Charlie Swinbourne: Ten things you should never say to a deaf person

Posted on September 25, 2012

87


Picture 1

Hearing people. Want to make friends with a deaf person? Then wise up and don’t say any of these sentences. Us Deafies will never forgive you…

“Wow – I would never have guessed that you’re deaf!”

I’m not wearing a badge. Nor do most deaf people. And in what way is ‘not seeming all that deaf’ a compliment?

“You’ve got really good speech for a deaf person!”

Er… thanks. But that sort of implies that some deaf people have ‘bad’ speech. And it makes me feel a little self-conscious.

“But I find subtitles annoying.”

We find you annoying, stubborn hearing person who hogs the remote and refuses to turn the subtitles on. How about we make a deal? You turn the subtitles off, and we turn the volume right down? Then neither of us will understand the TV programme we’re watching.

And you’ll finally get it.

“Can’t we knock on your door if there’s a fire?”

Ok, hotel reception person. Three reasons I’m scared I might die in your hotel if there’s a blaze:

One: your shift finishes at midnight and I’m not sure you’ll remember to tell your replacement that there’s a deaf person on floor 11 who won’t hear the fire alarm.

Two: even if you or your replacement do remember me, you might not make it upstairs in time.

Three: most importantly of all, I won’t hear you knocking.

So how about a rope ladder so I can make my escape? A parachute? Or just investing in a buzzer system so we can feel like normal human beings?

“I can’t hear everything in here either!”

I’m not talking about overhearing what the people on the next table are saying. I can’t hear you. There’s a difference. Can we go somewhere quieter?

“We’ve got a braile menu you can use?”

It’s great you’ve got one… but you’re confusing deaf and blind people as being the same. Let’s hope you’re not also using BSL to sign the menu choices to our partially-sighted friends.

“But you usually hear me.”

How much we do and don’t hear is variable, not optional. Sometimes it depends on how well we know you, whether there’s external noise in the room, whether we can see your lips (to lipread) or just whether we’re knackered or not. It’s not a failing of yours – but it’s not a failing of ours, either. So don’t expect an apology.

“Oh yes,  I noticed you had problems.”

Actually, these hearing aids are solutions.

“So you’re deaf and dumb?”

We’re deaf. Not dumb. The same also applies to the phrase ‘deaf-mute.’ If you want to use descriptions like these, just go back to the 70s and make a good life for yourself there. There, you can use all kinds of out-of-date, offensive ways of describing people of all types, with abandon.

“It doesn’t matter.”

Probably the worst thing you could ever say to us. Because it makes us feel like, maybe, we don’t matter too much either. Wise up people, and repeat yourselves. Even if what you were saying was as boring as: “I’m feeling a bit peckish. I might have a yoghurt.”

We might end up having a fantastic conversation about fromage frais.

Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, penned My Song, Coming Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.

Photo: Waifer X on Flickr

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s independent deaf news and deaf blogs website! Check out our supporters: