Rob Wilks: The hearing world is a cruel one. Fact.

Posted on October 26, 2012

The hearing world is a cruel one. Fact.

As a solicitor specialising in disability discrimination law, not a day goes by where I don’t hear first hand experiences from Deaf individuals about the barriers they’ve faced, the treatment they’ve suffered and the hurt they feel through all walks of life. It’s my job to explain to them their rights under the Equality Act 2010 and how to enforce them.

What is unusual for a solicitor is that I have an instant empathy with my clients because I’m Deaf myself and I’ve personally experienced many a barrier as has been well documented on this blog.

This article very nicely sums up what’s it like for Deaf people in a hearing world: A Sign of the Times: They can be a silent minority, but it’s high time that the millions of people with hearing loss came in from the cold.

Only this morning, Rachel witnessed first hand the isolation Deaf children face even now in the 21st century. Rachel was at the doctor’s and saw a little boy with hearing aids in the waiting room. He was with who appeared to be a grandmother. She was shouting at him. Not because he was being naughty, but because she obviously thought that by shouting, he’d be able to hear what she was saying. The boy looked lost. He didn’t engage with the grandmother or the group of older women she was with, all taking to him in pretty much the same fashion. He was just sitting there staring into space.

Rachel tried to get the little boy’s attention to give him a few encouraging looks, and when he eventually looked at her, she signed “are you deaf? Me too!”. He perked up, but then the grandmother intervened and said, “he doesn’t sign”. Rachel then got called in for her appointment.

I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little shook. I know Rachel was. She can’t get it out of her head that there are ignorant people who are going to think that the little boy is dull as opposed to being unable to follow, when it is actually the grandmother and other people around him that are disabling him.

It is difficult. We know that all that boy needs is a good Deaf role model and some understanding and he’ll do just fine. However, Rachel was helpless in that situation. Should she have done more? Could she?

It’s a cruel hearing world, and it looks like it’s not going to change any time soon.

Rob is a qualified solicitor and Head of RAD Deaf Law Centre at the Royal Association for Deaf people. He specialises in employment and discrimination law and is passionate about achieving equality for Deaf people. He is happily married with two gorgeous kids and lives in South Wales. You can follow him on Twitter as @RWilks

If you are interested in any of RAD Deaf Law Centre’s services, go to or email

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