Anonymous: “I thought it might be dangerous for Deaf people to drive.” Observations on the Deaf community from a hearing person

Posted on September 15, 2015

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Firstly, I would like to apologise for the use of the word ‘observations’. I do not mean to be insulting when I say this, but I can’t think of a more appropriate word.

Secondly, I want to make the point that I don’t claim to speak for Deaf people, or for hearing people; these are simply my views based on my brief connection with the Deaf community through my workplace. As such, I still have an extremely limited understanding of deaf people, deaf awareness, and the Deaf community.

I have been in my current job for just over a year now, and we have several Deaf social groups in the building. Therefore, I have been given a little insight into the deaf community. As part of my training I recently learnt and completed my Level One course in British Sign Language.

What has struck me most since working here is just how little awareness there is of the problems Deaf people face, and a lack of awareness of Deaf culture.

I was particularly struck by my own lack of knowledge. I realised all that I really knew about Deaf people was that they had some degree of difficulty in hearing (obviously), and that’s about it. This, to me, is the biggest problem. If people are not aware, or do not have an understanding of an issue, then a solution is much less likely.

My recent introduction into BSL brought this problem to light. I loved my signing lessons, not least because I had the opportunity to learn sign swear words (‘bull****’ being a personal favourite).

I must admit however that I still have great difficulty in even having the most basic conversation with deaf people who use signing.

I’ve learnt an acceptable amount of vocabulary during my lessons, but all this seems to go out the window when I come to having an actual conversation with a Deaf person. You can only ask somebody whether they would like a tea or coffee once during the course of one conversation; any more and it becomes a bit awkward.

My lack of signing proficiency has come to light several other times over the last year. One time, I was talking to a blind person in the office, and a Deaf person came in and started talking to me at the same time.

Struggling to contend with the situation of trying to sign and speak at the same time, I quickly fell apart – especially as the Deaf person seemed to be making reference to the blind person, who in turn did not know the Deaf person was present at first. I failed miserably in communicating to either of them.

A few months later, I felt confident enough to tell the members of the Deaf social group about our sporting challenge in support of the charity.

Everybody laughed at my amateurish attempts at my signing, especially as the only signs I seemed to be able to remember were ‘swimming’ and ‘cycling’. However, I think they appreciated the effort.

I’d rather make the effort with deaf people and fail, than to take the easy option and simply ignore them.

My last example of my problems with signing, and one which gave me an acute insight into how difficult communication can be for Deaf people, is when I had to ask all the members of the Deaf social group a simple question – whose car was blocking mine in the car park?

I did quite well on the signing front actually – ‘car whose Ford Fiesta red?’ I even finger spelt the letters and numbers of the registration plate. It all went very well, and everyone seemed to understand what I was doing.

However, I had failed to get the attention of absolutely everyone, and as luck would have it the one person whose car was blocking mine was otherwise occupied and didn’t see me. It gave me a lesson in understanding how easily Deaf people can miss out on something through something so trivial.

My work has also challenged my assumptions about people with a hearing loss. For example, I felt confident enough to ask a colleague about Deaf people and driving. I’m utterly reliant on my hearing when driving, such as changing gear according to the sound the engine is making.

To be honest, I thought it might be dangerous for Deaf people to drive. When I put this question to my colleague I was surprised to learn that she thought Deaf people may in fact be better drivers than hearing people.

They are apparently more likely to check their mirrors, are less distracted, and are altogether more considerate drivers. Any hearing person who claims they have never been distracted by music in their car is lying, so I can believe this.

Hopefully my signing skills will improve when I start my Level 2 course in British Sign Language. It was not required through my workplace; it was something I wanted to do myself.

I hope to gain a better understanding of the problems Deaf people and their families face, and continue to challenge my assumptions.

I also feel that I have so much more to learn about a world I have only dipped my feet into. For example, I never knew what CODA (Child of Deaf Adult) meant before, or indeed what COCA-CODA (Child of CODA Adult and Child of Deaf Adult) meant. It’s all new to me.

I think only by immersing yourself in the Deaf community can you even begin to appreciate some of the difficulties they might face.

So why do I find Deaf culture ‘interesting’? I hate to use that word, but cannot think of a more appropriate one at this point. I’m afraid I don’t know the answer, but my interest may stem from my own personal belief is that nobody should be discriminated against due to a natural anomaly – I’m pretty sure nobody ever asked to be Deaf so why should they be worse off because of it?

My interest (sorry, I still can’t find the right word) has even lead to the tentative idea that I might one day look for a job relating to Deaf people and culture.

I’m almost certain that I misspelt my own name during my last sign language exam, so this may be a long shot, but you never know. I hope there are more hearing people out there, with no previous connection to the deaf community, who take an interest in it.

I don’t think a hearing person could ever fully appreciate the difficulties Deaf people face, but I think an increased awareness of these difficulties is surely a good thing for everybody.

The author is hearing, with no previous connection to the deaf community, and wishes to remain anonymous for work reasons. His previous job roles were in the sales and retail sectors, and he currently works for an organisation with links to the local deaf community. He recently completed his Level 1 course in British Sign Language.

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