Alicia de Barry: Should we think about things from a hearing person’s point of view?

Posted on April 22, 2016

Sometimes we all jump to conclusions. Sometimes we immediately think that someone is offending or insulting us. We have all done it.

Some deaf people think that hearing people are being rude. Some hearing people assume deaf people are being dismissive. Assumptions akin to this extend to people with other disabilities as well.

Please note that I am completely generalising here. What a hearing person says to me may make me sob uncontrollably whilst rocking myself in the corner of a room whispering between sobs “They just don’t understand me!”

But another deaf person may dismiss such comments with a nonchalant shrug of their shoulders whilst they sip their cappuccino from Starbucks.

Let’s stop and think about it from a hearing person’s point of view. Action on Hearing Loss released statistics in 2015 stating the number of deaf people in England was 11 million. Or, to put it another way, this is 1 deaf person to every 6 people.

This does make me think that not many hearing people have met, or had a chance to meet with a deaf person. Thus their experience of being with deaf people is limited and therefore, so too is their knowledge of the “correct” etiquette.

I was in a mainstream school, but I don’t remember ever being taught about what I can or can’t say to a deaf person, or anyone else with a disability for that matter.

So, if this is not touched upon in schools and hearing people rarely get a chance to include a deaf person in their social circle, then how are they to know what they say is sometimes offensive or even downright insulting?

Of course there are times when it is fairly obvious. For example, “When a person is yawning, do you think they are screaming?” That gets my goat.

But I think that sometimes instead of gaping at the audacity of the hearing person to ask such a question, we could take this moment to educate.

I have had people ask me if I sleep with my hearing aids in, from a hearing point of view this makes sense. What if the fire alarm went off? What if someone broke into the house and I needed to chase them to the bathroom and shoot them through the door?

A hearing person won’t realise that a flashing light might be used for a fire alarm, or a dog could help wake us up. This is our chance to explain, to educate, maybe even to change a perspective.

It is not just things that hearing people say that we find offensive, or insulting, but things they do. For example, I, along with thousands of other deaf people, need to lip read. I lip read first and foremost, and then I use sound.

Oftentimes I have to explain this to a hearing person and they usually have one of two reactions. They might say “wow!” and then ask me to tell them what they are saying whilst they mute themselves and over enunciate their words.

Or, they accept it and make a concentrated effort to look at me each time they talk. I have found though that they will often lapse back into old habits and forget to look at me whilst they talk.

It would be easy to take this the wrong way and think that the person is not making a real attempt to make adjustments accordingly. But, I propose another way of thinking.

Firstly, they have probably not been around deaf people very much and so are not in the habit of checking they are looking at the person.

Secondly, the fact that they have forgotten could be viewed as a good thing because it means that they have seen past you as a deaf person and just accept you as you.

I will end with a short anecdote. It was a really nice summer’s day and so I decided to make the most of it and go for walk. Unfortunately, I am a perpetual daydreamer and so as I strolled along causally my head was firmly in the clouds.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, a bike zipped past me, the owner of the bike, a man who looked to be in his late 30s growled angrily as he went past.

I am not sure what he said but I think it might have been rude. I realised in that second that he did not know I was deaf. How could he? My hair was down and my hearing aids were not visible.

So, I called after him, “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. I am deaf.” He immediately stopped his bike, spun around and called back, “I am so sorry! I didn’t realise!”

I like to think that this experience widened his perspective and from then on whenever he rung his bicycle bell and the person in front did not move the first thought he had was “ah, this person might be deaf, perhaps they did not hear?”

It’s the little encounters that can make the biggest differences.

Alicia is 70% deaf and wears hearing aids. She comes from Milton Keynes and lives with her husband who is hearing, and her cat, Mickey. She works in a study centre with Six Formers and loves it. She has an MA in English Literature which she says “is great because I I love books, books, books, and Earl Grey tea.”

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