The Secret Deafie: How travelling reintroduces me to my vulnerability

Posted on October 21, 2015

The Secret Deafie is a series of anonymous columns by Deaf people. Send us your story at:

My teenage daughter and I are travelling in Japan with a friend and her daughter of the same age. We have travelled with each other before and are used to each others’ habits. This is good for me as I have a prop, something I would not usually admit to needing.

Travelling in unusual circumstances always makes me re-confront the practical effects of my hearing loss. I don’t always want to have to do this.

When in familiar surroundings, you can forget your limitations. TV subtitles, texting and emails, solitary car journeys to work with the radio blaring, a personal assistant to make phone calls and colleagues who know you need the light on ‘to hear’ in meetings conspire to remove potential hour-by-hour reminders that you really don’t function like other people.

The missed mirth-generating chance exchange in a meeting passes unnoticed as you have long since accepted that you don’t ‘get everything’. The repeated query from the checkout person, and the bemused stranger you did not respond to in the street, likewise.

This changes when you are in un-scripted, un-controllable surroundings.

You don’t strike up conversations with strangers and you greet approaches from strangers with polite smiles that shut conversational overtures down.

There are times when you simply appear rude or strange.

Background noise simply precludes conversations with people that sit next to you on trains or planes.

Travel may well broaden the mind, but it probably won’t bring many new people spontaneously into your life.

Travelling on public transport accentuates and highlights your vulnerabilities. It goes without saying that you do not hear announcements.

When you do travel alone, you loiter in front of digital display screens checking almost constantly for changes to train platforms or plane departure gates.

I have been known to follow a rush of people responding to a last minute platform change announcement at a major train station, having to trust to the probability that they were planning to catch the same train as me.

Travelling in a group, you appear a little slower than your companions when alighting at new stops. Seeking out and reading signs takes time. Searching in your bag for guidebooks or i-phone navigation apps takes longer as your eyes can only do so much at once.

Comments made amongst your travelling companions in response to immediately required travel decisions pass you by if not directed directly at you.

You are not stupid, but as the journeying goes on, you increasingly feel less capable than your fellow travellers. They do not know this and there is little to be gained from sharing this with them.

Your confidence becomes a little bit more fragile and you have to dig a little bit deeper into your inner resources not to give into insecurity.

I usually set my mind to deriving other benefits from the experience and the time it affords for thinking and reflection. You have to think laterally as well.

This can have unexpectedly beneficial consequences. I watch all manner of thought provoking non-mainstream foreign language films on planes; they are generally the only films on offer with English subtitles….

The Secret Deafie is a series of anonymous columns by Deaf people. Send us your story at:

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