11 November 2012

5 Things I Dislike About Being Deaf

Last week I posted 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.


  1. This has really made me rethink deaf people. I never thought of them as less, as you mentioned, but I've never taken the time to really think about the cons and pros of being deaf. I remember I tried to learn sign language because I thought it would be cool but ASL seemed too hard. People always ask if I would rather be blind or deaf and I always say deaf. But honestly, I'm glad you can make the best out of your life despite whatever you have to deal with.

  2. I love this! I am so glad that I found this article. I'm hard of hearing, and I stumbled across this article just as I was starting to feel completely alone at school. Being hard of hearing is, of course, different from being deaf, but I'm still caught between worlds - for me, it's between the hearing world and the deaf world.

  3. The author seems to ignore the fact that ANYTIME someone is "different", people will ask questions or look for guidance on the best way to communicate. I think you are focused WAY too much on the negative and need to understand much of what is detailed above is a fact of life. Famous politicians, actors, people with disabilities, other nationalities, all beg for human curiouisity. You can't stop it. And yes, you are an ambassador for the deaf and will enjoy so much more from life if you accept it with grace and dignity. I am over 50, very hard of hearing, become exhausted with lipreading, live with epilepsy, and have a demanding position where hearing accurately is a fundamental requirement, and I'm very isolated. If somebody wants to ask me about my disability, I'm totally honored. Your five categories are fundamental in nature. How you overcome each obstacle is admirable.

    1. Hi Stacy,
      Thanks for reading. Perhaps you missed the first post of the series, "Five things I Like About Being Deaf"? There's a link at the top of this post, if you're interested.

      Anyway, the concept of the series "Five things I Like/Dislike about being Deaf" was born out of the fact that hearing people generally can't even fathom that deafness has any good things about it, which is why "Five things I Like about Being Deaf" was written first. Then, after we got a few responses from readers about that, the author decided to post "Five Things I Dislike" not as a time to complain, but rather to acknowledge the fact that there are sometimes difficult things that come with being deaf (though, as the author says, those things are usually not related to being deaf itself, "just with how society deals with deafness."

      You are right to point out that these kinds of things are experienced by a person with any kind of disability, or a person who belongs to any minority group--this is part of the point of the post, and one of the goals of Redeafined in general, to show that deafness is not any different than any of a wide-range of life experiences that makes people diverse. While we at Redeafined are proud to be Deaf and happy to talk about Deaf culture, we disagree that d/Deaf people, or minority or marginalized people of any kind, have to accept the misunderstandings or mistreatment by society with "grace and dignity." Rather, we accept our own deafness with that dignity, and then strive to change the mistreatment and audism that often comes along with it, just as advocates for all kinds of people speak out against racism, ableism, etc. For us, this means rejoicing in the great things about deafness and Deaf culture, and not being quiet about the struggles and rampant misinformation about what deafness means.

      We appreciate you joining the discussion, and thanks very much for reading!

  4. I lost all my hearing at age 36 no one learned sign to help me, I was fired at my job, lost my friends and my will to live. Music was my life and now I feel like a dead person forced to walk the earth seeing what I used to have but can never ever have again. I hate life.

    1. I lost mine at 21, I feel that way on bad days too.

    2. Hi all,
      I'm sorry to hear that you find your hearing loss a struggle--we all do sometimes, of course. It can be isolating, so it's important to reach out and make connections even if it takes a little more work. There are often centers for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in bigger cities, but if you're in a small town or feel uncomfortable showing up in person, I'd recommend joining a nationwide facebook group (there's one called "Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing") to connect and talk with some people who may be feeling similarly. Additionally, if you ever feel really down and want to talk to a mental health counselor there's a link to an e-chat for the d/Deaf in this article: http://www.redeafined.com/2014/08/deafness-and-mental-health.html

    3. You were fired when you became deaf? Did you file a disability discrimination lawsuit? That's some overt discrimination to me.

  5. Hello, I am a Deaf Studies major and I came across your article while doing research for my final paper on Audism and Oppression in my Deaf Culture class. Would it be possible to get the author's name for citation purposes in my paper? Thanks so much :) - Kat

    1. Hi Katelyn,

      This particular post was written by our founding editor, Sara Novic. If you need further information from us you can always email info[at]redeafined[dot]com


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