Emily Howlett: It’d be great if more people could stop and think: “maybe she’s deaf”

Posted on October 9, 2017

You guys. I have been out on the road again. ‘Acting’. Guess what? Something has annoyed me. Yep. Again.

Now, I know that I am Deaf in a hearing world. I know that modern day society wasn’t designed for me, in the same way it wasn’t designed for people who have visual impairments or use wheels to get about.

I understand that sometimes I am going to come up against barriers that aren’t really anyone’s fault, and I spend a fair amount of my time getting round these without too much fuss or bother.


Sometimes there is no barrier until someone decides to create one. There isn’t anything physical, like steps instead of a ramp a wheelchair user can roll up, or office walls instead of windows a deaf person can see through.

It’s just someone’s attitude making a big old issue where there didn’t have to be one.

And WHY does that happen? Genuine question – why do some people go out of their way to make a Deaf person’s life just that little bit harder?

For example, I am driving the van for our current tour. It is loaded with heavy set and many breakable things, including the rest of the cast. Big van. Big responsibility. Big stress. And the last thing I need is to arrive at a theatre and have Someone Giving Me More Hassle.

Namely, the guy on the intercom who controls whether we can get into the car park. The guy who refuses to talk to anyone who isn’t the driver, but also won’t accept that the driver is Deaf (because he can hear me talking) and gets really arsey when asked to repeat what he is saying.

Dude. Your job is to give me information. I’m not asking you to solve quadratic equations or beatbox for your freedom. I’m simply asking you to do your job at the most basic level, without trying to make me feel guilty about the fact I can’t hear you.

Shall we have another example? How about the people who you’re working with who refuse to take your communication style into account? No matter how many times you say you need to be looking at them in order to lipread them, they still jabber away with their backs to you and act offended when you don’t reply. AARGH!

Let’s not get started on random people you meet during the day, like the woman who sat next to me on the bus home from rehearsals, fussed my hearing dog for a bit and then suddenly said “You know, if you did your hair nicely and wore a bit of make-up, I don’t think anybody would care that you’re deaf.”

(Reader; I was so stunned, I didn’t even have a witty retort. ME! SPEECHLESS! I know… That’s how bad it was.)

Thing is, I’m not asking everyone to learn to sign overnight. (Although, goodness me, the DIFFERENCE it makes when someone knows even just a few conversational signs – life is suddenly so much easier and brighter!)

I’m not even asking people to spot immediately that I am Deaf and might need a bit of extra consideration when it comes to communication. I’m just saying it would be really, really wonderful if the World At Large, and especially those working in the public sector, could occasionally stop and think “Maybe she’s deaf” rather than jumping straight to “She is clearly a human asshat determined to make my life difficult for no reason.”

Deaf awareness training takes no time at all. It’s one day in the office, or half an hour chat with your hearing impaired friend, or, like, ten minutes of Googling. You don’t need to go to University to learn how to speak clearly, keep your face in the light and rephrase rather than repeat. You don’t need to be fluent in several signed languages to know enough individual signs that a conversation becomes half as tiring for a deaf person as it is with spoken word alone.

Things that are small for hearing people, make such a huge difference to the rest of us.

I reckon it’s kind of like accessible theatre – having the extra things there doesn’t make life worse for the rest of the population, but it makes it so much better for those of us who need it.

And, actually, I reckon it makes it better for everyone. Because who wants to go through life not knowing how to sign ‘human asshat’?

Emily Howlett is a regular writer for this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and teacher. She tweets as @ehowlett

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