Be it lack of awareness and education from school, lack of caring or just an innocent lack of exposure to the deaf community, most hearing people just suck at communicating with the deaf. Ask anyone in the deaf community, and you’ll be bombarded with a slew of stories about how uncomfortable and unenjoyable some encounters with hearing people have been. From people rolling their eyes to straight-up refusing to accommodate needs, it’s rarely a pleasant experience. And it often results in the deaf person getting angry, feeling defeated and contributes to anxiety when leaving the house.
It takes less time to accommodate a deaf person’s needs than to huff, puff and drag the conversation out longer. So if you’re looking to be an ally to the deaf community and better communicate when you come across them in public, here’s some advice deaf people want to share.
Not all deaf people are the same. Some can hear more than others, just as some can speak better than others. But regardless of their abilities, they will always tell you what they need from you.
Deaf people can generally understand you quite easily if you look at them while you speak. Many have grown up learning to lip-read as this is the only way they can communicate with the world, so if a deaf person asks you to repeat yourself (or look at them), all you need to do is just that. They understand that you won’t know they’re deaf until they say something, so don’t take this personally.
Whereas some might ask you to write down what you’ve said instead, and they’ll even give you their phone or a notepad to do so. Deaf people have had to adapt to make this as easy as possible.
If you’re wearing a mask, you might choose to remove it to speak or write it down. Again, deaf people will tell you what they need, so you don’t need to worry.
Many in the deaf community have discussed how they’ve felt belittled or patronised by a hearing person simply because they’re deaf. But the fact is, many will have had to work harder to learn and adapt just so they can get around.
If you’ve ever felt the need to scoff out of frustration, we’d encourage you to take a breath and be polite. You might be having a rough day or feeling tired and this reaction could be involuntary, but just keep in mind how this might make the other person feel. Speak to them just as you would to anyone. At the end of the day, the only thing they can’t do is hear properly.
Deafness is an invisible disability. You don’t know if someone is deaf unless you see a hearing aid or someone tells you. But don’t worry, deaf people are aware of this and they won’t hold it against you. Keep in the back of your mind that anyone you meet could be deaf. This will allow you to react accordingly when someone tells you that they are, you’ll be prepared without realising it.