I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t entirely sure about writing this article; I’ve been asked to write about what it’s like to be a Deaf student and I don’t want to feel responsible for giving people the wrong idea about university life for deafies – however I think a lot of life lessons can be learnt from this story, so it deserves telling.
Last Monday I was sat in the group work section of the library with a number of people from my course having a conversation about the unfairness of something or other and I, hearing aid-less, was signing away at the same time as speaking. Suddenly the people around me started to look angry, and gesture towards the other side of the room.
Confused, I stopped speaking and turned around to work out what was going on. I asked my friend what had happened and she explained that a girl on another table had been “waving her hands around” to mimic me signing and was talking about how I was so loud. My course friends were irate on my behalf and were trying to explain to the girl that I was Deaf and had no idea how loud I was being, and that sign was how I communicated.
I was of course upset by the incident initially, but my friends were surprised by how calm I was.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me and my Deaf friends and I’m sure it won’t be the last. To be honest I feel sorry for this girl, as she’s clearly never had the pleasure of experiencing a Deaf person’s company or learning about different communication methods; maybe that opportunity would help to broaden her mind.
I did think that her behaviour threw up two interesting things that I’d like to express my feelings about.
Firstly this girl was a nursing student, from what I’ve since been told a 3rd year who will graduate this June. It seems to me little surprise that Deaf people so often experience trouble with NHS systems and discrimination when nursing students of the future are so close minded and quite frankly, immature.
As a social work student I’ve heard all about the service users with Learning Disabilities who have been treated as dumb and incapable, and the Deaf people who have had sign language – our language – thrown in their faces, mimicked and mocked (anyone remember the American TV show with the fake interpreter?) It shocks me that people can be so uneducated about the diversity of people who come from every walk of life, I’m especially sad when health students can’t respect that diversity.
This girl’s behaviour also threw sharp light on the difference between the people who know and have worked with Deaf people and those who have no experience.
My friends supported and protected me yet only 6 months ago they themselves could have been that girl, ignorant of sign language and unaware of the fact that as a Deaf person I’m often unsure of how loud I am. It shows how important it is to improve Deaf awareness amongst hearing people and to achieve goals such as a Signature GCSE in BSL. Steps like this will (hopefully) automatically make people recognise differences in language and culture and this will not only benefit Deaf people but anyone from a cultural minority.
Secondly, I just want to say that I’ve been rather blasé about this whole experience, but the truth is it did hurt me. The more I thought about it at the time the lower my confidence became. I’ve always thought I was rather good at recognising the loudness or softness of my own voice, and I’ve always been proud to sign even when no other deafies are around (I’m hoping my friends will learn through absorption…).
Yet this one girl knocked my confidence so much that for days afterwards I struggled to get up the courage to talk to anyone I didn’t know, or to even speak at all. However having processed it and spoken with friends and family I’ve realised that I should be proud of having good, if loud speech, and use it as much as I can. In fact in the end the girl in the library has, without realising, increased my determination to make others aware of my deafness.
After all, how else will they learn?
Ni Gallant is a Contributing Editor for the Limping Chicken and a deaf teen who has just started university. This year she was on the NDCS Youth Advisory Board and she also runs a Youth Group for Worcestershire deaf teens called “Deafinity.” She writes a blog (www.nigallant.blogspot.com) about life from a deaf teenagers perspective and says that “somehow what I said resonates with other young people – so I carried on!”
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