At the moment, deaf awareness seems to be a very popular, interchangeably used, term. I’m not sure if some people really know what is meant by it and its worth. I include myself in this category, saying things such as ‘they need more deaf awareness!’ but perhaps overlooking the fact that hearing people are not naturally deaf aware. Maybe, I have gotten used to the unfortunate fact that a good proportion of people I work with do not have any deaf awareness – even if as a trained interpreter I have methods to try and quickly educate the hearing person in the 15-20 minutes I have before the interpreting begins. Maybe my attitude links back to the point I made in my previous blog (‘How to book an Interpreter’) about taking things for granted. I take for granted that people have an innate deaf awareness. I hear myself saying things such as “She is deaf, why would anyone treat her any differently?!” or “If I met a deaf person for the first time and wasn’t an interpreter I am sure I’d know the basics of being deaf aware or ‘deaf friendly”.
That just isn’t the case. I recently witnessed an event where there was no deaf awareness from the hearing person. The consequence of this was upset to the deaf people and hearing person; confusion for both; and, ultimately, discrimination to the people who were deaf. Recently, Gloucestershire Deaf Association (GDA) released a video called ‘Dave the signer’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JH6zV2ltsQ. If you haven’t already watched it then I really recommend that you do!! It is produced very well and it’s very funny! I remember forwarding it to my friend who replied “SHOCKING!” He is right, it is shocking, to which I replied “Sadly, this is the reality for a lot of deaf people.” My recent experience proved this. Without deaf awareness, people could be excluded and in this 21st century, this can’t be acceptable or necessary.
In my last experience, there was a lot of worry about health and safety linked to people who were deaf. I know, health and safety does have to be a consideration, but honestly, how do you think people who are deaf managed in the past?! Believe me, with some of the current, poor, provision for people who are deaf – having fire alarms with no flashing red light for example, they have had to develop strategies and know what to do, long before any health and safety regulation was introduced. In a similar situation, the other day I attended a lifeguarding course and the trainer was unsure how a person who is deaf could become one. The trainer missed what one of their hearing colleagues remarked: that as hearing people rely on their hearing, people who are deaf rely on their eyes. For lifeguarding this is ideal, and she went on to say that they usually spot someone in danger long before the hearing lifeguard does. So again, how do you think people who are deaf get by in everyday life?! I don’t believe there are more deaths or injuries because of someone being deaf.
Below I have some tips for someone who wants to be more deaf aware. Before I move onto these tips I think it is important to say that people should have the opportunity to become deaf aware at a younger age. I know that not everyone will meet a person who is deaf (although I find that hard to imagine) and I think it’s brilliant that so many businesses, individuals and charities have taken the initiative to go on courses to be more deaf aware. But is this something people could be learning in schools? For example, I know that at the moment Danielle Williams http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lets-break-the-silence is trying to get British Sign Language taught in schools – this would help normalise it and it wouldn’t be so alien. I have seen people appear unnerved when meeting a deaf person for the first time. I still witness people’s attitudes that it is a ‘lesser’ language or some sort of strange way of communicating – where has this attitude come from and why is it still present in 2015?!
So, the tips…this is not a comprehensive list and is not a one size fits all for every deaf or hard of hearing person you meet. I hope these will aid or improve your communication in the future:
- Before starting to talk to the deaf person make sure you have their attention (you may need to wave or tap them);
- Face the deaf person and make eye contact;
- Speak clearly, don’t over-exaggerate your lip pattern, just speak like you normally would;
- Tell the person who is deaf the topic of the conversation;
- If you are in a group of people, speak one at a time;
- If someone doesn’t understand you, don’t keep repeating it. Try saying it in a different way. Also, don’t give up or say ‘it doesn’t matter’ – imagine someone saying that to you, it’s not nice!
- Be open and honest – if you are unsure of the protocol of using an interpreter (where or where not to look, etc.) just ask. Attitude is key!
- Try your best. Of course we cannot all be proficient signers, but there are other ways, e.g. gesturing, perhaps the deaf person can lip read, pointing to things. Perhaps if you have learnt some signing in school you could use a little?
- If you are communicating with a deaf person, look at them (not the interpreter!) I know it can be strange at first because people who are hearing will instinctively look at whoever is talking, but no eye contact with the deaf person is rude!