I could hear.
Then I couldn’t.
Overnight, I’d lost my hearing.
All of it.
I was deaf (still am).
I joined the 11 million people in the UK who have less than perfect hearing.
When I eventually began to emerge from the shock and depression and scariness of sudden silence, I picked up my ‘surviving hearing loss in a hearing world’ guidebook.
Or I would have done, had such a book existed….
The first time I told an assistant in a shop, “I’m deaf”, she looked terrified.
It was like looking in a mirror: I was terrified, too.
Where did we go after “I’m deaf”?
Neither of us knew.
I knew I could verbally tell her, “I’m deaf,” because I grew up with hearing and speech.
She knew she could hear me say, “I’m deaf,” because, well, she could hear.
What we didn’t know was how to bridge the hearing/deaf divide.
How to meet in the middle.
How to co-exist.
Since that day, I’ve had two choices.
- Become a hermit.
- Compile a bit of a guidebook of my own.
Tempting though option 1 often is, I went for option 2 (most of the time).
The first entry in my guidebook says, ‘remove the full stop after “I’m deaf.”’
Here are three tips for (hearing) people when they are met with the terror of hearing, “I’m deaf.”
Three tips for removing that full stop.
- Remember to relax.
Unless you happen to have a PHD or equivalent in communication, no one expects you to be an expert in dialoguing with deaf people.
We get that you are probably out of your comfort zone when you meet us.
Believe it or not, so are we when we meet you!
We don’t automatically know how to bridge that divide either.
But let’s start with a smile.
- Remember that communicating is about getting a message across.
If you and I can work out how you and I can bridge that deaf/hearing divide, that’s enough.
I speak a bit of sign language. My god-daughter doesn’t.
One day, in an effort to get me to understand the thrilling-to-a-three year old tale I kept misunderstanding, she resorted to waving her arms around.
She was trying to copy sign language.
She looked more like an over worked windmill.
But the combination of seeing her lips and seeing the windmill actually helped me.
To my shame, I can’t now recall this story that so obviously rocked her little world.
But I know I understood it at the time.
I’m also pretty sure that not many people use the windmill method.
And that’s ok.
In our own way, message was received and understood.
- Remember that we’re all different.
So you met someone last week who was deaf? And they could lipread what you said to them? Well that’s great. But, guess what?
We can’t all lipread.
A bit like just because some people can sing Opera, it doesn’t mean everyone can.
Some of us who can’t hear prefer to lipread, some prefer things written down, some prefer sign language, some prefer typing, some prefer….
Obviously, unless possibly you have the aforementioned PHD, no one expects you to be fluent in sign language but we’re pretty sure you can write things down. Or type them into your phone.
A good way to get started is to write/type, “how do you prefer to communicate?”
*note the question mark, not full stop*
And don’t forget your smile……