**First Appeared in ‘The Deaf Traveller‘**
During my globetrotting adventures, a topic of conversation keeps cropping up. My deafness. Or rather Deaf Awareness. This either comes about when someone notices my hearing aids, or I’m in a situation which requires Deaf Awareness.
As I introduce myself to someone in the hostel hoping to make my acquaintance, we would get off to a good start when I find him glancing discreetly at my hearing aid rather than staring in my dark and beautiful eyes. Uncomfortably, he would clear his throat and hesitantly say ‘So you wear a hearing aid?’ Inside, I would inwardly groan knowing that my robotic conversation would come about again. I need to educate him. It’s not that I don’t want to but it bores me to have to talk about it to every single person. So off, I educate him and bring up Deaf Awareness.
Maybe I’m in a noisy hostel bar where the pumping music and a cacophony of voices swirl, amplified, in my ears. I can’t adjust properly to the person speaking in front of me. I can either give up and go to my peaceful dorm or what I regularly do, inform and educate the speaker on deaf awareness to ensure I stay and enjoy myself. Again, my robotic conversation comes out, but it must be done.
So you may be asking yourself, what deaf awareness should you do? I’ll tell you and I hope you can employ them with me.
1) Get their Attention!
Too often, people would speak to me if I’m not looking at them or even aware that they are actually speaking to me. As a result, it’ll look like I’m ignoring them and then they will go away in a huff. It really is not the case. So, if you want to speak to me, get in my eye line and wave to me. Or even touch me on the arm or the shoulder. I won’t bite. I’ll just kiss you.
2) Make Sure You’re in the Right Environment
If you can, try to minimise the background noise. I know it’s hard if you’re in a bar, but move away from the speakers or perhaps go even outside in the courtyard. It’s probably better for you. Also, make sure you’re in a well-lit place. We depend on lip-reading as well so make sure your face is lit up. Never stand directly in front of a window, this darkens your face.
3) Speak Clearly, Loudly and at Normal Speed
Speak clearly because this will let me hear all your sounds in your voice and also this makes my lip-reading much better. Try to speak a little louder than you normally would at first so I can get used to the way you speak and later, I will then understand you when you speak at your normal volume. At above all else, speak at your normal rate. Do not slow down your speaking unless you’re Scottish! If you slow your rate down, it will make you look patronising to me and also this plays havoc with my lip-reading. It goes without saying, do not speak too fast.
4) Take Turns Speaking
Being in a group of people who overtalks each other is probably my worst nightmare. By the time I realise and look at the other person, I’ve missed half what was said. Then I lose the train the conversation. This makes me feel sad. So all I ask, is to take turns talking.
5) If I don’t Understand, Repeat and Re-phrase
Sometimes, if I don’t understand what you had just said, don’t be embarrassed, just repeat what you said. I probably didn’t catch it at first. What you don’t do is wave your hands and say it doesn’t matter. That makes me mad. If I still can’t understand you, re-phrase what you said as this will change what I’m really hearing and your lip patterns. If I still, can’t understand, you have many tools at your disposal, get a pen and paper or use the texting application on your phone to show me.
6) Don’t ever Mumble or Cover Your Mouth
If you really want to make me mad, then mumble and cover your mouth. You’re really essentially cutting off my line of communication. So as I said before, speak clearly and keep your hands to yourself or on me.
7) Keep Eye Contact
This shouldn’t be too hard if you’re looking at me. But eye contact gives reassurance to me that you are talking to me and also easier for me to understand you as strange as it sounds. Look away or even cover your eyes with sunglasses will not help.
8) Don’t Shout
Shouting distorts clarity of speech and lip patterns. Deafness isn’t just about loss of volume, it’s loss of pitch and frequency as well and varies from each deaf person. I mostly have loss of pitch.
9) Always Check if a Deaf Person Can Understand You
My favourite awareness tool. Rather than having to inform you of specific deaf awareness all the time, how about you try? Check if you’ve got my attention and ask me if I can Understand. Sometimes, I will say Yes and be happy that you are aware. Sometimes I will say No and if you can find the reason why and rectify it, then I will be happy that you are being deaf aware. Don’t worry, if you’re not sure why I cannot understand you, tell me and I will let you know happily. Just asking if I can understand makes it all the better for me.
There you have it. These are the rules of Deaf Awareness. Don’t worry if you can’t remember all of them but just follow the mantra – ask, repeat, rephrase. And I’ll love you forever.