By Michelle De Rooy / LipreadingMom.com Guest Blogger
Lipreading Mom’s Note: I met Michelle through my Facebook support group, the Lipreading Moms and Dads Network. She lives in Australia and is a recent cancer survivor. I first read the following story on Michelle’s blog and obtained her permission to share with you here.
As we get older, there are more and more people suffering some form of deafness, many even to the point of needing a hearing aid or cochlear implant.
Having been deaf since birth I read with interest an article titled “Ten things you should never say to a deaf person by Charlie Swinbourne” found here. He has some very valid points where such comments are offensive to some deaf people. However I don’t necessarily agree with all of his comments though they are some obvious points to be made here and judging by the comments made.
Personally I believe the majority of people are certainly not meaning to be offensive. I like to use such opportunities to educate people about deafness when appropriate. Most misunderstandings come from ignorance and lack of understanding of what they said.
I think I will start a collection of some of the silly things people say. Here’s the latest one that occurred as we were assisting a traveller searching for directions. When I had to let him know that I was having some difficulty understanding him with his accent, he later asked. “How is it that I can talk?” I just said. “It is easy. I don’t need my ears to talk.” Oh duh!
So what can you do to effectively communicate with a deaf person?
1) Ask them what they need to help communication go well. Needs vary from person to person, and you being willing to make the effort to meet someone halfway makes a HUGE difference. Really, you have no idea how much that is appreciated. Requirements can vary greatly from person to person, and you being willing to make the effort to meet someone halfway makes a HUGE difference. Really, you have no idea how much that is appreciated.
2) Try rephrasing your comment or question. Often we are getting stuck on a single word of sentence. There are some words that look alike, and sometimes the same word can be used in the same context in a sentence. It does take a little work figuring out things like this.
3) Deafness is not a sign of lower intelligence. Any misunderstandings are usually because of not hearing correctly in the first place. Don’t assume that the deaf person is stupid if they don’t respond in a certain manner or even give a ‘weird’ answer. They probably didn’t hear you properly. I can’t recall the number of times when I have assumed I have heard correctly, yet I have come back with an otherwise comical or ‘weird’ answer. When the correct interpretation has been implemented then we can laugh together if you have not made me feel embarrassed about my misinterpretation.
4) Don’t assume that a hearing aid or a cochlear means that we can hear very well now. We don’t. It assists us but we still need to interpret the sounds we hear or think we hear.
5) If you have an accent then please be extra patient with us. It is extra work for us. It is not your fault but neither is it our fault.
6) Eliminate all background sounds especially music when ever possible.
Good lighting is essential. Stand or sit with your face in the light. Direct overhead lighting throws shadows. Dusk is difficult as are flickering lights such as a campfire or bonfire.
7) Deaf people rarely have any depth of field where sound is concerned. We have no idea where the sound is coming from.
8) Don’t raise your voice unless asked.
9) Don’t assume that just because they ‘speak well’ that they are not very deaf. The two are not linked!
10) Don’t exaggerate your mouth movement when speaking.
11) If you have a beard or moustache, please keep your top lip trimmed so we can see the outline of your lips.
12) Understand that hearing and lipreading takes a lot of effort and we can become tired or even exhausted. We are prone to make even more mistakes at speech recognition when we are tired. This is especially true at conferences, lectures and classes, etc.
13) Have a pen and paper handy if you get stuck.This can save a lot of embarrassments and misunderstandings.
14) Please be patient and repeat it often if necessary. Don’t say, “Never mind” or “It wasn’t important” if it was important enough to say it once, then we might feel unimportant if you can’t be bothered to repeat it. As mentioned earlier, try rephrasing it for us. We don’t choose to be deaf.
15) Please, please don’t give up on us. We are apart of the community too! We didn’t become deaf by choice and we have no other reality.
Mostly you just need to take time to talk with patience and kindness. Make the opportunity to learn from each other. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we each took the time to get to know what it was like to walk in another person’s shoes?