five things I like most about being deaf. For those of you that argued there couldn't possibly be anything good about deafness, I continue to respectfully disagree; additionally, it seems most of the naysayers weren't deaf themselves, so to that I say don't knock it 'til you try it ;-) But of course I also think it's important to acknowledge the things that are hardest about being deaf in everyday life. Have a look; they may not be what you think...
1. Discrimination (Workplace and Otherwise): In my several job hunts since graduating college I've experienced many a positive email and resume exchange, only to turn sour upon their request for a phone interview. After I explain to the potential employer that the phone conversation would take place over video (or text) relay, I often don't hear back from them, or experience that awkward, I'm-not-going-to-hire-you-but-I-don't-want-to-get-in-trouble interview, out of which, of course, nothing comes. On a relay sidebar: I've been locked out of my own bank account on several occasions because the bank teller thought I was committing account fraud, despite the fact there is supposedly a note in my file saying that I use relay to call. Come on people! Talking to the bank on the phone sucks (for everyone) enough already! I don't need you calling me a liar on top of it.
But back to discrimination; a few years ago I was short listed for acceptance into a graduate program. But as the application process wore on I was alerted by several of my references that the head of the program was calling around asking if my deafness (not sure how he even found out that I was deaf, but that's another story) was going to be "a problem." In most cases, if I'm able to meet with a potential employer face-to-face, he or she sees that it's actually not hard to communicate with a deaf person, and I can get the job. However, the most frustrating thing is I'm not always given that chance. At the risk of this sounding like a rant-y excuse for my own inadequacies, check out this footage of HR employees counselling business owners on the best way to discriminate against deaf people and get away with it.
2. The Double-Edged Lipreading Sword: In a world where deaf people are the minority, lipreading can be a valuable communication skill. The problem is, most hearing people don't understand that lipreading is not a superpower, but an exhausting and often inaccurate skill with success contingent on an array of environmental factors, from mumblers to mustaches. If you don't lipread, hearing people often consider it "too difficult" to communicate. If you do, they'll expect you to do it forever and all the time. Of course, neither situation is ideal, and is one of the hardest parts about being deaf. For more information about how lipreading works, or how to make communication with a lipreader easier, read our post here.
3. Caption Wars: I currently don't own a television. Consequently, I don't watch much TV, but when I do it's a constant struggle to find subtitled programs online. Over the course of the election I scoured the streaming feeds of all the major networks and eventually found that only C-SPAN was streaming with captions. The lack of captions for online content, particularly on news and political sites, is widening an already dangerous information gap between the deaf world and the hearing one. For entertainment in general, caption coverage is spotty with services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, and nonexistent on most live streams or video clips on sites from Yahoo to the New York Times.
Going to the movies can be even worse. Unless you live in a major city (and even then sometimes it's a problem) forget about seeing a new-release movie with hearing family and friends. One could quite easily be trapped in a cultural wasteland where the only captioned movie option for a two-month span is Transformers 3. The frustrating thing about this is we have the technology to provide effective and low-cost closed captions, but out of laziness, ignorance, or weird aesthetic excuses, most companies put little effort into making their content accessible. And to the argument that open captions are "distracting" for hearing viewers (that one really gets my goat), new technology like Rear Window Captioning and Sony Subtitle Glasses provide captions for individual viewing instead of on the theater screen. Not sure why companies haven't figured out that catering to the 40+ million people with hearing loss will make them more money!
4. Being on My Best Behavior: A struggle of being a part of any cultural minority group is that one becomes representative of that group for the majority of people who have limited contact with others in the minority. Consequently, I often feel pressure to be a good cultural ambassador when confronted with the onslaught of obnoxious behaviors by hearing people unfamiliar with Deaf culture: "No I do not read braille-- I can see. Yes I can drive-- I can see. No, sign language is not universal. For the same reason there is no universal spoken language-- it developed naturally. No, cochlear implants do not "cure" deafness, and no, I do not want one. No my accent is not French. Yes, my ears still get cold in winter. Nope, I don't care that you have a deaf dog. Etc. etc. etc." Most of the time I know these questions are well-meaning and I usually do like talking to curious people about Deaf culture and ASL. But sometimes I want to flick them in the ear. Unfortunately the headline would read, "Deaf girl loses her mind on the subway." A headline they'd never write? -- "Hearing girl loses her mind on the subway"...
5. The Backhanded Compliment, or Tired of Normal: "You're too cute to be deaf. But you speak so well. I understand how you feel; sometimes I can't hear in loud places either." I'm sorry, I must have mis-read your lips there, did you just say 'I'm too cute to be deaf?' What does that even mean? And why am I obligated to accept this as a compliment? This one just confounds me.
The other "compliment" I get a lot is about the clarity of my speech. Again, I know this is someone saying something they think is nice. But it's not nice. It means they are about to start talking at me full-steam ahead because they cannot seem to grasp the idea that no matter how well I speak I still cannot hear them. It makes me feel awkward about using my voice. It makes me feel patronized, that some hearing person has decided my speech is acceptable, is close enough to "normal," to make him or her feel comfortable.
Our society's obsession with speech and its continual propensity to confuse speech with language is by far the most frustrating thing about being deaf. A pile of lumber is not a house; speech is not language. It's a mode of conveying language, and an important one at that, but it has nothing to do with linguistic capacity or intelligence. I don't want to be praised for fitting in to someone's mold for normalcy. For more on deaf voices, check out Charlie Swinbourne's op-ed in The Guardian today.
In short, there's not much I don't like about being deaf, just a lot I don't like about how society deals with deafness. The thing is, it's not that hard to fix. If I could ask one thing of hearing people, I'd ask them to consider Deaf people as they might consider someone who speaks Spanish or Japanese. Different, not less.