearing people say “I’m sorry you’re deaf.” In fact, deaf people take pride in their identity and are happy to be part of the vibrant and connected deaf community.
They often participate in different cultural activities that include exchanges in sign language, sharing information about resources that can improve their lives, joking about the experience of being deaf, sharing interesting updates, and even performing or attending diverse events with no spoken language, including theatre or deaf poetry sessions.
Music is also popular among deaf people; often they can feel it way more than hearing people. Also, some aren’t fully deaf but perhaps hard-of-hearing, so they can hear the beat. Still, feeling the vibrations and wanting to dance is something we all have in common!
If you want to get to know the community better, show that you’re interested and explain why! You don’t need to isolate yourself because you feel intimidated – just take the first step and you’ll see how good it feels. Learning a few sign language signs goes a long way, but show interest in more than just the swear words! Becoming friends with a deaf person will also open your world to the Deaf culture, and you will see how fascinating it is. With all its little quirks, like unique name signs, there’s a lot to discover!
Don’t ask the same old questions
“Can deaf people drive?” is one of the most common questions that the Deaf community gets, and they certainly don’t enjoy it. Sometimes our curiosity can go wild and we end up thinking that deafness must mean that all of our experiences are so different, but that’s not the case. Deaf people can do literally anything, other than hearing. They can lead perfectly satisfying lives, careers, they can drive, enjoy music, get involved with art… Everything! In fact, when it comes to driving, it’s worth saying that deaf people are often way more visual and have a great sense of their surroundings.
“Have you tried hearing aids?” is another question you should ditch. Hearing aids may work for some people and may not work for others. Also, some deaf people actually refuse to use them, because they’re proud to be deaf and they don’t want to abandon that. Being deaf is not an issue for them – the only issue is that sometimes they can be left out, which is something that we, hearing people, can work on!
“Isn’t sign language a universal language?” Well, definitely not. Just as there isn’t a spoken universal language, there is not one global sign language. But hey, that’s a good thing! Language is a carrier of culture, beautiful and rich. There are somewhere from 138 to 300 sign languages used around the world.
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