The Question: Can Deaf Awareness be taught?

Posted on June 11, 2013

This week’s question could be seen as being a bit provocative. Am I suggesting that deaf awareness courses have no value, or that the work of deaf awareness teachers is ineffective?

Not at all. There are some fantastic deaf awareness courses out there which can really benefit hearing people who do not have any experience of communicating with a deaf person. They can enter that classroom with no previous experience, yet go away with the knowledge and tools they need to get started.

LIMPING-THINKERBut what I have started to question is why communicating well with a deaf person in the long run comes so easily to some people, yet so hard to others.

I have met people who have spent their whole lives working with deaf children or adults yet continue to mumble, to turn away when they speak, or wear a big bushy beard that covers their mouth, yet act like that’s an appropriate decision.

Equally, I have met people who have never met a deaf person before, yet somehow know, as if it comes naturally to them, how to adapt the way they speak to make it easier for a deaf person to understand. They maintain eye contact, speak clearly, and gesture to make themselves understood.

It seems to me that although people can learn how to become more deaf aware, and can certainly improve their communication skills, a big factor in how successful they are in the long run may depend on something more basic: whether they have the ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes.

The mistake that I see most commonly is people who start out communicating well, only to forget after a minute or two other person is deaf,and return to their usual made of speaking. It’s as if they forget, or their mind wanders, and they need to be reminded again. And again…

I don’t think this is something that only applies to deafness. I remember working in a London theatre as an Access Officer, welcoming people with different disabilities to the venue. Some of the ushers instinctively knew how to guide a blind or partially sighted person up the theatre’s stairs to the auditorium. Others found it more difficult.

So, what do you think? Is putting deaf awareness into practice more about possessing empathy than anything else? Tell us below.

By Charlie Swinbourne, Editor

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