Myths and Misconceptions around Deafness
Dispelling myths (Let’s get rid of them for once and all ‘eh?!
Perhaps because I live and breathe it, but to this day and age I STILL can’t quite understand why there continues to be so many inaccurate perceptions about deafness and hearing loss?
The disability is quite simple really, people have some form of hearing damage, which means they can’t hear as well or can’t hear at all. There’s nothing really complicated about that, so why is there so much misunderstanding in the world? Also, why is it that people need to know how DEAF I am – I understand that because I speak it may be assumed that I have SOME hearing, but nope that is NOT that case. Also you might well meet a Deaf person who uses BSL and they can actually hear music – I get a lot of “huh?! How does that work?! I don’t know?? It’s just the way it is – get over it!!”
Dispelling myths (Let’s get rid of them for once and all ‘eh?!)st understood, but with a little deaf awareness, it goes a long way… I’m always striving to teach people about deafness and share communication tips in all walks of my life. As YOU ALL know, it’s a little passion of mine (wink) …)
We all have to work together
We can’t expect everyone to be interested in deafness, or understand it completely, but as it’s a common condition which affects around a sixth of the population of the UK (11 million), it’s not exactly rare. Deafness affects many people. Even though you might not have a hearing loss yourself, it involves everyone as the main barrier that D/deaf people face, is communication and access to services. Unfortunately a lot of people think it is not their problem. But IT IS, can you imagine not being able to hear anything and having to use your other senses to work out many factors to enable you to participate in everyday life, in the everyday world that, yes I AM going to say it – many hearing people take for GRANTED.
We are social creatures, believe it or not! We love interacting with others. For those who communicate orally, it isn’t sometimes necessary to tell the hearing person that they have a hearing loss, sometimes it’s not relevant and you can have a chat without having to reveal the condition, sometimes people can work it out. But this is very rare, for me people can work out I am Deaf as I always look at their mouths and eyes and this is a rather intimate thing to do, and if I was a hearing person it might look like I am about to kiss you. But rest assured I am just lipreading you and taking in all your facial cues to help me decipher what you’re bangin’ on about! Heheh! Also I have this thing when I talk to hearing people, I know they are NOT D/deaf, I still sign to them as I feel it gives them a visual cue of what I am asking / saying to them and they might pick up a few signs along the way! Also it is a massive clue, (I am signing, why? ‘Cos I am Deaf!) you see and this gives them a heads up!
Coming out as deaf! Oooooeeerrr
We’re all different. For some, it might depend on the situation and whether they need any consideration or allowances made. You wouldn’t walk up to a shop assistant and tell them you’re diabetic unless relevant, or inform a bank clerk that you have angina, therefore some D/deaf people don’t feel the need to confide in relative strangers that they can’t hear very well, unless they are struggling with the conversation. However, for me I always tell me that I am Deaf as it makes it easier for me and saves any mishaps that may happen. For example a shopkeeper might ask if I need any help and if I do not hear them it looks like I am ignoring them. So when I think they are addressing me, I always say ‘I’m browsing – thanks” and if I need something I go up to them and say “‘suse me, I am Deaf, I was wondering if you can help me?” And this prepares them, and yes I have some who instantly panic and will look around them and hope someone will come and rescue them as they do not know how to talk to a Deaf person ‘cos we are from outer space (oh, did you not know that?!) or they will try and talk to the person who is with me and avoid communicating with me and I am like ‘huh, didn’t I ask the question? Am I invisible too?’ – so flipping annoying.
In order to understand someone fully, I might have to explain that I’m Deaf, in the hope that the other person will be willing to have an effective conversation. It can go one of two ways…
· The hearing person can either try their best to face me and speak clearly, repeating where necessary with no more drama than that…
· Or, they can PANIC and launch into some Shakespearean type roleplay, complete with over stretched lip patterns with shouting at a loud volume as they believe this will help an deaf alien who seems to be from another planet! – this happened to me!
· They speak to the people that are with me and address me as if I am not there by referring me as the third person … ‘Does SHE want to order the item?’ – person with me ‘why don’t you ask HER?’ Shopkeeper ‘SHE can order it here in store or online, does SHE have a computer at home?’ – meanwhile I stand there mouth wide open playing tennis with my head watching the conversation, thinking ‘hell!!’
· Or they say, ‘Are you REALLY Deaf?! YOU don’t LOOK Deaf!’ Oh yeah I am Deaf. I have
ears but they don’t work?!
If you live with deafness or some form of hearing loss, you may know of some of these common misconceptions that are still around in our society today. They are in one respect funny, because they are SO ridiculous, but mainly annoying, frustrating and sad because they show ignorance leading to lack of access, willingness to communicate and sometimes discrimination:
1) Deafness only affects old people
Completely untrue of course. Many babies are born with a hearing loss. It affects all ages!
2) You don’t look/sound deaf
Deafness is an invisible disability. Some wear hearing aids or cochlear implants, (and some do not wear any, as they choose not to) therefore there is a clue, but often people don’t notice these as they would in the case of a physical disability and a wheelchair – I mean do deaf people look like aliens?
3) Just turn up the volume
Some believe that by making something louder, like turning up the volume or by shouting, this will make it better for the deaf. This would depend upon the person and whether it helps them of course, but often this isn’t helpful – it’s a tad embarrassing! Sometimes turning things up makes things worse and the sound is not as clear for us, so let us tell you what works for us. It also can make things uncomfortable especially for those who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants.
4) All deaf people use sign language
This is a common occurrence when you tell someone you’re deaf, that they automatically launch into the; ‘Oh I know some sign language’ and begin to make up some strange signs of their own, or swear signs! Also, they want you to teach them the swear signs first, sod off …
It sometimes launches into a game of charades or apparently they know someone who signs etc, until a deaf person may politely and awkwardly correct them by saying actually they don’t know any sign language! Opps!
As you know I truly believe that the more people learn basic signs will make a difference to those d/Deaf people who use sign language – as I love it when I go somewhere and if I see someone who has approached me in a shop, office or just generally with a little bit of signing, it really does make my day and it makes things a little bit easier for me and I am sure many others!
5) Deaf people can’t….
Some assume that there are certain things people with a hearing loss can’t do. Yes there are restrictions, like I’ll never work in a call centre, for example, but any barriers are often built by other people’s wrong perceptions and lack of willingness to make reasonable adjustments to enable a person with ANY disability to do a job. When I was younger, I really wanted to be a firefighter and my dad explained to me that I would not be able to do this due to my Deafness, so I said “okay ill be a policewoman” and again he said it would not be possible with my Deafness. I was like ‘pah! What the heck?!’. I then changed my focus to become a forensic scientist, but because I was not doing Science – I decided that I wanted to work with people and help people in their lives. I thought I would either be a Social Worker or a Teacher. I went on work experience in a primary school with a unit attached for Deaf children and I loved it. That was the point where I made my decision, to become a Teacher first, then a Teacher of the Deaf.
One time, a teacher told me that I shouldn’t be studying her subject at school because of my deafness. I really wish I had proved them wrong as I loved Science and Art! But the Science teacher said that the words were too difficult and I would not be able to manage! Another experience was when I saw the careers advisor, she explained to me that the best job for me would be working in a supermarket stacking shelves as that was what I was capable of doing! There was no way I could be a teacher?! Well, if you are that careers advisor who saw me in the 90’s, you stuck and how dare you for blighting my dreams and ambitions! I’d like to inform you I have 2 degrees and am working my way through another one at present! I trained to be a teacher AND a teacher of the deaf so …… pffffhhhhhtttt to you!
6) How can you be deaf as you can hear?
Each person has a different level of hearing loss, from no hearing at all to a mild loss, some severe to profound. Some are deaf from birth, others lose their hearing later in life. Every deaf person is different, this is important to remember. We all communicate differently.
Deaf people identify in their own way from Deaf, to deaf, having a hearing loss and so on, so please respect that and be non-judgemental.
That’s all the myths I’ve heard, I’m sure there’s plenty more!
Remember, if you meet a d/Deaf person, please ask them how they want to communicate and how you can help to make that happen. There has to be compromise on BOTH sides, it’s not just up to the d/Deaf person to make all the effort.
And smile! We’re friendly people! Most of the time!
Thank you for reading this, if you have got this far! As always I love to hear (not literally) what you think!
Speak soon, F x