Juliet England: The bus driver offering one more example of the daily grind of prejudice

Posted on March 6, 2017

I caught a bus into town the other evening to go to a meeting of my writers’ group. (This is not an interesting fact in itself. I know. Bear with me.)

It’s true that I could, and should, have set off a tad earlier. (Hey, I was running on Deaf Time, OK?) It’s also correct that I was unlucky in missing one service by nanoseconds. It took a while for the next one to trundle into view, after yet more precious minutes had ticked away.

The thing was, I wasn’t just attending the writers’ gig – I was, on this occasion, running the thing. As one who is barely capable of running the proverbial bath, never mind an actual meeting, my stress levels were steadily rising.

What’s more, it was a different bus service to those I normally use, so I wasn’t entirely sure where it stopped in town, or where would be the best place to jump off. So, what do you do? You ask the driver, of course. Except that, inevitably, I couldn’t hear his mumbled response.

So, what do you do? You ask him to repeat it, of course. Inevitably, the words were lost, again, and I had to ask him a third time – of all the nerve! At this, the driver clearly lost it, tutting and rolling his eyes dramatically.

By that point, I’d rather lost it as well. I found myself, somewhat to my shame, yelling at this guy and telling him I was deaf. (Deaf, you hear me, DEAF!) And I was doing this even though I don’t really consider myself to be deaf as such, and certainly not profoundly so. In the modish parlance, I ‘identify’ as severely hard of hearing.

Regrettably, the driver, clearly not having the best of evenings himself, decided he also quite fancied a right old dingdong, so we stood there (or he sat, strictly speaking, in his little cabin) shouting at each other while the mostly Nepali passengers had expertly mastered the great British art of staring out of the window as though the unpleasant scenario wasn’t unfolding a few feet away from them.

I stormed off, furious at my treatment, although I ended up not being too late after all. Nonetheless, it was an unsettling experience, and one that could have been entirely avoided with a clear repetition of the information I needed in the first place. To be fair, I could have been calmer, too.

Having posted the obligatory Facebook huffing and puffing post, I explained all this in an email to the bus company. They took around three days to respond, and, even then, they just said something about needing to talk to the driver. I won’t hold my breath for them to get back to me.

And the sorry little tale is a reminder, as if it were needed, that deaf awareness training simply isn’t routinely incorporated into organisations’ professional development.

The incident was one more of those little daily things that crop up, that clearly aren’t Trump-Brexit-Syria, but, still, they wear you down. And I couldn’t help wondering whether I’d have been treated with the respect I deserved on that bus had I been carrying a white stick.

It wasn’t an isolated incident. The cold caller who puts the phone down the second you say you’re hard of hearing. The woman at the gym who won’t change bikes so you can be near the spinning class instructor. The one who says ‘Are you all right?’ in patronising tones just because you are twiddling with your hearing aid. (She wouldn’t do that if it was your spectacles you were fiddling with.) The people who laugh nervously when you explain you can’t hear, or the shop assistant who says ‘Not a problem’ when you say you need something repeated. Er, any reason why my deafness should be a problem? It’s not for me most of the time, I’m terribly sorry, is it one for you?

Sometimes, it can feel as though, cumulatively, these constant minor ignorances add up to quite a lot. And as though I need to be better equipped at dealing with them.

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Posted in: juliet england