Internationally, September is Deaf Awareness Month. The month seeks to recognize vital roles deaf individuals play in different sectors of the world. It aims to spread awareness about the deaf community, their language and unique culture including the challenges they face and how they are better able to navigate in a discrimination-filled world.
In the spirit of awareness, there are so much to learn and unlearn. This month promises to clear numerous misconceptions that society has towards the deaf, with a lot to share ranging from culture, education, language, and all aspect of what constitute the deaf community. Below are the five basic things you need to know about deaf people in case you bump into one:
1. They do not need your sympathy
Deaf people didn’t come from a community that need to be pitied. While we understand how kind-hearted you might be, you can feel sorry for a bereaved family, for one who got an accident etc. You do not need to express a morsel of sympathy for someone who lost his/her hearing ability.
You would be making it look like they come to you begging for their hearing restoration. They can as well tell from your facial expressions how sympathetic you might seem. It is just that their auditory organs decided to shut down leaving them in a silent world. It doesn’t stop them from moving on and achieving their goals. They expect you to be emphatic by all means and nothing much.
2. Assistive technology is a choice
It’s normal to think that there’s a solution to everything including deafness. When you discover that someone is deaf, you tend to introduce assistive technology like hearing aids and cochlear implants to him/her.
It’s important to let you know that the use of assistive technology is primarily a choice to deaf people and they shouldn’t be forced to depend on or use any. Moreover, the ‘assistance’ provided by an assistive technology is subject. It can work for some and can not for others depending on the profundity of deafness.
3. It’s deaf not “deaf & dumb”
Over the year, there has been intense debate on the appropriate terms to use when addressing people who are deaf. The term “Deaf and Dumb” is no longer appropriate as it used to be in the past. Deaf doesn’t also mean dumb and the right term to use is “Deaf”. Although, some may not classify themselves as deaf.
Some choose to be addressed as a “hearing impaired” person. Many deaf individuals worldwide have gone on a different walk of life to lead in a wide variety of professions. There’s no way to classify them as ‘dumb’ which is the synonym for daft. The right term to use is ‘deaf’ and the addition of ‘dumb’ is outright inappropriate.
4. Their preference differ
Preference is what we should put in mind when dealing with deaf people. Everyone’s preferences differ and we should respect that. For instance, using myself as the case study, at the University of Ilorin park whenever I want to board the Korope, a popular bus shuttle that convey students to and fro campus, I always prefer the front seat or anywhere close to the driver so that I can be able to tap the driver to stop me at my junction.
This is because not all deaf people can use their voice. In a situation where they end up sitting at the back, the way they attract the driver’s attention is by hitting the roof of any vehicle they find themselves in, in order to wave down the driver. Sometimes, they may choose to write to passenger in the vehicle to help them speak to the driver to stop where they want to alight.
Another instance is when you organise a program and intend to include deaf persons, they prefer you ask them who they want you to recommend as Sign Language Interpreter. It isn’t up to you to decide on any Sign Language Interpreter for them. Not everyone who calls himself/herself a Sign Language Interpreter is that professional. Respect their preference again.
5. They have their mode of communication
It’s weird when someone tells you that he/she is deaf and you decide to speak into their ear. That is not their mode of communication. They expect you to write on paper or learn their language which is ‘Sign Language’.
Some deaf people can read lips too. When communicating with a deaf person verbally, it’s important to maintain eyes contact with the person. You may need to undergo many rounds of repetition before they can fully grasp the message you intend to pass on. We understand how quite frustrating this can be and vice versa. You need to be patient with them and also learn Sign Language – their unique language for effective communication.