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Writing this I am on a hiding to nothing. It’s going to hurt some people. It’s going to shock some people. Some will even get angry. Friends, work colleagues and people in my networks, they are all going to find this a wee bit confronting. Nay, very confronting. But I am going to do it anyway. Come what may, just remember these views are mine and mine alone.
Last week a video of a very angry Deaf woman popped up on my Facebook feed. I wanted to post the video here but it has now been deleted. The woman in the video was besides herself. She described how, when she is with Deaf friends signing and hearing friends are present, she makes sure that the hearing friends know exactly what her Deaf friends are talking about. In short, she does everything in her power to include her hearing friends.
Her anger in the video is palpable. She described what happens when she is out with her hearing friends. The hearing friends all talk at rapid pace. She, of course, cannot follow. When she asks her hearing friends what people are talking about all she gets is a ten second summary. Her friends may have been talking for half an hour and all she gets is a ten second summary. Or worse, her hearing friends tell her that they are just talking rubbish and she really would not want to know.
In the video the woman’s face is red. He eyes are bulging. She gesticulates and even screams, She expresses her extreme frustration at being excluded in this way. She asks why she must always be the one making the effort while her hearing friends always exclude her with ten second summaries or simply by dismissing her queries altogether. As the video ends she pulls her hair, her eyes bulge and she screams. If you are Deaf, you can empathise , we have all been there.
We all hate it too. We hate those hearing gatherings where we cannot follow conversations. We hate those gatherings when all are chatting animatedly, laughing rancorously and we have no idea what is going on. We hate missing the jokes. We squirm as a kind hearing person in the gathering tries their best to include us with a ten second summary. We bottle our anger as we are told that it’s not important or that they will tell us later. It hurts.
If I am with Deaf friends, because I know what it is like to be excluded, I interpret for my hearing friends and colleagues so that they do not feel left out. I stop our conversations to let the hearing people that cannot sign know what we are talking about. When someone laughs, I tell them why we are laughing. I do this because I know the pain of exclusion and no one should have to deal with that – NO ONE! I like to think that there are many Deaf people who do this as I do.
And then we walk into a room – maybe at our football club, perhaps at work or at some family gathering where everyone is hearing, the hearing look at us, nod and carry on with their conversations. We get a tidbit here and there –“Just talking about Sandy’s new haircut.”, “Pete broke up with Kate last night.” – Or the dreaded, ” Don’t worry, they are all talking rubbish.” We smile, we nod and sometimes we get the hell out rather than have to deal with the exclusion. More often, we just find a quiet place and sit alone. Externally we look fine but internally we are seething and incredibly uncomfortable because of the exclusion that we are experiencing.
And we are always adapting. Always changing. Always adjusting to please the hearing people. We are Deaf, we can’t monitor or voices as well as hearing people. We are incredibly conscious that we might be too noisy for where we are. We are often told to SHHHHHH or given funny looks to let us know that we are embarrassing our hearing peers. Some of us are too frightened to even speak lest our voices carry too far and interfere with the conversation of our hearing peers. We all live with a certain amount of paranoia. Ironically, and often, when we try to lower our voices we get, “Speak up, you’re whispering..”
Nearly always we are adjusting and adapting. In recent years I have started using voice to text technology to follow conversations. It’s funny because the hearing folk seem to forget that we can now HEAR them and they say odd things like, “Don’t tell Gary that, it will piss him off …”. Completely unaware that the technology has picked up what they have just said.
At work we do a lot of meetings by Teams. I use the voice to text technology for captioning, its very accurate. Occasionally I am in an environment where there is lots of background noise. The noise interferes with the captioning. Do I ask hearing people making the noise to be more quiet? No, I turn off my microphone so that the noise that they make does not interfere. Then I often speak and forget to turn the microphone back on so that no-one can hear me. Me adapting, ALWAYS!
Yet, should a Deaf person speak and be too loud, what is the response? “SHHHHHHH, we are in a meeting, you are interrupting … tone it down!” Yup, its always us! We are the problem. Forever having to be aware of ourselves and modify ourselves to fit in with this hearing world.
Mind you, none of this beats the guy that told my work mates to be careful. You see I would turn on my Microsoft Group Transcribe so I could get an inkling of what my work mates were discussing. I am reliably informed he told my workmates to be careful what they said because “I WAS LISTENING”. It is just not on for us Deafies to know what hearing people take for granted everyday; is it?
So to the woman that made the video, I hear you! (Pun intended) For you hearing people expecting us and me to do all the adjusting – Well, I can count myself lucky I do not have any hair to pull out – But the screaming, yeah I think I may just do a bit more of that.