Feeling alone in a crowded room

How you can better talk to and interact with people who are d/Deaf or Hard of Hearing
Juliana Deaf Hard Of Hearing

Imagine this: you’re at a party and everyone around you is having a great time chit-chatting, joking around and singing along to the music.

You want so badly to join in on the fun, but you can’t. You’re trapped in a glass box. Everyone can see you looking withdrawn, struggling to interject in conversation, but you can’t get out. It is an isolating experience to be surrounded by so many people, yet feel utterly alone.

Sometimes, deafness feels like being in that glass box.

I started losing most of my hearing just a few years ago. I went from asking for repetition every now and again, to relying heavily on lip-reading, to not being able to use the phone, to being fitted with powerful hearing aids that only help a little bit.

It hasn’t all been bad — in fact, I would say that within the Deaf community, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. My Deaf friends are patient with me as I learn sign language, and have connected me to resources that make it easier for me to function in an overwhelmingly hearing world.

But most of my experiences communicating as a Deaf person have been challenging.

The power of lipreading

I want to share with you some ways you can make communication easier for people who are d/Deaf or Hard of Hearing. If we all work together to meet each other’s’ communication needs, then no one will have to feel like they’re trapped in that glass box anymore.

A lot of d/Deaf people rely on lipreading to understand conversation. For me, listening to someone talk is like putting together a puzzle. My ears hear a fraction of what is being said, and my brain has to do the rest of the work to understand.

Lipreading helps me complete the puzzle, because certain sounds look a certain way — when someone says “oak”, for example, you can usually see their mouth make an “O” shape.

Something you can do to make it easier for us to lipread is to make sure you are facing us directly when you are talking. A lot of d/Deaf people will say, “if I can’t see you, I can’t hear you” — so make sure we can see you.

Now that most everyone is wearing masks because of the COVID-19 virus, communication has become even harder. If you are able to get a clear mask, you should wear it when you go out.

Another way you can help is to be patient. Many times, when I ask people to repeat what they said, they’ll say “never mind,” or “I’ll tell you later.”

This can be frustrating because I feel like I am missing out on the conversation. If you take a few extra seconds to repeat yourself, the person you’re talking to is able to fully participate in the conversation, which is more fun for everybody.

I am, like many other d/Deaf/HoH people, a social and bubbly person. I love to chat with others and make new friends, but it can be hard to do that when I can’t hold a conversation with someone because I can’t understand what they’re saying.

Let’s work together to create a world where all of us can communicate and get acquainted, by meeting people where they’re at in terms of communication and doing what we can to make conversation easier for everyone.

Juliana Good (they/them/theirs) is a late-Deaf graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, studying how we can leverage human-centered design to improve accessibility in New Hampshire.

Categories: Special Needs, Stepping Stones NH