What deaf individuals wish hearing individuals knew

Many people know of American Sign Language (ASL), but few attempt to learn the language or about the culture as a whole.

Deaf individuals spend a lot of time around hearing individuals who do not know how to act and who often times come across as very rude.This article attempts to break the barrier and properly inform others about what deaf individuals feel that hearing individuals should know.

Almost every person interviewed, including those who could not be fit into this article had a very similar message. They wish hearing individuals would try to learn at least some sign language and have a better understanding about the deaf culture.

Before getting into the interviews, there is one note. The quotes used in this article are written in the grammar format of American Sign Language. Deaf culture is very much it’s own culture just like any other, and just like other cultures its language will not sound like typical English when translated.

There is an important difference between exact signing and ASL. In ASL, the grammar is different and words such as “and” are not used. But in exact signing, every word used in a typical english sentence is signed. This form, is not preferred. Most deaf and hard of hearing individuals find ASL to be the best and most comfortable way to communicate.

The following interviews were conducted at a deaf event in Santa Clara, California.

Michelle Ottinger, a substitute teacher who teaches both deaf and ASL students, was born hearing, but became sick at 18 months old with spinal meningitis. She spoke until the age of five, and then began exact signing. It was not until high school that she learned ASL.

“I wish hearing people would be more patient,” Ottinger wrote in an email interview. “Do not be afraid to use gestures and body language. We can understand body language, but not lip reading. It is hard to know what you say because many words look alike.”

Ottinger also elaborated on families with deaf children, who do not learn how to sign. She feels fortunate to have a family that signs, but explains there are parents who feel they do not have the time to learn and don’t. She feels strongly about this matter and states not signing can lead to language deprivation for children.

Anne Utter is hard of hearing, and wishes hearing individuals would include deaf individuals in conversations, and that they would not say “never mind” or “I’ll tell you later” and then not follow up. She also wishes for people would not say “I’m sorry that you’re deaf” or “I can’t imagine being deaf”. She explained in an email that many deaf or hard of hearing individuals have been so for most of their life, and find it rude.

Once, Utter received a paper recommendation that answered questions about her academic potential from a teacher. The instructor had written “no, she won’t be successful because she’s deaf”.

“Just because I use American Sign Language or that my English may not be perfect doesn’t mean I can’t be successful,” said Utter.

Utter states she does not like the oral and sign language divide, and being a part of deaf culture gave her confidence she did not have before learning ASL. She only became aware of ASL after mainstream school, which have mostly hearing with some deaf students.

Sirius Burke, a hearing individual who frequents deaf events often, discussed some things he feels hearing individuals should know.

“I wish people knew that it is extremely rude to talk in front of people that are deaf,” Burke said. “I wish they knew talking louder does not make it any better. Talking slowly doesn’t make it any better.”

Burke feels that it is not only hearing individuals’ ignorance, but insensitivity and laziness in not putting in the effort to speak to someone who is deaf. Deaf individuals have been deaf most of their lives if not all, and have dealt with hearing individuals most of the time so they have multiple ways to communicate.

Burke explains hearing individuals can be rude and insensitive to deaf individuals. They may exclude deaf individuals because the language and culture is not familiar to them. Burke also states that being deaf is often seen as something that needs to be fixed, and this is not the case. Many parents immediately feel their child will lack quality of life and not be successful, but this is also a misconception.

“I think it’s important to have hearing people learn so they can become interpreters, teachers, and become part of a beautiful culture!” said Utter.