How not to be a dick to deaf people

by Bea Webster

(PART 1)

I thought I would put up my own sort of a very brief mini deaf awareness blog that may contain non-PG words (actually, it does). They are of course my opinion, and may not apply to all deaf people. I’ve thrown in a few of my experiences for better understanding, and maybe some giggles. We’ll see.

Note: if you did any of the below without ill intentions, but someone corrected you and you stopped doing it, then that’s fine… But if you keep doing it, then that’s another story.

1. Appreciate that there are many different types of ‘deafness’, and not all deaf people are the same.

For example, I’m a cochlear implant user, and for me that means I have total hearing as much as a machine can give me, but just not the hearing ‘hearing’ people have, thus I can hear and speak relatively well. In my experience, it tends to mean that I mispronounce or mishear words. Often. Very often. Like when I went camping on a summer’s day in Arran, I went into my tent which I forgot to zip up and I screamed “OH MY GOD THERE’S SO MANY FUCKING MIDGETS EVERYWHERE!” to the amusement of my laughing mum and sister, which they proceeded to correct me that it was pronounced ‘midges’ not ‘midgets’. The people on the campsite must’ve thought I was a narrow minded offensive person. Or the time I kept calling Scottish people ‘sausage people’, or the fact that I said ‘cling fling’ instead of cling film for nearly my whole life. Thanks Mum, for never correcting me.

For some deaf people, some may not have any hearing at all and only sign. Some use both. Some only speaks. Surprise, like any other human being, there is a diversity among deaf people. Who would’ve thought?

2. For the love of God, please DO. NOT. SPEAK. LIKE. THIS. Don’t exaggerate your speech. I mean, HOW. WOULD. YOU. LIKE. ME. TO. SPEAK. TO. YOU. LIKE. THIS. BACK? I mean, if you did this to a deaf person who doesn’t have any hearing (as opposed to having hearing aids or cochlear implant) what bloody difference would it make??? There’s a thing called Common Sense…

Not only this is patronising, it will also distort your natural lip pattern, making it harder to lipread. Which brings around the next point about lipreading…

2. Lipreading on its own is mostly guesswork and trying to connect the dots, which is incredibly exhausting. I rely on both lipreading AND hearing. Normally I can’t do one or the other. Most of the time if I spend so much time with someone I can hear their voice without lipreading (i.e. over the phone) so I don’t rely on it as much but it still will tire me out.

I mean, so many words probably are too similar for me when it comes to lipreading, for example mistaking clock for cock. Very different. Yes. Different.

The same goes for lipreading sick… And dick. Again, very different. I think you get the pattern by now?

3. Don’t be afraid to ask the deaf person questions on how to communicate/work with them. They won’t bite. I hope. Most of us will help, but if there’s some that snaps at you for such questions (where you try to improve communication or understand their deafness and so on), then that’s their loss. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Also, you may not know but British Sign Language (BSL) is a language on its own right, and not the same as English. BSL is not a word for word translation of Enlgish. BSL has its own grammatical rules, linguistic deeper than English, has its own regional variations (the sign for ‘arrangement’ in Scotland is the same as ‘fuck’ in England, a mistake I learnt the hard way), it uses many elements (handshape, facial expression etc) to express meaning and so on. So if you think communicating fully with just using pen and paper cuts it for all deaf people, it’s not necessarily true.

4. Don’t say “oh, never mind”or “it’s not important”  when a deaf person ask you to repeat what you were saying. It’s not nice. I had it so often and it often made me feel unimportant. Am I not important enough for you to make a bit of effort in repeating it, writing it down or even rephrasing it? I do make a lot of effort communicating with people, and when it’s not returned it can be disheartening. If I’d had a pound coin every time this happened in school, I’d be rich. Filthy rich. Alas, I am not, and it did knock my confidence down as a teen.

Although, there are few times where no matter what, I still can’t get you especially in a position when you can’t write or text and that’s okay. Like I was in the car with my ex-girlfriend who was driving, and she said something and I must’ve asked her to repeat maybe 10 times (and she did it without making me feel stupid), and it still went over my head, but we laughed and forgot about it. It was slightly awkward but please laugh about it! Don’t make me feel stupid!

5. However, there are questions or statements that you shouldn’t really ask. These are some examples of questions I have actually been asked, such as…

“How do deaf people drive?”

With our eyes? We’re deaf, not blind. I think eyes are a requirement in driving, not ears… Wrong body part.

“You’re deaf? So you can’t have children?”

First of all, I said I was deaf. I didn’t say that I have some condition that made giving birth impossible. Nor is deafness connected to the womb somehow. Just because we’re deaf doesn’t mean we defy the laws of biology.

“Really? You’re too pretty to be deaf!”

You’re too ugly to be hearing. Does that makes sense? No.

“I’m surprised because you don’t look deaf!”

What did you expect us to look like, that guy from Star Wars?


(After explaining how a cochlear implant works and having years of speech and language therapy)
“How is your speech so good?” or “Your speech is so good!”

This never made sense to me, especially after explaining it. It gives me hearing, not necessarily worse than a ‘hearing’ person, just very differently. And did I not just say I had speech and language therapy? So on that basis, I should be able to form coherent words… Right? But I *normally* don’t take offence because normally a person means well.

“But you don’t sound deaf!”

What is a deaf person supposed to sound like? “Hab SoSlI’ Quch!”? Oh wait, that’s Klingon. I might have accidentally insulted you. Oops.

“You’re deaf? I’m so sorry to hear that…”

Oh really? I’m sorry I’m standing here listening to you.

6. Don’t cover your mouth while talking. Also, don’t look away while you talk. Make sure your face isn’t dark (as in poor lighting). This seems like common sense but far too many people keep “forgetting” to do this. I have seen few guide on how not to be a dick to deaf people by other deaf people where sometimes bloggers will even go as far as to telling men to shave off if they have. Like. No. Beards are good. (I’m a self confessed beardsexual.) But really, you can’t just tell people what to do with their body. Maybe… Just try to trim around your mouth area so we can lip read you? Just a suggestion? But yeah, the main point is not to cover your mouth.

Although it is hard when I travelled to Dubai, as I found it very difficult to communicate with women with headscarves that covers their mouth. I went to one for help in Dubai Airport, and she got so offended when I asked her to write down or even point at the map where the Emirates long transfer free dinner were and I tried to explain that I was deaf and I needed to lipread in order to hear people. Accents does make it harder. And I don’t know what the deaf awareness is like in Dubai, so I just told her I’d find someone else to her dismay. Sorry? I couldn’t just tell her to remove the headscarf because it’s disrespectful. If anyone got any advice on this matter, do let me know!

7. Try not to forget that deaf people are deaf. It’s very convenient when people forget that I’m deaf. Even I’m guilty of this and I’m freaking deaf myself. Especially my mum. Yes. For example, there was one time where I was waiting ages for dinner, and eventually I came out to the living room, and I asked where my dinner was. “I called you, and you never came!” “MUM. I’m deaf!” But due to the wonder of a microwave, I still had a warm dinner, albeit just a bit later. Or the fact to this day she still calls me out whenever she needs me and it proceeds something like this;

Mum: BEATRICE! (Yes, I keep forgetting that’s my name)
Me: What?
Mum: Beatrice, come here!
Me: Where are you?
Mum: Here!
Me: Where?
Mum: Here!
Me: Where is here?

And so on it goes…

It’s mostly due to the fact that my hearing processor is only on one side so I can’t tell which direction sounds comes from. So if you call my name in the middle of the street you’d probably see my head turning around like a panicked owl trying to see who called me!

I hope you enjoyed this. Part 2 is coming! There will be future PG version on how to work with deaf people and so on for workplaces and education. Bea x