Emily Howlett: 5 things that might surprise you about deaf people (this one at least)

Posted on April 19, 2016

Not all Deaf people are the same. Don’t worry, that’s not the surprise! (It’d be a terrible one.)

How we identify ourselves, how we communicate, what we do with our lives – these things make us different from each other, and unique, just the same as hearing people.

So I suppose these are actually things which surprise people about me, Emily Howlett, who happens to be just one Deaf person.

Even if they don’t apply to everyone, I doubt they’re restricted to just me. Except maybe the last one…

  1. We can talk on the telephone

I don’t live in a big, huge, bustling city or hellhole (Hello, London! It’s not you it’s me… No, wait, it’s you). I don’t live in the middle of nowhere either, with just rocks and howling wind for company.

I live in a perfectly nice suburb, with a perfectly nice amount of people – and they all know me. My gosh, they ALL KNOW ME. I am the local deafie, and that’s fine… Until someone sees me talking on my mobile phone.

Their world view suddenly doesn’t make sense anymore.

They KNOW that I am Deaf. They KNOW I can’t hear. Yet, there I am, jabbering away to someone who ISN’T THERE TO BE LIPREAD, probably in the trademarked Deaf/Derby accent they all like to comment on regularly (this is fine; I’m proud of my voice and worked bloody hard on it – those vowels don’t flatten themselves).

It upsets them. Sometimes they accuse me of being a ‘fake Deaf’. Sometimes they think I’ve somehow gained access to James Bond style technology that helps me hear. Sometimes they just throw rocks at my head yelling “Witch!”

And then I explain. I tell them that, yes, some deafies can talk on the phone. Yes, I am still profoundly Deaf. Yes, I am talking on the telephone to someone.

The KEY POINT is this; I’m talking to them. I’m not listening to them. I haven’t got a damn clue what they’re saying, it’s just whatever I wanted to tell them is too long or too exciting for a text message.

I don’t want to strain my thumbs. And my regular people, they know there’s no point answering back. They just wait patiently and then, after I’ve hung up, they text me their responses.

Usually their response is “I only got the first part; you hung up on me halfway through”.

Yes, I’m great at talking on the phone. Unfortunately I also have a massive chin that cancels the calls without me realising, and I’m talking to nobody. But, whatever. IT’S STILL COOL.

2. We can sleep really well at night

I use several things to assist me through the days and nights I spend living in this hearing-biased world.

These include vibrating pagers and pillow pads, a hearing dog with attitude problems, technology in my ears and a working knowledge of the Equality Act.

As they say, I get by with a little help from my friends – it’s just not all my friends are human, some are machines. And it all works brilliantly. I feel safe and at home when I am at home, which is sometimes quite an achievement for a Deaf person.

The days are good, and when the night time comes, with all its noises and squawks and neighbours fighting in the street because someone cut the wrong tree down, and all the hearing people are lying awake listening to it… I am snoring quietly (or not).

All my machines are also asleep, the dog knows there’s no point moving til the breakfast alarm goes off, and it is very quiet and calm and peaceful in my house and in my head.

All the things that wake a hearing person? They don’t trouble me. I am super-Deafie, and I get my eight hours even if there’s a party outside my window!

3. We can sleep really badly at night

I am super-Deafie and I get my eight hours even if there’s a party outside my window!

Well, yes. As long as I’ve managed to get to sleep in the first place.

The problem is this; I can’t hear anything when I go to bed, and nobody else is awake to tell me what is going on. Not even my machines. Once my eyes are closed, literally anything could crack off, and I wouldn’t know unless it was intense enough to shake the bed (steady on, people).

The dog is great, but would he come and tell me if someone broke in, or would he go and bark at them/get hurt/get fed? Is my son going to wake up from a bad dream and run to tell me, or will he just lie there crying and wondering, in his half-asleep state, why Mummy doesn’t come?

So, sometimes it takes me a while to get past all that and drift off. Mindfulness and warm Ribena helps. Or, sometimes, I just start a party outside my window.

4. We are really great at not panicking in an emergency

I remember a time in the recent past (Hello, London, this is you), when I was sitting alone in a Tube carriage, wondering why it wasn’t going anywhere.

It was DISGUSTINGLY early in the morning, so there weren’t many people around for me to pester and/or follow blindly. There hadn’t been anyone else in my carriage, though I had seen a few people stomp past and disappear up the stairs.

Now, a braver person might have stuck their head out of the door to look up and down the platform and see what was happening, but I have a fear of the doors closing on my head (large chin, remember, not easy to move quickly).

After a few more minutes, an old man walked past the window, so I stood up and gave him the universal “Kind sir, what the hell is going on here, pray tell?” quizzical look. He pointed at his ears, then he pointed up the stairs, then he pointed behind him. Smoke was pouring out of the other end of the train, where two members of staff were talking, quite excitedly, into radios.

Something was not correct.

I linked arms with the old man, and we headed slowly up the stairs. By the time we got to the top, we exited (for the SECOND time in my life) in a cloud of smoke. There was no rapturous applause, and we went our own ways.

It’s the same when the lift breaks down between floors. It’s the same when everyone drops their shopping and runs out of the supermarket. It’s the same when the green man flashes, but nobody else crosses because they can hear a siren approaching. It’s the same when, it’s the same when, it’s the same when…

There’s no point panicking. These things happen too often, and panicking won’t suddenly mean you can hear and understand.

But, afterwards, it is generally a good idea to give yourself some rapturous applause if nobody else does. It’s well-deserved.

5. We can eat three whole pizzas

This is because the guy behind the counter misheard or misunderstood, and gave you the other two for free, and because you don’t like to see food wasted AND THEY WERE FREE and anyway you can’t hear anyone telling you how bad it is for you to eat three whole pizzas.

Forget sign language, strong communities and a beautiful shared history. This is the true and mythical power of the Deaf.

*fist bump*

Emily Howlett is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and teacher. Emily is co-director of PAD Productions and makes an awful lot of tea. And mess. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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