Just so you are aware: it’s Deaf Awareness Month.
I wasn’t planning on posting about this but as it’s also Deaf Awareness Week, I’m under double the pressure.
For this, I’ve put together an FAQ. Except, instead of answering the questions, I am going to rate them on their awkwardness:
1. “How did you become deaf?”
Awkwardness: 6/10. (But only 1/10 if you’re also deaf.)
This question gets rated as Moderate as I understand being nosy is human nature. If I see that somebody is missing a digit or two, I’d like to know the story. Instead, I’d invent an answer to satisfy my curiosity, like “gang knife fight”.
“I lost my hearing in a gang knife fight,” will be my response the next time somebody asks.
If I am with a hearing friend, for the sake of convenience, they often get asked: “How did she become deaf?”
Ah, it brings me joy to see my medical history turn into small talk between two people who don’t know each other.
Oftentimes, my friend will even volunteer this information. I know the answer is simple and straightforward, but the proper response would be:
“How much money do you earn in a year?”
Society seems to understand that it’s inappropriate to ask for one’s salary. Now, I don’t know if this would help people clue in and realize how tacky their question was, but at this point, I’d love to know how much these meddlesome bozos are making.
Having the cashier at the grocery store know how I became deaf doesn’t benefit me.
I’m imagining them at home after work:
“Honey, how was work?”
“I rang up a deaf customer’s loaf of bread today.”
“Interesting. How did they become deaf?”
“Gang knife fight.”
“Pity. Have you ever noticed the lack of captions on online videos? We should do something about that.”
This is a conversation that definitely doesn’t happen.
2. “Why don’t you wear hearing aids/get the cochlear implant?”
How sincere would it be if a man were to ask a woman, “Miss, why don’t you wear a brassiere?”
Deaf people have either looked into hearing aids/getting the implant, or had our parents look into it for us. This is one of the first bits of information doctors present us with after we fail our hearing test.
This question gets asked by people who have done no research on the implant and merely know of its existence. Therefore it can easily be interpreted as, “Why don’t you want to get fixed?”
Let’s say I could get the cochlear implant, a procedure that requires I get my head cut open, who would I be doing it for? Myself? Other people?
I’ve adjusted to life without sound. I miss listening to music as much as you miss being able to spread your wings and fly or breathe underwater through your gills.
I have other hobbies, such as typing up snarky blog posts.
4. “Can you read lips?”
Some deaf people do read lips well!
What makes this one awkward is how this is the one sentence I can lipread better than any other.
I am also excellent at understanding the following mouth movement sequences:
“How are you?”
“Would you like anything to drink?”
“Would you like the receipt?”
“Do you have Air Miles?”
“What’s your problem?”
Any unpleasantness that follows this question happens when I answer in the negative. When I explain that I need them to write what they’re saying, I’m often met with resistance. “You need more practice, then! I’m going to continue speaking to you.”
THAT is my problem.
5. “Can you speak?”
If I wanted to use my voice with you, I would; but because you had to ask, I already don’t trust you. I see comments ridiculing the “deaf accent” all the time. For someone like me, speaking takes effort and I don’t even know what the result sounds like. All that work to accommodate a person who will likely make fun of my voice? No thanks.
This is a bad question because it’s doubtful our response is going to be, “Oh yeah! I forgot, sorry about that.”
6. “Can you read braille?”
Many deaf people, especially those from hearing families, have been taught to avoid making hearing people feel uncomfortable. They’re delicate people, we’re told, who cannot handle snappy answers to goofy questions.
I do feel a twinge of secondhand embarrassment when somebody pulls the braille question on me. How can anybody ask this and not want to die once the absurdity hits them?
I have been asked this question… in writing. I showed excellent self-control by not running my finger across the scribbling and going, “What?”
7. “Can you drive?”
It’s only awkward because I’m a virgin who can’t drive.
I know people usually ask because they’re skeptical about deaf people being able to legally drive.
Also, it probably varies by country.
But unless you need me to drive you somewhere at the moment, Google is your friend.
Keep up the good work, Google.
Ok, so that’s the FAQ. We also get frequent awkward comments:
1. “My dog is deaf.”
2. “I couldn’t live without music.”
I’m sorry you only have one thing going on for you in life.
3. “I’d rather be blind than deaf.”
I’m glad you think you’ll have a choice between the two, and that I made the wrong choice.
Every once in a while we’d meet someone who has the balls to say something so offensive without even realizing it:
“It’s my opinion that genetically deaf people should not have children.”
Hey Hitler, I don’t think asshats like YOU should procreate, but since so many of you do anyway, this just serves as another reason for me to not procreate.
This comment was made to my face just once, by a guy I was dating who thought he was being nice for giving me a pass because my deafness isn’t hereditary. “No no, you’re fine. But your friends are not.”
Even insecure 18-year-old me was like, “Get the fuck out of my face.”
A lot of the above questions aren’t really offensive, just awkward. We’d like to have people start with something more basic like, “Would you like some cake?” (assuming they can supply cake) and work their way up from there.