A World of Silence: How ‘Deaf’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

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Photo is from The Princess Bride movie. The character is Inigo Montoya, a swarthy man of Spanish heritage with chin-length brown hair, brown eyes, and a brown mustache. The caption reads: You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

 

I am Deaf. But I can hear. At least, I can hear some frequencies, slightly muted, about 50% of the time with my Lyric implants (inner ear canal implants that are inserted by a doctor quarterly) and about 30% of the time, muted and choppy, without my implants.

Technically, under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) I am profoundly hard of hearing. My condition is degenerative however, so in a few short years I will be legally deaf under the ADA definition.

Why am I telling you this? For understanding and to clear the air about a few common misconceptions as to what being deaf means – for realsies. ‘Deaf’ is a two-fold word implying both a state of different ability (like Michael Jordan is differently-abled than, say, your average high school basketballer) and a culture and community identification (think about nationality or ethnic heritage pride).

My differently-abled definition is profoundly hard of hearing, as I retain some hearing capacity. My culture and community identification is Deaf.

I interact with the speaking/hearing world a great deal of the time. It’s hard to lecture a room of speaking-inclined authors using only American Sign Language (ASL). Well, I could but what would be the point? Also I commute via bus and bicycle often. While hearing is not a requirement at all for doing that, it does make the commutes a smidgen easier (asking questions if you’re in an unfamiliar place and need directions for example) and safer (hearing a car horn blaring behind you because they’re about to careen into the bicycling lane for example).

Since I grew up speaking and hearing (my degenerative disorder didn’t start being noticeable until my teenage years), my speech is fine, I still enjoy music (based in large part more on my remembering what the music sounds like than what is being translated by my implants), and interacting frequently and largely with the speaking/hearing world. Living in both worlds doesn’t bother me. Until…someone makes one of the asinine comments that make me have to take two slow breaths and then launch into instruction mode.

 

You’re deaf? But you speak so well.

There is nothing a Deaf person can’t do that anyone else can do, except hear within “normative” ranges. Those of us who choose to interact with the speaking/hearing world and choose to speak take great pains to make sure we do effectively communication. In my case, I didn’t have to learn how to make recognizable sounds; I just have to maintain them. That means, like many Deaf people, speech lessons.

 

You’re deaf? You act like you can hear!

Can someone explain to me how a person acts like they can hear? Does my head perk up or my ears twitch like an animal? This one frustrates me quite a bit, but I try to remember that not everyone can tell when they’ve encountered a Deaf person. What I try to remind people is that I have implants that give me some range of hearing. Although in a few years I won’t even have that luxury. I try to remind them that being and identifying Deaf is not dependent on a total lack of sound.

 

You’re deaf? Can you teach me sign?

Yes but probably not. Do I teach my friends some ASL? Some of them. The ones who seem genuinely interested in communicating with me more effectively and who are compassionate enough to realize that sometimes hearing communication is hard on me. But they have to show a real commitment to it. I’m not a “cool new trick” or a free class at the Y. Sign is a very real part of my life, and like any language it (and those of us who use it) deserves to be respected.

 

Basically those are the top three statements that I find frustrating. I know it’s a simple matter of people not understanding or being aware of what it means to be Deaf. It’s a matter of limited perception. It doesn’t make it any less annoying, but it does cut down on the sarcastic or biting responses I give.

A woman with red hair styled into a sleeked back pompadour. She sits, leaning her face on her left hand near the temple. She is wearing a silver, antique choker chain with an antique locked of Celtic design. She has on a black and white Houndstooth vest. There is bright sunlight streaming in through a glass door behind her. She smiles faintly, and has green eyes.BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple short story anthologies. Having committed A woman with red hair styled into a sleeked back pompadour. She sits, leaning her face on her left hand near the temple. She is wearing a silver, antique choker chain with an antique locked of Celtic design. She has on a black and white Houndstooth vest. There is bright sunlight streaming in through a glass door behind her. She smiles faintly, and has green eyes.almost every ‘bad deed’ in the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate others through humor and simple instruction.

Books: A Touch of Darkness ◘ A Touch of Madness ◘ Sister Light (out of print)
Anthologies: Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction ◘ Quixotic: Not Everyday Love Stories ◘ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court

Coming Soon: Karaoke Jane

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