The Question: Could you spot a deaf person in a crowded room? And is there such a thing as a ‘Deafdar’? (BSL)

Posted on November 11, 2013

I don’t know what it is about the Victoria line, but when I lived in London, I kept meeting deaf people on it.

This would usually happen between Victoria station and King’s Cross. I would be standing or sitting down on the tube, when I would notice someone in my carriage who looked familiar.

I’d be trying to place them, when they would notice that I was looking in their direction, spot my hearing aids, and then, to my shock, they’d ask me: “are you deaf?” in perfect sign language.

A few minutes later, I would get off at my stop and  say goodbye to my five-minute friend, having enjoyed a good sign-wag in between.

The strange thing is that however familiar they looked, I’d realise that I had never met them before.

So, when this happens, what is it I find myself recognising?

‘Read’ this entire article in BSL on the video below, provided by our supporter, Signworld


For me, it is something ‘deaf.’

Something in their eyes, the way they look around the carriage, and at the people in it, that is distinct from everyone else.

It’s a subtle difference, that I think is obvious only to other Deafies.

I think that hearing people don’t look around in the same way – in London, they’re certainly far less keen on risking looking directly at another passenger, so they tend to keep their eyes pointed directly at the floor.

Hearing people also behave differently as they travel. They know that if anything happens, such as a heated argument on a packed tube train, or some kind of major incident, or even a passenger trying to squeeze past them, their ears will alert them to it.

As a result, they’re more likely to spend a journey glued to their phone or book, without looking up once.

Deaf people, meanwhile, have to make sure they have an idea of what is going on around them by sight alone. Even if they are glued to their phone or a book, they still look up and across the carriage once in a while.

Which is when what I like to call the ‘Deafdar’ starts to become alterted…

The idea that deaf people conduct themselves differently in public places is backed up by one of our earliest articles, written by Andrew Hearn, who wrote about how much he enjoyed scanning all the activity – the people and shops – of Gatwick airport, which he had to pass through on his way to work every morning.

Andrew’s article (read it by clicking here) explained that because of the way he visually scanned his environment, he started to get searched regularly by the airport police.

The police didn’t have a ‘Deafdar,’ but they did have a ‘Terroistdar’ that picked out Andy’s behaviour as being suspect. He later realised that if he ‘walked like a hearie’ and looked down at his feet, he no longer found himself being touched up by men bearing firearms and a not-so-friendly manner.

Recently, I picked out the deaf person I was meeting (who I had never met before) in a crowded train station, from his manner alone. He looked at me in surprise.

I didn’t tell him my theory, in case it made him feel self-conscious, or like I was offending him in some way. To some people, “you look deaf!” would be a compliment, to others, I’m not sure. Best to be cautious at first, I thought.

That said, I don’t see a downside to looking ‘deaf.’ I like the way we look around. It’s part of who we are, and another interesting difference between deaf people and their hearing peers.

And I’m pretty proud of being in possession of a ‘Deafdar.’

Do you possess a ‘Deafdar’? Can you spot a deaf person at fifty paces? Tell us below!

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 the films My SongComing Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.

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