5 Things That Deaf People Are Tired of Hearing

Though we would think that people are generally not purposefully rude or insensitive towards those with a disability, often things are said or jokes are made that the recipient does not appreciate or find funny. This is the case with everyone but in this article we focus on five things that deaf people are tired of hearing, including comments and phrases that they would rather you avoid.

1)Silly flapping and a general misuse of sign language 

Often people from the hearing world jokingly declare that they know sign language, only to follow this comment up with silly hand waving, flapping and rude gestures. The frequency with which this is reported by deaf people is sadly rather high, and is evidence that some do not consider it a proper language, complete with all the complexities and nuances of other foreign languages. One wouldn’t go up to a person from another country and proclaim to be fluent in their native language, only to start shouting gibberish at them. This is essentially what is happening when someone approaches a deaf person and attempts to pass off, or joke about, knowing sign language by flapping and waving at them. It shows an innate lack of understanding and respect for the language and the community.

It is also sadly common for people to proclaim that they wish to learn sign language, and then only ask someone how to say various insults or rude words. Again, this is disrespectful and further shows a general lack of interests in deaf lives, language and culture.

2.Can’t you just read lips? 

The general public’s perception of lip reading is two-fold; firstly, most people assume that all deaf people can lip read perfectly and with minimal effort; secondly they assume that it’s easy. The truth is that neither of these assumptions are true. A lot of reading is actually guess work. A person’s brain is guessing at the words and slotting them into the sentence to see if they make sense whilst the other person is talking. It’s not as simple as looking at a person’s lips and instantly understanding exactly what they are saying. Anything from bright lipstick, braces or beards can completely change the shapes that the lips make when the person is talking and make it harder to know what they’re saying. Compounding this is the fact that many sounds, words and even entire phrases can look the same. For example, the plosive sounds ‘ma’, ‘pa’, and ‘ba’ all look the same.

3.Why don’t you just use a hearing aid / cochlear implant? 

This is both a more complicated and more personal topic than most hearing people understand. Hearing aids do not restore hearing to a normal level and range of sound experienced by a hearing person, and the sound is not the same. The sound as amplified by a hearing aid does not produce ‘natural’ sound, but amplifies everything  equally, often making it overwhelming and difficult to interpret. Hearing aids are not always physically comfortable either. Just as it may become hot or itchy or uncomfortable wearing earplugs for a long time or ear buds, hearing aids can cause the same sensation also.

Many people also have a habit of thinking of cochlear implants as the magic silver bullet for hearing loss, but the truth is that it’s not suitable for everyone and again, it doesn’t restore natural full hearing to the user. Cochlear implants are only suitable for those with profound hearing loss in which the hair cells lining the cochlear do not vibrate and thus transmit the necessary electrical impulses to the brain. Though the implants allows speech to be processed and turned into electrical signals that electrodes can feed to the brain, it does not replicate a full range of sound. This is because the cochlear has thousands of hair cells, whereas the implant only has a couple of dozen electrodes, some of which overlap areas of the cochlear and thus tones can become blurred. Many people also simply do not wish to wear them. If you are born deaf and into a deaf family there is a large deaf culture that many people do not want to feel separated from.

4.Adjusting how or who you talk to 

Upon finding out that someone is deaf many hearing people instantly start shouting or talking slowly. This comes from good intentions but misguided understanding. People are trying to make themselves easier to understand and hear; sadly this usually has the inverse effect, not to mention it can come off as patronising.  When you shout or drastically slow your speech it changes the natural way in which your lips form sounds and words, making it more difficult for people to lip read.

It is also common for people to talk to an interpreter or to others around them especially if the person is non-verbal. This makes people feel like they are excluded from the conversation, not to mention the fact that it isn’t polite. If the person doesn’t understand what you’re saying they will find an alternative way to communicate or simply tell you. It is always more polite to make sure that you are talking directly to the person themselves, rather than those around them.

5.’You don’t look/sound deaf’

Telling someone that they don’t ‘look’ deaf is never going to be the compliment that many hearing people imagine it to be. The automatic counter from any deaf person will always be ‘What is a deaf person supposed to look like?’ Far from being a compliment it betrays an unconscious ableism as it suggests that a deaf person is supposed to look somehow worse or different.

People often also comment on how those deaf people who do speak sound when they do. Comments vary, the most common being either ‘You don’t sound deaf’ or ‘Why do you sound weird?’ Asking someone why they ‘speak funny’ or sound ‘different’ is never polite, especially when suddenly exclaimed to a person’s face.