Charlie Swinbourne: 10 things hearing people should know about deaf people

Posted on April 3, 2015

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1. One in six people are deaf, according to the stats

This means that around 10 million people in the UK have some level of deafness.

Or, put another way, a random person you bump into on the street is more likely to be deaf than a Manchester United supporter (which is estimated by the club as being 6.59m people).

2. We have our own beautiful language. British Sign Language

It’s got its own grammar, syntax and structure that distinguishes it from English.

BSL was recognised officially in 2003 – however, Deaf groups, such as the British Deaf Association and the Spit the Dummy Facebook group are still campaigning for better rights for BSL users.

3. But not all deaf people can sign

The number of deaf people who use BSL as their primary language is usually estimated to be around 70,000 to 90,000 people.

Yesterday, the BDA claimed that there are 156,000 people who use BSL at home, following the results of the Scottish Census – contradicting the UK Census which came back with a measly figure of around 15,000 people.

Whichever statistic you take, it’s likely there are at least 9,844,000 deaf people who don’t use BSL as their first language.

Many of them use other methods of communication, including Sign Supported English (which uses English as a base for signed communication), using their residual hearing through hearing aids or cochlear implants, or lipreading.

Or a combination of all of the above, and some other things too.

These deaf people are also fighting for their rights – check out the Pardon Facebook group and offer them your support.

4. But not all deaf people can lipread

Just as not all deaf people can sign. We’re diverse, you see.

5. And for those who can, lipreading is an inexact science

It is estimated that around 70% of lipreading is guesswork, which makes lipreading hard work.

Though there’s a lot of fun to be had when you’re able to ‘oversee’ conversations, or spot what Prince Harry is saying at the Royal Wedding.

6. Deaf people really do see better

In our periphial vision at least. It’s been proven, scientifically.

We see everything. It’s almost spooky.

Scrap that. It is spooky.

7. We have our own TV programme, and it’s one of the longest running programmes in the world

See Hear, we salute you. Especially now you’re safe from the BBC axe.

Clive Mason, Memnos Costi and Lara Crooks, you are our TV presenting legends.

*doffs cap*

8. Not all of us want to hear more

Many of us are happy just as we are. However strange it might sound to hearing people, being Deaf (with a big D) is part of our cultural identity.

And when it’s all you’ve ever known, and you really love your life, why would you want to be different?

If you want to know more, check out this link on the cultural model of deafness/disability versus the medical model, then forever hold your peace.

9. But some of us do want to hear more

So we wear hearing aids, or have cochlear implants.

Yet some of us are culturally ‘Deaf’ too.

We’re diverse. I may have said that already, but it’s worth saying again.

10. You might be joining us some day soon

Apparently, many of you hearing folk like listening to music too loudly (naughty naughty), and you may become prematurely deaf as a result, with over 14 million British people set to be deaf by 2031.

Especially at risk, according to a story last week, are French Horn players in orchestras.

We feel your French Horn-playing pain.

But as the author Bella Bathurst (who went deaf, then became hearing again) said on this site, you can learn a lot from the deaf experience.

We look forward to one day introducing you to our world.

By Charlie Swinbourne. Charlie 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 Song, Coming Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. 

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