Patience is a virtue….

Holiday Spain 2015Recently, holidaying in Spain I was feeling very lucky that I had arrived in such a beautiful location – boiling hot, wall-to-wall sunshine and the beach only a short drive from where I was staying – lovely!

Everything was going well, I had the sun, sea and it was hot – what more could I ask for? Until…..I had to try and ask for something in Spanish. Before booking the holiday I knew it was an authentic, Spanish, holiday. The Spanish themselves holiday there. No problem (I thought), after all, why go to Spain if I am going to be surrounded by British people. I also (arrogantly) thought that there will (of course!) be some people who will be able to speak English! Turns out, not as many as I had hoped for!

Ordering food was the main problem. In supermarkets I could get by with a “gracias!” and “Hola!” and “Adios!” then looking at the till to see how much I needed to pay in Euros. Seeing as we ate out quite a bit for lunch and dinner, this became a chore and quite frustrating. My frustration was not so much with the Spanish people (they are in Spain, why would I expect them to speak English!) It was more with myself and the fact that I couldn’t put a sentence together in Spanish.

However, as the holiday progressed there seemed to be a divide between those who had patience and took pity on us simpleton English people and those that were frustrated with us and ignored us from the beginning once they knew we couldn’t speak Spanish. Don’t get me wrong, I went into cafes and restaurants with a smiley face, armed with my few phrases of “Hola!” “Gracias” and “Menu” and even learnt how to say “Sorry, I do not speak Spanish” – with an apologetic face. But to some, they showed no mercy and we were either ignored or treated  as if we didn’t matter and were greeted with a frown and lack of patience.

Before I continue, I want to say this is not a blog bashing our Spanish friends! On the contrary, it made me look at myself and how I may treat people who cannot speak my language in my home country. I am also mindful that any nationality (including British) could behave in the different ways I have described above. It made me think about how my friends and family may treat those who find it difficult to speak English (both those who speak a foreign language and also those who are deaf).

Whilst in Spain I found it frustrating that I was not able to get across what I wanted to say. It made me think that I really wouldn’t want other people to feel this way because of my lack of patience towards them. Of course, that doesn’t mean I will go out and learn all the languages of the world. Instead, what it does mean is that I can make a conscious effort to be patient when I am faced with problems in communication.

Perhaps we can all be too quick to judge or make assumptions if one has done something for someone else but had no gratitude shown. For example, moving out of someone’s way and they didn’t appear to say “thank you”.  – Maybe you didn’t hear them (I noticed when I tried to speak Spanish I would speak quietly as I was embarrassed with how I pronounced my words), or maybe they were deaf and they signed their thanks to you instead of saying it?! Or, maybe they said thank you in a different language – spoken or signed that you either misheard or didn’t see?! Either way, after being on the receiving end of feeling stupid, frustrated and partially feeling mocked – I want to make sure that I don’t make others feel the same. One of the ways I can do this is by being more mindful and patient with the various people I will inevitably meet in the future, in my home country.

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Deaf awareness – for what it’s worth…..

This week (4th to 10th  May 2015) is deaf awareness week, so I thought it was worth re-sharing my previous blog about why I think deaf awareness is important and some tips to encourage those of you who want to become more deaf aware….

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!