Myths and misconceptions around deafness

Dispelling myths

Perhaps because I live and breathe it, I can’t quite understand why there are still so many inaccurate perceptions about deafness and hearing loss?

The disability is quite simple really, people have some element of hearing damage, which means they can’t hear as well or can’t hear at all. There’s nothing really complicated about that, so why is there so much misunderstanding in the world?

Deafness is one of the most common disabilities but is the least understood, but with a little deaf awareness, it goes a long way… I’m always striving to teach people about deafness and share communication tips in all walks of my life.

I hope this blog can help spread the word to make hearing loss heard about!

We all have to work together

We can’t expect everyone to be interested in deafness, or understand it completely, but as it’s a common condition which affects around a sixth of the population of the UK (11 million), it’s not exactly rare. Deafness affects many people. Even though you might not have a hearing loss yourself, it involves everyone as the main barrier that deaf people face, is communication and access to services.

We are social creatures, believe it or not! We love interacting with others. For those who communicate orally, it isn’t sometimes necessary to tell the hearing person that they have a hearing loss, sometimes it’s not relevant and you can have a chat without having to reveal the condition, sometimes people can work it out.

Coming out as deaf!

We’re all different. For me, it depends on the situation and whether I need any consideration or allowances made. Often, I don’t feel the need, I try to get by. To me, it’s like any other characteristic or health condition. You wouldn’t walk up to a shop assistant and tell them you’re diabetic unless relevant, or inform a bank clerk that you have angina, therefore I don’t feel the need to confide in relative strangers that I can’t hear very well, unless I’m struggling with the conversation or it is particularly topical!

In order to understand someone fully, I might have to explain that I’m deaf, in the hope that the other person will be willing to have an effective conversation. It can go one of two ways…

  • The hearing person can either try their best to face me and speak clearly, repeating where necessary with no more drama than that…
  • Or, they can PANIC and launch into some Shakespearean type roleplay, complete with over stretched lip patterns with shouting at a loud volume as they believe this will help an deaf alien who seems to be from another planet! – this happened to me!

For deaf people who sign, options are more limited in this verbal society we live in. For D/deaf people who communicate in a non oral way, attempting to have a chat with hearing people is not always straightforward.

If you live with deafness or some form of hearing loss, you may know of some of these common  misconceptions that are still around in our society today. They are in one respect funny, because they are SO ridiculous, but mainly annoying, frustrating and sad because they show ignorance leading to lack of access, willingness to communicate and sometimes discrimination:

1) Deafness only affects old people

Completely untrue of course. Many babies are born with a hearing loss. It affects all ages!

2) You don’t look/sound deaf

Deafness is an invisible disability. Some wear hearing aids or cochlear implants, therefore there is a clue, but often people don’t notice these as they would in the case of a physical disability and a wheelchair – I mean do deaf people look like aliens?

3) Just turn up the volume

Some believe that by making something louder, like turning up the volume or by shouting, this will make it better for the deaf. This would depend upon the hearing loss of course, but often this isn’t helpful – it’s kinda embarrassing! To turn this around, I sometimes shout back, and if they’re took back, I’ll say ‘oh I thought you couldn’t hear me, as I can clearly hear you!’

4) All deaf people use sign language

This is a common occurrence when you tell someone you’re deaf, that they automatically launch into the; ‘Oh I know some sign language’ and begin to make up some strange signs of their own, or swear signs!

It sometimes launches into a game of charades or apparently they know someone who signs etc, until you politely and awkwardly correct them by saying actually you don’t know any sign language!

5) Deaf people can’t….

Some assume that there are certain things people with a hearing loss can’t do. Yes there are restrictions, like I’ll never work in a call centre, for example, but any barriers are often built by other people’s wrong perceptions.

One time, a teacher told me that I shouldn’t be studying her subject at school because of my deafness. That’s a red flag! Nevertheless, I achieved an A grade almost to prove her wrong!

6) How can you be deaf as you can hear?

It’s simple!

Each person has a different level of hearing loss, from no hearing at all to a mild loss, some profound. Some are deaf from birth, others lose their hearing later in life. Every deaf person is different, this is important to remember. We all communicate differently.

Deaf people identify in their own way from Deaf, to deaf, having a hearing loss and so on, so please respect that and be non-judgemental.

That’s all the myths I’ve heard, I’m sure there’s plenty more!

Remember, if you meet a deaf person, please ask them how they want to communicate and how you can help to make that happen. There has to be compromise on BOTH sides, it’s not just up to the deaf person to make all the effort.

And smile! We’re friendly people!