Andrew Hearn: I’m a member of the untouchables

Posted on October 4, 2014

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I’m an Untouchable.

No, I’m not a fedora-wearing head of an illegal family firm. I’m being literal – hearies refuse to touch me.

Before I give the wrong impression, I’m always clean, my clothes are always clean, I use deodorant, and my breath is fresh and minty.

I’m hearing-aware enough to refrain from making inappropriate noises from any orifice while in the office… honest.

And I’ve been told that my voice is naturally quiet, so I’m sure I’m not offending their ‘fifth sense’?

Apparently, from conversations with fellow Deafies, I’m not alone in experiencing this.

So how can I persuade (obviously intelligent) hearies to use touch, instead of waving their hands in front of my face?

Sometimes they frantically wave pieces of paper, leaving me being in danger of being hit by flying paperclips. Once I had a work colleague conducting an invisible orchestra with a biro.

I’ve told them that, to get my attention, it is OK (and actually preferable) to tap me on the arm or shoulder, but ironically, this falls on “deaf ears.”

I’m not telling them solely for my own benefit, this is also to stop them from miming exasperated windmills out of my line of vision.

Do Deafie teeth appear dangerous to them? After all, we don’t talk enough to wear our incisors and canines down to a safe length. Surely we don’t bite.

Surely again, in this time and age, they all know that deafness isn’t contagious?

In their defence, there have been one or two hearies – ostensibly the daring and fearless – who have happily tapped me to get me to turn to face them.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to swivel my chair fast enough to catch the (presumably) horrified looks of the others in the vicinity.

When I asked a long-time colleague why he didn’t want to tap me on the shoulder, his reply was “well, tapping on the shoulder is only one step away from squeezing it.” Interesting.

A couple of times I have tapped hearies on the shoulder – especially when I wasn’t sure how loud the background noise was, for fear of unnecessarily shouting their names – and each time, it was as though their hearts had stopped.

Of course, I immediately start apologising. (The look of terror on their faces on spinning round is quite funny actually – highly

Have deaf people’s sense of being touched been dulled after a lifetime of being tapped, prodded, and shoved?

Is tapping a hearing person to get their attention an invasion of their personal space?

What about hearies from other cultures – where touching of the arm conveys deference and respect, do they still clutch their chests after being tapped on the shoulder?

On the flip side, the jolt of electricity we Deafies get on “accidentally” touching our first date’s hand across a restaurant table, do hearies experience this on many orders of magnitude more?

Andy is a fourth-generation Deafie and father of two, masquerading as a senior software engineer for mission control systems and test harnesses. He still doesn’t know the meaning of ‘boredom’, having interests too diverse to list in the space of a few lines(!), although genealogy, history, and culinary pursuits seem to be the recurring ones lately. But his real passion is for Linux while trying his best not to appear evangelical about it. 

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