Growing up as a deaf child and teenager in a hearing world was not easy. I tried hard to fit in and socialise with my hearing peers but society was, and still is quite judgemental. I was known as “the deaf girl” – the one that peers didn’t want to associate with because I was somewhat different…
I think it was just a lack of deaf awareness and not knowing how to communicate with me. My friends left me out, group classroom situations were never accessible and people didn’t bother repeating themselves if I didn’t hear them the first time. Later on, I realised who my true friends are – the ones who made an effort to include me.
My pet hate is when someone introduces me to someone else as “This is Ellie, she’s deaf.” To me, it’s a label and it makes it sound like that’s all I am. For example, my old boss who was not deaf aware at all, always introduced me (while over-enunciating) with my ‘label’. People’s instant reactions were: shock/horror! ‘How are we going to communicate with this person?!’ And slowly… backed away as if I was an alien!
You wouldn’t introduce someone like:
“This is Marie, she has one leg”
“This is Shaun, he’s gay”
“This is Will, he’s in a wheelchair”
“This is Ellie, she’s 21, loves swimming and blogging”
Deafness is just a part of me, it doesn’t define who I am. I like to choose when I tell someone that I’m deaf. I’ll chat normally and if I don’t understand them or I feel it’s relevant to tell them, I will. Often, they don’t realise or they might work out I have a bit of a deaf accent. But I’ve proven to them that they can communicate with me easily and that I’m just a normal person like them!
Every deaf person is different
Hearing people often think… “She can’t hear me”, “She probably uses sign language”, “She won’t be able to talk” But they’re all not true! Every deaf person is different. They’re not all old-aged, they communicate in different ways and have different levels of hearing loss. Here are some tips to remember, next time you meet a deaf person:
1. Don’t panic!
Deaf people are friendly, not aliens! Keep calm, smile and approach them normally.
2. Get their attention
The deaf person might not realise you’re talking to them. You can gently tap them on the shoulder or arm, or stand in front of them to get their attention.
3. Find out the best way to communicate
Some deaf people use sign language, others speak or lip-read. Everyone’s different. Ask the person how they would like to communicate. If they don’t understand what you’re saying, please repeat yourself, explain it differently, write or type it down. Please don’t give up!
4. Don’t say “never mind”, “it doesn’t matter” or “I’ll tell you later”
It does matter. Deaf people want to understand you and want to be included. Even if it’s a funny joke, and you have to retell it minutes later and it’s not funny anymore – it still makes them feel included.
5. Communication is a two-way process…
Deaf people are willing to make a conversation work if you do, but communication is a two-way process!