Rebecca-Anne Withey: I beg your pardon? Deaf people are human, not a stereotype

Posted on October 19, 2012



Driving home one day, I noticed cars behind and in front suddenly dispersing. It took a second to realise I was in the way of an emergency car trying to make its way through. Cheeks flaming, I hurried to get out of the way. It’s not that I’m ignorant or daydreaming – I’m just deaf.

When people hear “deaf” they tend to think of old people with beige hearing aids. But I’m 25, a performing artist with a huge passion for music – and my hearing aid glitters. How’s that for a stereotype?

In fact, there are lots of us young deaf folk around. Statistics say that there are ten million people in the UK with some kind of deafness – that’s one in six of the population. Around 840 children are born with hearing loss each year.

Now, being deaf does have its benefits. If there’s something I’d prefer not to hear, off goes the hearing aid! I can also pretend to mishear and use sign language for those oh-so-private conversations.

Other times it’s a pain in the neck. I’ve had countless ‘sorry we missed you’ cards from the postman and have even been yelled at by strangers who thought I was ignoring them.

You see, deafness is invisible. But how do I tell others about it without them running a mile or ta-lk-ing-ve-ry-slo-wly?

It’s easier if I just speak. Sign language tends to give hearing people the heebie jeebies. They either ignore me and talk to someone else or start doing pidgin sign. Not. Funny. In fact, 50,000 people use British Sign Language!

Britain could do with making its public transport a lot more welcoming to us. It’s embarrassingly common for me to follow crowds at train stations like a sheep when platform changes are made. And I’ve missed flights home due to ‘miscommunications.’

You wouldn’t have that in America. Their deaf-friendliness puts us to shame. I can’t believe all programmes get subtitled there while here I’ve practically begged Living TV to subtitle Most Haunted. They still don’t.

My greatest bug-bear of all is when people assume. Strangers treat me as though I’m stupid. I’m even expected to have a job that’s more ‘appropriate’ for a deaf person. I’m deaf, not daft.

Some people can be lovely though. Once they get past a few ‘pardons’ and I become used to their lip patterns, they soon discover that we can actually have a good chat. So they go home, inspired to strike up a conversation with the next deaf person they meet, knowing that deep down, we are all the same.

So if you do meet someone who’s deaf, trust me – they are human. Ask them how you can best communicate and don’t put be concerned if you hear whistling around them. It’s only their hearing aid. Well that, or the wolf whistles they are oblivious to.

This article was first published on Rebecca’s blog. Check it out here: http://www.thedancingphoenix.co.uk/blog.html

Rebecca-Anne Withey is an actress, sign singer and tutor of performing arts. A black country girl at heart, she now resides in Derby where she works in both performance art and holistic therapies. She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.

The Limping Chicken is supported by Deaf media company Remark!, provider of sign language services Deaf Umbrella, the Deaf training and consultancy Deafworks, and the RAD Deaf Law Centre.

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