The Silent Language

Many people may think that this doesn’t matter, that it may not affect them; but it does. We are all affected by not being able to communicate. Deaf and hard of hearing people were born without one sense, but that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them. Deaf and hard of hearing people are just as capable of doing anything that hearing people do. But why is it that the far majority of hearing people make no effort to be able to communicate with deaf people? To learn the language that they use? The interpretive, beautiful language that creates a special bond between the communicators? ASL is a language that those communicating must interpret the signs and the body language and movement of the opposite person to understand the meaning of what they are trying to convey. It is it’s own language with grammar rules and structure.

So, my question is: Why do we hearing people make no effort to learn at least basic signs, so we can communicate with our deaf peers? It’s more important than we think. There are more deaf or hard of hearing people in the world than we think there are; but the deaf and hearing communities are so separated by this lack of ability to communicate.

Here’s a story of an experience I had. About a year ago, I was working as a cashier in the art supplies store I work at. A customer came up to check and and I politely started the usual “Did you find everything alright?” He said nothing. I instantly thought, “Ugh it’s one of the rude customers, at least say something.” It never would have crossed my mind that he couldn’t hear me. I went on to scan his things and almost finish out our interaction, but I had to ask for his email address as we do for everyone. I asked, we awkwardly stared at each other, and he made a gesture toward his ear and made a slight, quiet sound. I saw a small device in his ear, and he moved his mouth but not much came out. In that moment I realized he couldn’t hear me. I instantly felt awful. I felt rude. But in reality, I hadn’t done anything  really rude. It was just a bad situation. But I had come up short. At the end of the transaction, after the initial awkwardness, I still didn’t know how to act so out of my ignorance I even mouthed the word thank you and goodbye. I don’t even know why, it was just a bad instinct. I instantly regretted it, it was rude but it just happened. As if it helped the situation?

After this experience I realized how much work it is for them to communicate with hearing people. This happened to me once but this sort of situation happens all the time, maybe everyday for deaf or hard of hearing people. They have to deal with the inability to communicate  everywhere they go in the hearing world. Every time they go to the store they just read the screen. The cashier might think that person is being rude, but they’re just doing what they need to do.

The problem here is hearing people don’t make an effort to learn about deaf culture. We don’t even think about. We should be including deaf and hard of hearing people, not alienating them. They’re just as capable of doing anything that hearing people are and they don’t need to be fixed. They don’t need pity either, that’s not what this is about.


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