A question that comes my way is, “where are all the deaf people?”.
It’s mainly people over forty who ask this question. Many, never having met a deaf person, are full of questions about the daily challenges, peoples’ attitudes, technology and so on.
Others, not wanting to cause offence, don’t voice their questions but stumble along with any conversation, embarrassed at their awkwardness and hoping it doesn’t show.
Guess which is the better type of person to meet? Yes, people who have a positive attitude and aren’t afraid to ask potentially awkward questions, to better understand the issue/s.
That’s how learning occurs, after all. An exchange of ideas, the conclusion each individual draws and the take-away from any dialogue that occurs. Even if the participants don’t agree 100% on everything discussed.
So, to answer the question, “where are all the deaf people?”.
They’re everywhere, but not as “visible” as you might expect. Some speak with hearing devices, a minority sign and some use sign and speech, depending where they are.
Just as everyone has a different life path, deafness is a unique experience for each person and today, with social inclusion and educational policy, old stereotypes must be left behind.
Actual, Lived Experience
At a past workplace, corporate marketing contacts I had made, would phone reception and ask to speak to me. Once my email address was given over the phone, the trail often died.
If these people lifted the phone in the first place to make a call, why was an email substitute such a hassle? Was it their personality type, laziness, or did my deafness scare them?
Many times, the receptionist was astounded at the negativity from people on the phone – professionals who couldn’t believe they were in touch with a deaf professional by email.
Enlightened Contacts Count
One enlightened contact who called reception, emailed me to say he’d call to my workplace so I “could lipread him”. He was in the area for the day, and we had a great meeting.
Too often, potential contacts are put off at the thought of meeting someone who might sign, or needs an interpreter. Constantly, as an oral deaf person, I have to explain I speak and don’t sign. Not all deaf people are the same!
Deaf people, regardless of how they communicate, do rely on being given a chance to advance in a hearing world. Risks may have to be taken by the person, their teacher and/or employer, but that’s how social progress is made.
One way to demystify deafness and increase everyone’s understanding of what’s involved, is to practise inclusive mainstream education, training, recreation and employment where possible.
With a look to the future, things can be different for the current generation of deaf children – but that change must start with everyone pulling together.