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May 21, 2012 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Being deaf. A young programmer's personal account of being the only deaf employee at a startup.
posted by bitmage (70 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've always thought that I'd handle being deaf better than blind, as I could continue to work, drive, etc. I hadn't considered the cutting off of interaction with others, and how that would isolate you from daily communication.
posted by bitmage at 11:35 AM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've seen lots of people say they'd rather be deaf than blind, and they always seem to think it's a very obvious choice. It smarts a bit as a hearing impaired person myself, but then I've never known what I would choose ever since I read a book (A Patch of Blue, I think) where the main character talks about throwing out and remaking food because she doesn't know if anything's happened to it. That always stuck with me even though other bits of that book should be a lot scarier in terms of thinking about what being blind would be like.

Anyway, I read this article on psychosocial stressors of deafness the other day which I thought was very interesting.
posted by lwb at 11:42 AM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well this is fun since I was once the only hearing employee at a deaf startup.
posted by stbalbach at 11:48 AM on May 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


I hadn't considered the cutting off of interaction with others, and how that would isolate you from daily communication.

You say this like it's a bad thing. No small talk and chitchat? Where do I sign up? (At a previous job often days would go by without me even seeing another coworker, much less talking to them. So heavenly.)
posted by DU at 11:50 AM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's excellent to read articles and blogs about what it's really like to have a certain disability. Some of us were raised on a diet of Helen Keller and "you can do anything! Doesn't matter if you have handicaps! They're just inconveniences!" And then I went to work for a blindness organization and realized that y'know, 1) it really does suck sometimes and 2) it's expensive to have adaptive equipment, and the money doesn't just come from thin air.

Great piece.
posted by Melismata at 11:51 AM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


This was fascinating. Thanks.
posted by dismas at 11:51 AM on May 21, 2012


DU: You say this like it's a bad thing. No small talk and chitchat? Where do I sign up?

Wow. I'm antisocial too, but even I wouldn't want to be estranged from the primary method by which humans communicate. You must be the real deal, hm?

To answer your question, I suppose there may be boutique surgeons who could arrange this for you. Off you go.
posted by gilrain at 11:54 AM on May 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


To answer your question, I suppose there may be boutique surgeons who could arrange this for you. Off you go.

You've tried the best, now try the rest! Call 1-800-DOCTORB!
The B is for bargain!
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 11:59 AM on May 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


...to be estranged from the primary method by which humans communicate.

Humans at work, on the street, at the store, at children's birthday parties, at the park and so forth, anyway. Humans at home would know sign language.
posted by DU at 12:01 PM on May 21, 2012


Great find- he write very well and clearly too.

I’ve talked to people “normally.” It’s hard, it’s error-prone, and we have to repeat a lot. That’s never a good recipe for love. It’s hard to have awesome conversations when you have to repeat every other thing you say and are never sure whether the other person understood.

Ain't that the truth.
posted by ichomp at 12:10 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's a great story all the way around about something we're pretty bad at considering in this industry (though honestly, we may well be better then many other professions). Us hearing folks tend to think of cochlear implants as basically perfect bionic ears, and so we assume that someone wearing one hears the same way we do. While implants are amazing technology, and ignoring the incredibly sensitive politics around them, it's obvious that they don't work that way for a good proportion of users. I wonder how much of the difficulty comes from the fact that his, undoubtedly well-meaning, coworkers really had no idea exactly how much he could/couldn't understand.

A few years ago at a previous job, we had a contract test engineer do some accessibility testing work for us. He normally worked remotely, but flew in for a quarterly meeting. This engineer was blind, and it was amazing to watch him interact with his laptop using a screen reader with such great fluency. He never needed a seeing person's assistance in the digital world except for one time when he called me over (my desk was adjacent) and asked if I could tell him what was going on with his computer, as it wasn't talking to him at all. His laptop was, naturally, displaying a Blue Screen of Death, which was completely inaccessible to him.
posted by zachlipton at 12:12 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I could try to find a deaf girl. However, I don’t want my kids to have an increased chance of deafness. Even if they come out hearing, we’d need to make sure they’re raised right — who will teach them how to talk?

My best friend in junior high has parents who are hearing impaired. We were two little shits - we'd just turn our back when we'd swear or say things we didn't want them to hear (they could read lips but wouldn't have their hearing aids on all the time at home). But she and her sister both could speak just fine. And had the added bonus of knowing sign language, too. I didn't know my friend when she was younger, so I'm not sure what or who helped her talk, but she DID learn.
posted by jillithd at 12:15 PM on May 21, 2012


You say this like it's a bad thing. No small talk and chitchat? Where do I sign up?

It's one thing to be free to shun chitchat without recourse, it's another to be incapable of participating in it, even if you really want to just one time a year to figure out wtf is going on.
posted by benbenson at 12:16 PM on May 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


Humans at work, on the street, at the store, at children's birthday parties, at the park and so forth, anyway. Humans at home would know sign language.

That's if they wanted to pay attention, of course (via this previous MeFi post).
posted by zombieflanders at 12:16 PM on May 21, 2012


There is a great essay, "On the Cheerfulness of the Blind", by Alfred George Gardiner (alias Alpha of the Plough), written nearly 100 years ago, all about this counter-intuitive fact that deafness (and dumbness) are so much worse than blindness. It's available for download at Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org).
posted by warwick at 12:21 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't like to make armchair diagnoses, but this article really read like a checklist for the symptoms of chronic depression.

I certainly wouldn't want to suggest that being deaf is any sort of cakewalk, but this guy really needs to consider that it might not be the root of all of his social problems.

The wrongness of his section on Love was just absolutely gut-wrenching. There's not a word of it that stands up to any kind of scrutiny. He's written off the ability to love because he can't hear. That's completely nuts.

It's not terribly common, but I've heard of plenty of deaf people having successful relationships with both deaf and hearing partners (including some who didn't know a single iota of ASL when they started dating). Ditto for deaf couples raising healthy kids who are not deaf themselves.

He could also use a few deaf friends. The deaf community is pretty massive, and this guy sadly seems to have gone out of his way to ignore it. For one thing, most deaf people don't consider their condition to be a disability (or, at least, they strongly discourage the use of that word). While it can certainly crank up the difficulty level, being deaf robs you of very few actual abilities. Even if he doesn't necessarily agree with it, he really needs to spend some time around people who do believe this. Most of his complaints don't seem to necessarily resolve around his hearing impairment, but rather that he "speaks a different" language than anyone else in his day-to-day life.

And, really, there's never been a better time to be deaf. Last year, I bought my Macbook from a deaf salesman at my local Apple Store. We interacted using an iPad with a custom app in which we could both type (and he had a few pre-loaded phrases). Although this certainly does gloss over a few nuances of verbal conversation, it's possible to compensate by using physical gestures and expressions. It's not perfect, but I can't imagine a deaf person even being considered for a sales position a few years ago.

(But, yeah. I'll agree with him that HR departments suck.)
posted by schmod at 12:21 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oops, forgot to mention - that essay is in a collection entitled "Pebbles on the Shore".
posted by warwick at 12:22 PM on May 21, 2012


Humans at work, on the street, at the store, at children's birthday parties, at the park and so forth, anyway. Humans at home would know sign language.

You might be surprised how many Deaf children cannot communicate with their parents and families because no one will learn sign language or otherwise accommodate them. This article could just as easily be about some Deaf peoples' lives at home.
posted by Boxenmacher at 12:31 PM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


When I was trying to learn Rails, I soon found out that a large chunk of popular tutorials were uncaptioned screencasts or videos — a huge body of knowledge I’m unable to tap into.

This pisses me off too, and I have hearing. Video is a great format if you want to kick back and relax and maybe absorb a few bits of information, but it's pretty useless when you're just trying to get something done. I've never understood this aspect of Rails culture, and I haven't seen it anywhere else.
posted by knave at 12:32 PM on May 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


lwb: "I've seen lots of people say they'd rather be deaf than blind, and they always seem to think it's a very obvious choice. It smarts a bit as a hearing impaired person myself ..."
While I think DU is belittling the problems associated with being deaf, I'd also rather lose my hearing than my sight. I'd also rather lose my legs than either my sight or my hearing, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate having legs.
posted by brokkr at 12:33 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Learning to read lips would be such an amazing help to this fellow in terms of social interaction. I really hope that he at least reaches out to the deaf community enough to learn this skill. It's so valuable and really life changing. Sure, it doesn't fix everything because you need to be able to see someone's mouth, but that problem with "b" and "g"? That's something for which lip reading can make all the difference. It gets easier.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:34 PM on May 21, 2012


I’ve talked to people “normally.” It’s hard, it’s error-prone, and we have to repeat a lot. That’s never a good recipe for love. It’s hard to have awesome conversations when you have to repeat every other thing you say and are never sure whether the other person understood.

This is fascinating. Hearing people tend to romanticise Deaf communication, but it had not occurred to me Deaf people might do the same with hearing communication. I would actually say that "hard, error prone and needs to be repeated a lot" is the norm for more then 50% of hearing conversation. In terms of finding love, I think it's even more so - I am thinking of house parties, crowded bars, and concerts, which are where a lot of initial "Hi I'm Ted!" "Fred?" "No, Ted!" communication takes place. Additionally, since internet dating, awesome conversations that involve no speech at all is a pretty standard way to get to know one another these days.

I don't know; I feel like the above reeks of "well, if these whiny disabled people would just try harder..." and that isn't how I intend it. I'm glad David Peter's life is so much better than it was 3 years ago. I hope it continues to get better.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:36 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a musician and music lover, and the "which would be worse, being blind or being deaf?" question always bothered me and I have refused to answer. Except in my more melodramatic moods, where the answer would be "just kill me."

And yes, I agree that uncaptioned videos for which there is no transcript are annoying. Or news articles on the web that consist solely of quick summary + "watch the video." I can skim text in 1/10 the time while multitasking and listening to music.
posted by Foosnark at 12:38 PM on May 21, 2012


Yes, it is challenging, and his life will be more difficult than a hearing person's life, but as schmod points out there are many issues hinted at here beyond just a simple lack of hearing. It doesn't feel like he had all the deaf support he needed growing up, but it's never too late to reach out and get that help now.

He talks about almost missing his opportunity to have a cochlear implant, yet many well-adjusted deaf people have handled life without it. Was he thinking it would be a cure?

Even his thoughts about online dating that he doesn't have the social/communication skills to do well - but that's an entirely non-verbal interface until you actually meet in person. His isolation may have stunted his social development, and that isolation may be due to being deaf, but it feels like a weak excuse. I've known home schooled kids/friends with the same problems.

I was legally deaf as child, don't hear well in large groups/crowds/parties, and have a pronounced stutter. I spend most of my cubicle day wearing a big pair of headphones to reduce distractions and focus. My team communicates pretty well via calendar, email, and IM (because it's usually much easier than walking all the way to my cube and tapping me on the shoulder when I'm wearing headphones).

I've interviewed (phone-screen) deaf software engineer candidates, we just scheduled an IM chat session instead of a phone call, and typed away. Yes, it was slightly slower than the phone, but it didn't get in the way of evaluating the candidate's skills or personality.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that he needs to reach out and find support groups and learn to adapt and not fall victim to his disability. It sounds like he's on that path, albeit slowly, and is not yet taking full advantage of what's available.
posted by jpeacock at 12:46 PM on May 21, 2012


He is participating in this Hacker News thread, which is actually quite good. Lots of deaf folk speaking up to let him know it isn't all bad, but yes there are big difficulties and hurdles that hearing people don't appreciate fully. I highly recommend it.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:49 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


He acknowledges that he's learning as he goes on and is open about what his challenges have been. So few people are able to do either of those things. I hope he gives himself the credit he deserves for those achievements, alone.

There is definitely a bluesy vibe in this piece, a poignant but hopeful melancholy. I hope he gets more opportunities for forming connections to other people every day.
-----------------

Assuming that the people at home will sign (either by participating or even learning) is a huge leap that many are surprised to learn. My ex's brother was deaf from birth and the adults never learned to sign. For their own kid. That's not atypical.
posted by batmonkey at 1:01 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


That hackerne.ws thread is just as fascinating as this FPP -- thanks to both bitmage and stoneweaver!
posted by trip and a half at 1:08 PM on May 21, 2012


In the past few months, I’ve felt like I’m the last person to know about things. I’m constantly surprised when something happened or changed. Once, an engineer left to work from Seattle the same week the two other engineers on the team left to present at RailsConf 2012. When I discovered that I would be the only engineer in the office the entire week, it was after everyone else had all gone.

Wow, that sounds like a failed startup in the making. Shared calendar anyone?

Her manager tells me that she’ll contact my college for access services and that we’ll be using Live Meeting for the interview. She’ll even do a test with me.
Unfortunately I have no idea what Live Meeting is. A quick search on Google tells me Live Meeting is basically Skype, but with no clues on how to download it.
I end up never starting the interview.


Ok, come on now. If you can't even figure out how to install Live Meeting, tbh, I am skeptical of your usefulness at life in general (especially as in his next paragraph he complains that recruiters never offer to use chat programs - I guess he means 'his favorite chat programs'?). 'A large company in Washington' that is using Live Meeting for an interview -that's probably Microsoft. It's a shame he didn't bother to interview, as we have a pretty strong accessibility system, including company wide ASL interpreter service so that for every meeting, you'll have your own interpreter (although from the HN thread it sounds like he doesn't yet speak ASL so this one might not be useful to him).
posted by jacalata at 1:09 PM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


jacalata said:
"[...]I am skeptical of your usefulness at life in general[...]"

Wow. Way to kick the disenfranchised guy trying to find his place in the world.
posted by batmonkey at 1:12 PM on May 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


The Live Meeting thing jumped out at me too. As a lead software dev who contributes to hiring decisions, I'm disinclined to hire people who seem reluctant to jump in and learn a new technology. Learning is a huge part of this job, especially for a young programmer at the start of their career. A job interview is the perfect place to demonstrate that.

I really like his photography though.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:22 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be fair, when I googled Live Meeting, the second hit was "Download Live Meeting" so that does bring his tenacity into question...
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:23 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or on non-preview, what Sauce Trough said.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:25 PM on May 21, 2012


Humans at work, on the street, at the store, at children's birthday parties, at the park and so forth, anyway. Humans at home would know sign language.

Funny that you mention that humans at home "would" know sign language. I would gladly trade my deafness for your experiences growing up being able to communicate with your family.
posted by Conspire at 2:01 PM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Having a deaf child does not guarantee their communication with their parents or siblings. My sister is deaf and frankly me and the rest of my family suck at sign language. I was better as a child as I took classes in my spare time and I would interpret for my parents (That's gotta be a lovely feeling for a 15 yr old deaf kid to have a 6 year old girl speaking for her). Since my sister has moved away and I see her once a year at most my skills have deteriorated. My mother's is almost non-existent. And hers is the mildest story of mis-communication with family that I know of.

E-mail and text messaging has expanded our interaction into her world and I'm grateful for it. I can't imagine the difference it has made in hers.
posted by kanata at 2:10 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I certainly wouldn't want to suggest that being deaf is any sort of cakewalk, but this guy really needs to consider that it might not be the root of all of his social problems.

I could identify with this guy, being legally deaf, and I can tell you that diagnosing someone with chronic depression given his young age and difficulties is ... insulting.

I'm 39. I've been there. It gets better. No, I don't have chronic depression, either.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 2:18 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


To me the section on love didn't read like depression - it read like youth.
posted by maryr at 2:31 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


About 10 years ago, I was rendered functionally deaf for 12 days, due to a pretty bad double ear infection. I had about 20% hearing, so if the room was quiet, and the other person spoke slowly, clearly, and loudly, I could understand about 90% of what they said.

I can't say I walked a mile in a deaf person's shoes, more like 5 or 10 feet. But it was an eye-opening experience, if you'll forgive the pun. As a hearing person, you always imagine that if you went deaf that the people around you would take it in stride, speak slowly, write notes or use email where possible, etc.

The reality was soooooo frustrating. I literally couldn't count the number of times I had to explain to someone AGAIN,
"I have a medical problem, I can't hear very well right now... can you repeat that?"
"Could you email me?"
"I didn't catch that last bit, can you write it down for me?"
"I'm sorry, I really need you to face me when you're talking, or I can't hear what you're saying."
"I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"
"I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"
"I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"
"I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"
"I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"
The litany of me asking my coworkers to just accommodate my needs JUST THE TINIEST BIT was endless and constant.

Most people's attitude in general seemed to be, "What, still?" They got annoyed when I asked them to repeat themselves. Or they would repeat what they had said, but lose interest halfway through and turn around (so I couldn't hear them), and I would have to ask them to repeat it again.

It was a frustrating two weeks.

I was laid off about halfway through my deaf time, and I still don't really know why, because every time my manager repeated himself he did it more quietly than the time before, and I finally gave up asking. I finally decided that it didn't really matter; they were cutting me loose, that was the main point of the conversation.

We want to believe that other people - that we ourselves - will treat other human beings with respect and decency, and be helpful to those who need us to go just the tiniest bit out of our way in order to be understood. But that isn't always the case.
posted by ErikaB at 2:32 PM on May 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


The Live Meeting thing jumped out at me too. As a lead software dev who contributes to hiring decisions, I'm disinclined to hire people who seem reluctant to jump in and learn a new technology.

I don't think he is necessarily asserting that the software is what prevented him from having the interview. He skips over whatever it was that actually happened, and I don't think his point is so much the outcome of the interview as simply that it was one more extra hurdle. However easy it might be to use Live Meeting - which I've never heard of either - it is one more extra weird thing he had to deal with just because he was deaf, a difficulty that the hearing people around him didn't notice.

I think it's really uncool to demand that a prospective candidate install some weird piece of software on their own personal computer, just to interview. It's one thing if they have to use that software as part of their job - then you give them a computer with that software installed on it - but to make someone install a program which is completely unrelated to their work specialty, just to be willing to talk with them? That's not normal.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:07 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it's really uncool to demand that a prospective candidate install some weird piece of software on their own personal computer, just to interview. That's not normal.

It's totally normal. Interviews are now routinely conducted remotely. The technology used in remote interviews is dealer's choice. When the dealer is MS, that is NOT going to be Skype; that is going to be Live Messenger. If you want the interview, you install whatever they ask.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:31 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cultural differences, I guess. I'm glad I'm not so desperate that I'd have to put up with that kind of treatment. But why do we treat people poorly in the first place? You don't need anything more than a phone and a web browser to do a remote coding interview - and I say so having done dozens of them at my last job.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:37 PM on May 21, 2012


When the dealer is MS, that is NOT going to be Skype...

Hah, I guess that was a waste of $8.5 billion.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:37 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


schmod: "I certainly wouldn't want to suggest that being deaf is any sort of cakewalk, but this guy really needs to consider that it might not be the root of all of his social problems.

I'm only partly deaf and it has been the single biggest influence on the development of my character (other than maybe genetics). You don't notice when you have no difficulty participating in some social activity, but when you do the sense of alienation is profound. Not just the sense of alienation either, but the reality of it.

Everybody deals with their disabilities differently, but nobody who has not experienced it has any standing to comment on how they should. I had an infection in my good ear once that rendered me totally deaf for a time. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. Even now, I wouldn't dare presume to pontificate about it's like no navigate an entire life in that state.

And, really, there's never been a better time to be deaf.

Really, there has never been a better time to not be deaf.
posted by klanawa at 4:25 PM on May 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


co-workers make lousy friends.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:16 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am partially deaf. I wear hearing aids. It is not the worst thing, but a lot of people make it way harder for me and for them then it has to be.

I read lips, and I have grown to be very assertive about telling people they need to look at me to communicate with me. This does not always solve the problem. People do not understand how hearing works at all. A lot of people think it is all about volume - like turning a knob on a speaker. The more deaf you are, the lower the volume is. This is not quite how it works. Frequency is a big factor - in my own hearing, I am "more deaf" at higher frequencies. Like the ones in many sounds of human speech. It is like the volume knob is being adjusted within different sounds in a single word. Some sounds in human speech I just don't hear. If the sentence directed at me is hitting a weird combination of those sounds, I just can't understand it, even if I am looking at the speaker in the face.

This can be very confusing to people - "Why do I have to repeat this phrase five times when you got everything else?" Actually, I ignore a lot of what people say, and deduce the gist of it from context. From context you can tell that many things are not important - but some things are, like say, an address, and you can't really "guess" an address from context. So yeah I'm going to ask you to spell the street name, and repeat the number back to you. It wastes ten seconds of your time, but it wastes an hour or more of my time when I go to the wrong place and realize I'm on the wrong side of town.

Little sadnesses, like when my partner spends the day depressed because they said, "I love you," and I ignored them. Of course I didn't even know they were speaking to me...

Little humiliations, like when I listen to a tape of my voice and realize that oh yeah, my speech impediment makes me sound like a child...Or when the phone rep tells me that I haven't been paying my bill for six months and I start to freak out and panic ensues and then we all realize that she typed my last name in wrong because she couldn't understand me and for some reason didn't bother to let me know that I sounded like a slurring mess.

Little isolations, like when everyone at the table starts to sing the same song together and I am like, well, how did you all know to do that? Of course it's playing in the background, completely unheard by me, but it doesn't really matter because I can't hear lyrics in songs. On the plus side, the songs I listen to are way better than the songs you listen to because I get to make up half the lyrics, and really "hear" them that way.

Oh and the part about how hearing aids costs thousands of dollars, are minimally covered by insurance, and need to get replaced or repaired at least every five years. Wasn't it fun when we discovered that dogs love earwax, and chewed my hearing aids into little bits?

At least when someone is being sarcastic, I can pick up on the tone, if not always the content of what they said. This guy might not have any way of distinguishing sarcasm from not. Wouldn't that be fun in an office of programmers who seem disinterested in you?

I am not saying I have a hard life. I am saying that the people who treat my impairment like it is an inconvenience to them make my life harder, and I am not really sure why they bother. Usually it takes more work to stick to your rigid habits of communication than it does to follow my instructions - perfected for brevity at this point - as to how to get me the information and contact I need to live my life.
posted by newg at 6:03 PM on May 21, 2012 [24 favorites]


Ugh, some of these comments are insulting and I'm not going to lower myself to address them. klanawa hit it on the head: nobody who has not experienced it has any standing to comment on how they should.

So... my experience. I'm probably going to repeat a lot of what the other Deaf/HoH people here have said. I've had profound hearing loss since birth although I don't consider myself to be deaf since hearing aids make a big difference (I do not qualify for a cochlear implant). I never learned to sign; I did learn to lip read. For a long time I only had one hearing aid, and if that broke I was fucked. No driving, no phone, no TV, no music, no talking to others. Walking on a fricking bike path is dangerous when you can't hear "on your left."

It has absolutely contributed to my isolation and ensuing social anxiety. I can never be sure if I'm really understanding a group conversation. People will laugh and I'll laugh too even though I don't have the faintest idea what the joke is. I could, I suppose, make them repeat it several times but it interrupts the flow of the moment and who likes to be the awkward person? One-on-one conversations are better, but people do not make accommodations or do not remember that they're supposed to. I hear better on my left side, and I always walk or sit to someone's right if possible. My closest friends and relatives still have to be reminded of this almost every time I see them. I need an obstructed view of someone's mouth so I can lip read. My closest friends and relatives still have to be reminded of this almost every time I see them. I can't hear people when they mumble or whisper or speak sotto voce. My closest friends and relatives still have to be reminded of this almost every time I see them.

I'm the wallflower, the quiet one, but I'm not really an introvert, so it's frustrating. I can be extroverted online because I don't need to worry if I've missed or misheard something, I don't have to worry that I won't be understood due to my voice (like newg said, I sound sort of childish and have a slur).* The Internet pretty much took over my social life in college as I was estranged from the hearing people around me (and also from the Deaf, as I didn't sign). I spent hours in chatrooms when I was single. It was so addictive. I did the online dating thing, and it'd frequently be awkward when we met in person (I'd mostly demure when it came to phone calls).

Phone calls - god. I have my husband make as many as he's able to, because simply ordering pizza is an exercise in frustration. I spell my last name** military style (Delta, Echo, Sierra...) and I thank God I have a common first name. I email businesses whenever possible, but some don't have any (including my hearing aid center !!!!!!!!!! WTF !!!!!!!!!!). Or they don't get back to you (my salon). I've used IP Relay but it's soooo slow (not their fault).

My main rant these days is captioning. Netflix has been making a teensy bit of progress in the past year, but mostly its just pathetic. There are thousands of things I can't watch, and what gets my goat is that IT'S ALREADY BEEN CAPTIONED for TV or for the DVD version. No one has to re-transcribe it, they just have to stick it in the proper technical format. It's hard? Well, fuck you. I got a DVD from them (of some modern movie, don't remember what) that didn't have any captions/subtitles and I just about threw it across the room. YouTube has that "automatic" captioning that's been in beta for a million years and it sucks. It's mostly incomprehensible unless it's a male with the voice of a newscaster speaking clearly into a microphone with no background noise whatsoever. 99.9% of YT videos are not this.

Like newg said, I'm not saying I have a hard life either. My life is great - I'm married, I have a job, I'm living where I want to live, etc. but I wish people realized what they take for granted. Live long enough and your hearing will deteriorate too; until then, treasure what you've got.

*Oddly enough, Siri has been helping me with my diction. If I slow down and speak clearly, she can understand me, so I have an objective "tutor" who won't shame me or get impatient.

** Desjardins is not my real last name. (I'm not even French!) My real last name is easier to pronounce, but people fuck it up in spectacular ways.

posted by desjardins at 7:13 PM on May 21, 2012 [21 favorites]


Learning to read lips would be such an amazing help to this fellow in terms of social interaction. I really hope that he at least reaches out to the deaf community enough to learn this skill. It's so valuable and really life changing. Sure, it doesn't fix everything because you need to be able to see someone's mouth, but that problem with "b" and "g"? That's something for which lip reading can make all the difference. It gets easier.

He cues. Ergo, he reads lips damn well. (As do I - I grew up reading lips, it's practically my native language. It's still a terribly noisy channel through which to communicate, which is why people cue - cued speech is intended to remove most or all of the ambiguities in lip reading.)

Anyway, speaking more generally ... I went to read this prepared to say he was overreacting, but, as a deaf young adult leaving grad school and entering the workplace, I can really identify with a lot of what he writes. I sign, but most of the time outside the Deaf world I speak and use my cochlear implant. I do pretty well at socializing with hearing people, often to the point that people don't realize (or forget) that I'm deaf; but there are still a lot of barriers there. A lot of frustrations.

The part that really clicked for me, though, was the section on love. Yes, there are deaf/hearing relationships that are very successful. That doesn't change the fact that if you're dating non-signers (or non-cuers, in his case), that initial entry into a relationship, going on a date with a new person, hanging out with someone new, is ... complicated. Especially since the usual date activities tend to be terrible for hearing and lip reading: noisy restaurants, walking around a noisy city, going to the movies. On top of which, at least one person above suggested that often those partners do learn ASL or cued speech. Sure, that happens - but when should that happen? After it's clear that this is a permanent thing? (At which point the responsibility for communicating has been on the deaf partner for several months.) How can the deaf partner make it clear that although communication seems to be successful from the hearing partner's perspective, it may not be as good as they think, or it may be far more burdensome than they realize? Once that starts, how fluent will they become, and how fast, or will the hearing partner fall back on "well, they seem to understand me okay, so ..."? (This happens, even to otherwise awesome and well-intentioned people.) And am I willing to let that happen, to risk entering into a relationship at the risk of finding someone I really like, who will then drop the ball on meeting my communication needs halfway, and then maybe have to decide to either end an otherwise good thing or give up on having that kind of communication with my partner?

It probably shows that this has been on my mind a lot lately. I still am not sure how I want to proceed in my relationships - signers (including bilingual hearing people) only? Non-signers and signers both, but spend time specifically looking for signing partners? Just go out there and let things happen and see how it goes? *shrug* It is not an easy question to answer even for those of us who have experienced both kinds of relationships.

Jubal is right, though. I think it does get better. But it is rough, at times.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:13 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


My main rant these days is captioning. Netflix has been making a teensy bit of progress in the past year, but mostly its just pathetic. There are thousands of things I can't watch, and what gets my goat is that IT'S ALREADY BEEN CAPTIONED for TV or for the DVD version. No one has to re-transcribe it, they just have to stick it in the proper technical format. It's hard? Well, fuck you. I got a DVD from them (of some modern movie, don't remember what) that didn't have any captions/subtitles and I just about threw it across the room.

*snap*

Thank the gods for the new FCC regs requiring online stuff to be captioned by various deadlines I can't remember spread between this September and two-ish years from now. Although I'm sure there'll be fights over implementation and loopholes, but I think that'll be manageable.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:17 PM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Oh, you have such an wonderful accent, where are you from?" is something that I get at least once a week at my job, interacting with the general public.

I have two options:

1. Lie and go along with whatever country the interlocutor assumes I'm from.

2. Tell them I'm deaf.

The reaction people get when I go with option 2 makes me feel like a performing seal. (I never cease to be surprised by ignorance.)

So, yes, I will pretend to be hearing, just with a vaguely Fez-style accent. I see some comments suggesting speech therapy but there *is* a very, very long plateau if you're over the age of 15 and your brain's language patterns have mostly set for life. I've had 17 years of intensive speech therapy, one cochlear implant surgery 14 years ago, and I still sound deaf.

The crowning point of achievement when I was going to speech therapy was being able to make myself understood to people I had never met before.

And I still have to work hard on picking up the little bits and pieces floating around work. I still have to make sure people are facing me when they speak. The onus of communication is on me *all the time*, because people "forget I'm deaf" (gee how nice.). That is... wearisome. But if I don't take up that onus I won't be able to get jack.
posted by lineofsight at 7:29 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Frequency is a big factor - in my own hearing, I am "more deaf" at higher frequencies.

I will trade with you - I would give anything to never hear motherfucking wind chimes again.
posted by desjardins at 7:57 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


This reminds me - I am the designated note-taker at a work meeting this week. There will be several people in the room and a half dozen more on a conference call, some of whom have foreign accents. I should probably beg off, or my notes will look like this:

Bert - something about Mexico (?) project
Jane - or Marie? (Can't tell voices apart) to Bert, project deadline is June 9 (or 19th?)
Ernie - (unintelligible)
Bert - question about what Ernie said

I'm getting anxious just thinking about this. The person who asked me to take notes knows very, very well how hearing impaired I am, but it just didn't occur to him how difficult this would be.
posted by desjardins at 8:06 PM on May 21, 2012


Ugh, some of these comments are insulting and I'm not going to lower myself to address them. klanawa hit it on the head: nobody who has not experienced it has any standing to comment on how they should.


Hear hear.

I could have written every word he wrote. And at 21, he's addressing things far more cogently and with greater self-awareness than would have been able to at 31 when I (finally) got my cochlear implant.

The thing that struck me is his description of the loneliness. I was just commenting to my bf the other day that I haven't felt that sense of loneliness in years -- since I got my cochlear implant and re-entered the world. It was like a big hole of yearning in the centre of my chest and I am so glad to be rid of it. (In the movie Babel, there's a story about the Japanese girl who's deaf: her behaviour and the aberrance of it was so familiar to me. Not that I have behaved that way, but you can see how she's reaching out because she feels so isolated. That's what the loneliness feels like.)

The world is not set up for people who are different, so we have to find our own way. lineofsight made a comment about being a performing seal: that's so spot on. But at the same time, telling people I was deaf was so so necessary (still necessary occasionally these days, but thankfully reduced by many orders of magnitude).

Just on the downloading the Live Meeting -- I'm not surprised he missed it. Your mind is so full just trying to keep up with everyone is saying (or what they might be saying and what you're missing out on) that things like these (obvious as they may seem) are easy enough to miss.
posted by prettypretty at 8:07 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read this and thought, "They honestly don't have IM or some other chat program at work?"

I had a deaf coworker ages ago. Cool girl. She went off to law school (before law school was bad) and I hope she is out there kicking legal ass. We had a group of 4-5 people at my office, and my boss knew ASL. (I have taken ASL classes off and on for years, but frankly was too embarrassed at my lack of ability to speak back. I can comprehend while watching, but freeze up at saying anything in any language.) The rest of us chatted over IM a lot, and she and I would be making jokes about stuff at work.

Though yeah, I'd guess that the "office chit chat" moments beyond my section--which was probably the quietest in the office so you really wouldn't miss much of that--were awkward. And she didn't get to sit in on the job interviews. Though we went to lunch once or twice and I...am not sure how things went on her end, I just remember not finding it particularly awkward at the time from mine. Like I said, I pick up better than I can talk, so...eh, I guess.

I do wonder why this guy is so against being friends with other deaf people, though. He can be friends with both hearing and straight if he wants to without being all "I want to be part of the world."
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:18 PM on May 21, 2012


Thank the gods for the new FCC regs requiring online stuff to be captioned by various deadlines I can't remember spread between this September and two-ish years from now. Although I'm sure there'll be fights over implementation and loopholes, but I think that'll be manageable.

If I'm reading this right, this won't apply to the backlog of stuff for years. Say tomorrow Netflix adds last season's episodes of CSI: Fargo. It doesn't apply. It only applies to TV shows that were aired after April 30, 2012 and that had captions available when you watched it on TV.
posted by desjardins at 8:20 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read this and thought, "They honestly don't have IM or some other chat program at work?"

Sigh.

That has... nothing to do with what he's saying. From TFA:

"When someone talks at lunch, I want to know what they say. "

"We started using Yammer to keep the team up-to-date. That one isn’t working too well — we get an email about every two weeks by a cofounder to use Yammer more." [i.e., even if David uses it, no one else is]

"In an open office like this, it’s very easy to drop in on a conversation and add something. But without understanding what people say, the chance you can do that drops to zero"

"Since we work in an open office, parts of the team often chat with each other, especially at lunch. I always miss out on these talks, which are full of snippets of information no matter how bad the signal-to-noise ratio. "

"The result is no one uses the communication method after the initial novelty."

" When they laugh and I’m unable to understand why, it feels like a punch in the gut, a giant inside joke I’m not part of. "


I do wonder why this guy is so against being friends with other deaf people, though. He can be friends with both hearing and straight if he wants to without being all "I want to be part of the world."

Again from TFA (I assume you meant "deaf" and not "straight," otherwise there was a gay angle I missed):

"But I don’t want to be part of the Deaf world, which seems so cloistered sometimes. I want to be part of the larger world — and out here, not being able to hear is a pretty significant disadvantage."

He does not speak the language of Deaf culture. If you moved to another country whose language you did not speak, especially if that people was a persecuted minority, the people might seem cloistered to you! Especially if you're young and have experienced a lot of social isolation and awkwardness already.

I went to a local event for Deaf and Hard of Hearing folks. It was a showing of The Artist at the local theater (a silent film, what an awesome idea!). I was really excited to meet some people... and NO ONE would talk to me. I smiled at people, I nodded in people's directions in case they couldn't hear, I'd brought along a notepad since I don't speak ASL, and no one, not one person would welcome the newcomer. Not even one hello. Everyone obviously all knew each other. I hope this was unrepresentative of the group or that 50 people were all having a bad day, but jfc it was awkward and humiliating and there is zero incentive to go back. (I am not implying all or most Deaf people are this way, but I can see that if he'd had a similar experience with Deaf culture, it'd scare him off.)
posted by desjardins at 8:40 PM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


I taught a class with a deaf student once. She had an interpreter during class, but we chatted online rather than do office hours. Despite being deaf since birth, she was completely indistinguishable from a hearing person online.

These days I work at a giant software company. I have a few coworkers who never leave their sound-proofed, dimly lit offices, and conduct all their coordination with other team members via email and IM. To my knowledge none of them are deaf, but I don't think I'd ever be able to tell.
posted by miyabo at 8:56 PM on May 21, 2012



He does not speak the language of Deaf culture. If you moved to another country whose language you did not speak, especially if that people was a persecuted minority, the people might seem cloistered to you! Especially if you're young and have experienced a lot of social isolation and awkwardness already.


This is so true. It's a small but really frustrating part of being deaf (as opposed to Deaf).

People often ask me if I can sign and, well I can't, mainly because I grew up and exist in mainstream society. Who would I converse in sign with? (well, I do know how to say "turtle", "octopus" and "bullshit", only one of which is ever useful!)

It's slightly insulting: almost like saying "go back to your people". Well the Deaf community wouldn't want me: I'm too mainstream. Yet I'm different from the mainstream because I'm deaf. There's a feeling of being caught in between.

There's a woman I see in the lift occasionally at work, we've sat in a couple of meetings together but never really spoken. But I would love to talk to her because she wears two hearing aids and I guess has had a similar experience to me (being deaf in the mainstream). Yet I feel somewhat embarrassed to strike up a conversation with her about it because it calls attention to what makes us both different. It's a weird quirk I can't quite seem to get past.
posted by prettypretty at 9:07 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


I came back to say exactly what you said. Another analogy: an African-American and a Somali must get along great because they both have dark skin, right?
posted by desjardins at 9:28 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am really glad to see Mefi's deafies come out in force on this. Y'all are making me feel all warm and fuzzy and not alone here ^_^

Also ... I lost my hearing as a kid, but late enough that my speech is entirely unaccented. (Okay, not true. I have a light Chicago accent. And occasionally I use deaf voice, but only if I've been switching between voice and sign all day.) I occasionally regret this lack of an accent, feeling that it would be nice to have a more obvious signifier of deafness, something that might remind the hearing people that I talk to that, hey, deaf guy here, I need to see your lips, have good lighting, a quiet environment, etc etc etc. So in some sense it's good to be reminded that even if that was the case, people would still forget.

And as someone who gets along pretty well in both worlds (deaf and Deaf) ... I still don't get along with everyone in either world! So, yeah, I hear you, pun noted but not intended. ;-)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:38 PM on May 21, 2012


I have kinda the inverse issue. I'm hearing, but I have a neurological disorder that causes occasional unpredictable periods of mutism, during which ASL is my primary means of communication. Sometimes that also requires emergency communication because I need immediate help, and especially in those situations I can't use a pen 'cause of spasticity; it's literally either ASL or yes/no grunts. :-/

I learned ASL just 'cause it's an awesome language, and I find it sad that this option is totally ignored by most people. As languages go it's very easy to learn, most d/Deaf people are happy to help, and it's far less clunky than cued speech or that godawful SEE.

So I can empathize with the frustration of not being able to communicate — for me it's on the other end, I can understand everyone around me but can't get them to understand me.

I kinda wish everyone would just learn some ASL. It's often useful even if you're talking hearing-to-hearing, signed mode is just plain different from spoken mode in lots of neat ways, ... but I guess most people aren't language geeks like me.
posted by saizai at 9:56 PM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


My Dad complains to me all the time that I don't keep in good enough contact with him. He (generally) refuses to keep in touch via email and IM, insisting on tuphone calls because he thinks they feel "warmer and more human". He knows full well I'm hearing impaired, but he's never seemed to make the connection that phone calls are very difficult for me, even when it's pointed out to him. I'm not sure what's warmer about a conversation where one participant has no clue what the other is talking about half the time, but that's his preference.

I went to a job interview earlier this year and my one working hearing aid (I have two, one has been broken since last year but, well) stopped working just as I was walking into the building. I spent the whole interview stressed out of my mind because I could hear only about half of what the interviewer was saying. I still don't know how I actually got that job, but I'm glad, because now maybe I'll be able to afford to fix or replace my hearing aids. Because, yknow, they cost thousands of dollars and there's very little help available to pay for them.

I've been attending my university classes less and less since the second hearing aid broke. Some teachers are better than others at accommodating hearing loss. I had the nasty surprise this semester of enrolling in a class where they had made a "pedagogical choice" to not put any of lecture notes online, as all my other classes do. Sure, I could probably have fought it, but who has the energy? Another class takes the format of going around with everybody asking a question prompt. Usually I can't hear the prompt, much less all the answers. Asking 25 people individually to speak up is a daunting prospect, so I sit there nervously awaiting my turn while hoping desperately that I can think of something that someone else hasn't already said.

All sorts of social situations are scarier to me because I'm hearing impaired. And it's so easy to put off dealing with things, like the time I paid a bill for a phone service I wasn't using for six months because I was dreading calling up and cancelling it, because I can hear just well enough to hear the impatience in people's voices when they're sick of repeating themselves every other sentence.

I know very well that there are things that I could/should be better at, more proactive at, more assertive at. But they're all things that people who hear normally don't have to, and consequently don't, generally think about.

It's been amazing to read the other stories here. Thanks for sharing everyone.
posted by lwb at 9:59 PM on May 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


I have no vested interest in this company but for those of you with BTEs with tcoils, this device has changed my cell phone/mp3 player experience tremendously. I can turn up the volume as loud as I want and no one around me can hear it.
posted by desjardins at 10:19 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


spaceman_spiff: ... that initial entry into a relationship, going on a date with a new person, hanging out with someone new, is ... complicated. [...] ... the responsibility for communicating has been on the deaf partner for several months.

I'm a hearing person who had a serious relationship with a deaf man about ten years ago. He lost the hearing in one ear as a child and the other as a teen; he got a cochlear implant a couple of years after the second ear went. (We met online, in case David is reading, but not through a dating site.)

I learned to face him when speaking and to speak slowly, to make my presence known without startling him, to use some basic ASL ("I love you" and "the house is on fire," for example), to repeat a waitress in a noisy restaurant when he looked at me for clarification. Mostly, I learned a lot of basic human sympathy for what deaf people face every day.

I understood at the time that he had to accommodate me and teach me how to communicate effectively with him, but I don't think I ever fully appreciated that he has to do that with everyone in his life, over and over, and how frustrating and tiring that must be. Thanks to everyone for telling your stories.
posted by swerve at 12:23 AM on May 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


lwb: I've been attending my university classes less and less since the second hearing aid broke. Some teachers are better than others at accommodating hearing loss. I had the nasty surprise this semester of enrolling in a class where they had made a "pedagogical choice" to not put any of lecture notes online, as all my other classes do. Sure, I could probably have fought it, but who has the energy?

If you haven't already, I encourage you to check with your university's centre for students with disabilities and explain the situation to them. They will be well versed in what kinds of accommodations your institution is obligated to provide according to your country's equity laws (e.g.). They will work with your profs to figure out the best way for them to provide these accommodations. You do not need to do the fighting for yourself; it's their job to do it for you!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:10 AM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


I know very well that there are things that I could/should be better at, more proactive at, more assertive at. But they're all things that people who hear normally don't have to, and consequently don't, generally think about.

And to tie this back to a long standing mefi discussion, that's in a nutshell what privilege is all about.

When you look at what a deaf person has to deal with in isolation, as in the incident with Livemeeting in the original story, it doesn't seem like such a big deal. But of course these aren't isolated incidents at all and if you have to deal with such crap day in, day out, it drains your energy, you will drop the ball sometimes and people who don't have to deal with these balls will judge you on it...
posted by MartinWisse at 3:37 AM on May 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'd bet the income of deaf people in the workforce is lower than hearing people, not only because of active discrimination but because of passive discrimination that prevents full participation in work activities. I can't say for sure, but I feel like I was passed over for a promotion for a job that would have involved a fair amount of talking to internal clients on the phone. It would have been nearly impossible to use IM or email since the clients were not always tech-savvy, so I don't know what "reasonable accommodations" would have entailed. Since I specifically don't apply for a lot of jobs that would require a lot of hearing communication, I probably make less money as a result.
posted by desjardins at 6:35 AM on May 22, 2012


He cues. Ergo, he reads lips damn well. (As do I - I grew up reading lips, it's practically my native language. It's still a terribly noisy channel through which to communicate, which is why people cue - cued speech is intended to remove most or all of the ambiguities in lip reading.)


Thanks for pointing that out. I somehow completely missed that in the article (and ensuing discussion? WTF, reading comprehension). That makes me feel a lot better for him. (For what it's worth, I am also heavily dependent on lip-reading, which is why it stuck out to me as something that would help him immensely. Except that I failed to read...)
posted by stoneweaver at 8:01 AM on May 22, 2012


My dear wife is losing her hearing due to a surpringly-common condition called otosclerosis. Yet it is me, the kid with headphoens turned up to 11 for 25 years, who has to say to the kids, "I can't hear you when you talk facing away from me" or "the sink is loud, please repeat that" or "I can only listen to one of you at a time." When she first told me about her hearing changes I couldn't really internalize it ("it all feels full or pressure," she'd tell me, or "I can't hear" as she tugged at her earlobe). But the past few years as my house fills up -- four kids make a LOT of noise -- I can definitely relate.

And it makes me think of Tom from two jobs ago, who worked in a dark space with light hoods doing photo retouching -- a place where none of the other people could hear him over the big drum-scanner's sounds, and where he turned off his hearing aids to be one of the only people not bothered by that backgrond white noise. (Only my roommate, another colleague, knew enough ASL to chat with him, so Tom would have to turn his hearing aids back on when he came out of the scanning room.) He combined lip-reading with HAs and seemed to do OK.

So now that I have my head out of my ass, how do I as a hearing person do this better?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:00 AM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's hard for hearing people to cope with interactions with deaf or hard of hearing people because it requires changes in behaviours that are so second nature to us, and in many ways very subtle. Changing your speech patterns and style is difficult to do on a sustained basis. It feels really unnatural and uncomfortable. As a hard of hearing person (hearing aids in both ears), I recognise that what I ask of people is difficult. I HATE being that person. And yet, at the same time, it is remarkable how stubborn many people are about making any changes in their behaviour to accommodate me.

The worst thing is when I have to ask people to repeat themselves multiple times. If I haven't gotten it by the third try, I usually give up. What's usually most helpful in this situation is for people to not just repeat what they already said (it may be a sentence with a lot of ambiguous sounds), but to re-phrase the sentence a bit. But this is something people have a lot of trouble doing. Sometimes I will repeat back what I think I "heard", but that is often so laughably far from what was said as to sound completely, and embarrassingly, absurd. It's 'chinese whispers' times ten.

You learn that there is sort of a socially acceptable number of times that you can ask someone to repeat something, before they start looking at you like you are some kind of idiot. And that's what makes the interactions so hard. For some reason, there is a very quick leap from "she can't understand" to "she must be cognitively impaired".

All of this has a huge social cost, as the writer has eloquently captured. I avoid many social situations, and my professional life has always been seriously impacted, especially since I work in a field (design) that relies heavily on group conversations and verbal interactions with clients. It has definitely, as desjardins points out, impacted my chances for advancement and better pay, because there are a host of activities that I simply, physically, cannot do.

I've been hard of hearing all my life, and learned a lot of coping strategies. I read lips fairly well (well, I find it hard to read lips with no sound cues at all, but I definitely can't "hear" without seeing your lips). I stand close to people, often closer than they are comfortable with. To respond to wenestvedt's question about how a hearing person can accommodate better, this is what I tell people:

• Face me, and don't put your hands over your mouth when you talk. This is such a common thing for people, out of shyness or self-consciousness. I think a lot of people don't even realise that they are doing it, until I point it out. If my back is turned, or my gaze is somewhere else, chances are I will not hear you, or I will not realise you are talking to me.

• Don't shout. In my case (like newg), it's often less about volume and more about enunciation. I think this is where the lip cues come in. My deafness is mostly in the higher frequencies, which means that I generally hear vowel sounds without a problem, but I cannot hear or distinguish between "s", "st-", "sh-", "ch-", "t" sounds, for example. It's all about context for me, to figure out which one of those sounds is the most likely. For example, two and three often sound almost identical to me, and I nearly always get them wrong when taking down an address or phone number.

• Try not to talk so fast. It sometimes takes me time to process what you are saying, because of the above contextual analysis that is constantly going on in my head every time I "listen". When you say, "I saw the stars", in my head, I'm running through all the possible combinations: "I saw the cars", "I saw the start", "I thaw the tar", etc. Sometimes I just need processing time.

• Relax the boundaries on your personal space a bit. I need to get close to hear you. I have had many humorous cocktail parties where I circled the room with someone I was trying to hear. I keep moving in a bit closer; they keep, unconsciously, backing away. It's like a dance, with me maniacally pursuing you across the dance floor.

• Don't insist on the phone when I have suggested email as preferred. I have friends and family who have known me for years, are well-versed in my hearing problems, and still insist on the phone because it's their preferred mode. As someone else said upthread about their father, it's amazing how rigid and unforgiving normally-hearing people can be. How many times do we have to ask/remind you?

• Reach out to me. Because I'm immune to a lot ambient sound, I have an amazing ability to tune out the world around me. This doesn't mean I don't want to talk to you. I also think I take unconscious "breaks", because interactions are so mentally taxing. My parter gets fed up with me for nodding or looking in his direction, like I'm listening, only to discover that my mind is somewhere else, and therefore, my hearing shut off. I don't mean to do this. It's just that sometimes my brain refuses to engage. The thing to remember is that normally hearing people often hear passively; deaf and hard of hearing people can only hear very deliberately. I never "overhear" anything. To hear you I have to actively listen. This requires a level of awareness and alertness that can be exhausting.

• Low talkers, give us a break! There are a certain number of people out there who are low talkers (like that Seinfeld episode), and these people are nearly impossible to interact with. If you are a low talker, I probably will just give up on you, because I've learned that no amount of explaining, requesting, or nudging will get you to speak loudly and clearly enough for me to hear. This is especially hard in the workplace, and I've had a couple of co-workers who I've simply had to ignore/avoid because they seem completely unwilling to accommodate me. Loud people, on the other hand, I love. I gravitate to loud people because it's the easiest for me.

On the whole, most people, once they get to know you, are happy to try to accommodate. But they do have to be reminded again and again. I would love to be in an environment with lots of other hard of hearing people, but as others have pointed out, there's really no in-between space between the deaf world and the hearing world.

What this young man is doing is very brave. He is clearly a strong and talented person, if a bit inexperienced in life. Those of us who fall somewhere on the deafness spectrum have to work harder and be more proactive-- all the time. We play with a higher difficulty setting. The world doesn't rise up to meet us; we have to rise up to meet the world.
posted by amusebuche at 8:35 PM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


(I wrote my own list before seeing amusebuche's, so some of this is substantially similar.)

Like someone said earlier, it's usually not about volume, it's about comprehension. I can turn the TV up so loud the neighbors will complain and I'll still miss 50% of it. The easiest people for me to listen to are broadcasters. Even though I'm a lipreader, I can listen to NPR and I probably get 90% of it. I don't watch much TV, but the news is the easiest program to watch even without captions. The anchor faces the camera and speaks in a neutral accent and an even tone.

If you can IM or email or text me, do so. If you need to talk to me in person, give me a heads up. I will not hear you walk up, and touching me will startle me. Waving to get my attention is the best. If you need to call me for some reason, text me first and ask me to call you so I can do so when I'm in a quiet place.

Use your hands. Point if you can do so without looking like a dork. Use props! Show, don't tell. "I'm going on a trip to Banff National Park and we're staying at this cool timber lodge..." Pull up a picture on your iPhone. In meetings, hand out a written agenda. I know you're not supposed to use text-heavy PowerPoint slides, so use an agenda or send out meeting notes after the fact.

If you're asked to repeat something, try rephrasing it. I might be stuck on one word. Be detailed - the more words you use, the more likely I am to get the gist of what you're saying. "Me and Marjorie are going to a movie tonight" "I'm sorry?" "Me and my wife are going to see the Avengers at the Grand Theater on Main Street"

In a business situation, send me an email summarizing what we talked about and ask if I have any questions.  Realize that I might be agreeing with you or nodding while having no idea what you're saying. Asking questions might be tricky if I might feel put on the spot, but open-ended ones are best with a summary first (in case I've completely lost the plot). "So, we've been talking about hiring this design firm for the branding project. Do you have any thoughts, Jennifer?"
posted by desjardins at 10:13 PM on May 23, 2012


I once had two deaf employees among the 20 or so graphic designers and proofreaders who reported to me. Both came to the job together, from the same training school. They'd gone to Gallaudet together before that. They were both good at the job, but I believe neither of them could have stuck it out without the other. They took their breaks and lunches together, helped each other out, were the best of friends.

Their other coworkers and I all learned how best to communicate, whether it was with written notes or lipreading or what (I can sign a little), but there was always this wall between "them" and "us."

A year in, one of the two passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly, a tragic loss (he was a cheerful, lovable guy, and only in his mid-20s). His friend stayed at the job for another few months, but you could see every day that her heart wasn't in it anymore. She left not long after.

It was a visual job, but it took both hands, and the rest of us could easily do it and have a conversation at the same time. She couldn't, of course. The isolation is very real. I feel like I saw it firsthand, and I felt powerless to help.
posted by kostia at 6:51 PM on May 24, 2012


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