The time has come for another d/Deaf related blog post and this one pertains to all the misconceptions and stereotypes. I’ll admit this is one post I should have done right at the beginning but other things got in the way and I completely forgot about it. It’s lucky I needed to remind what I wrote in my introductory post because this topic was left down in the comments. It also fits in to my current WIP (writing project in progress) which I have been doing a lot of work on so I now have no excuse to forget or avoid the topic.
Actually, I’m glad to be getting this down because it is probably one of the most important posts I will ever write on d/Deaf awareness.
So. Are we ready to break down the misconceptions?
We’d better be as I have 10 to get through.
1. Deaf and Dumb.
Not only is this phrase old-fashioned, it is offensive. Having the ability to learn and know things is not correlated to how someone lives their day to day life. The only thing a d/Deaf person can’t do is hear. It doesn’t stop anyone from working, living the life they want, or being a valid human being.
We all have different abilities. In fact, that’s the price for each one us being biologically unique, so “dumb” can take a leaping jump out of the window. And to anyone who still says that, take a look at these below because one person you’re indirectly describing as “dumb” has learnt instructions, taken them on board and constructed something not all of us have the ability to do:
2. Deafness is age related.
Erm, I think every d/Deaf child who is/was educated in mainstream or Deaf schools would disagree. Also, if someone can be blind and have sight problems from an early age then why can’t someone’s hearing ability be the same?
Yes, age-related deafness is common and most people in society might see hearing aids being worn by older generations, but there are lots of reasons why someone is d/Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
Sarah is Deaf because her inner ears didn’t develop properly before she was born. Others may be d/Deaf or HoH due to family genes, conditions like Menières, Brittle Bone Disease etc, as a result of being ill with meningitis etc…
None of it is age specific. It is just the way it is.
3. Deafness is the same for everyone.
This is a nice following on from that previous point, because there are varying types and levels of deafness.
In fact, there are 4 types:
- Auditory Processing Disorders – when the brain can’t process the information contained in sound i.e. understanding speech and working out where sound is coming from
- Conductive hearing loss – related to a problem with the outer or middle ear which interferes with sound passing through the ear.
- Sensorineural hearing loss – related to the cochlear and/or the auditory nerve (the most common form of deafness)
- Mixed hearing loss – a combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
That then ranges from slight/mild to profound depending on the decibels someone d/Deaf or HoH can and can’t hear.
- Slight/mild (26-40dB)
- Moderate (41-60dB)
- Severe (61-80dB)
- Profound (over 81db)
I could go on and on describing all this because it such a huge spectrum. It also depends on whether someone uses cochlear implants, hearing aids and how much use they get from them.
4. d/Deaf or HoH people use braille.
Unless someone is DeafBlind and actually needs Braille, the logic in this misconception baffles me.
Deafness relates to ears and sound so where does braille, a reading adaptation for the Blind, come to into that? If someone knows please tell me because otherwise I will never understand where this crazy logic originated from.
5. Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants restore hearing.
Let me make this clear, deafness is not an illness therefore Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants should in no way be described as “cures.” d/Deaf and HoH people who use them are still d/Deaf and HoH! The thing is, usage varies considerably depending on the person. Children and adults get more out of CIs in particular if they were implanted from a young age, as the brain is still adapting and learning how to process sound. They send electronic signals through to the brain from the ear which it learns to pick up as sound. On the other hand, Hearing Aids amplify sound, so the sound passing through the ear is just louder. They’re both different and have pros and cons, the latter relating to aspects that a lot of people tend to dismiss.
I’ll use Sarah as an example again but all her hearing aid does is give her more awareness of sound and vibrations. She doesn’t know where the sound comes from but she’s aware of it. It’s also been good for visual awareness purposes and has stopped some of the more rude and ignorant comments we used to get. The downside is that because the mould completely covers her ear, and blocks air flow, it makes her ear itch and can make her even more prone to ear infections.
I actually watched an interesting documentary pertaining to cochlear implants a few weeks ago and whilst I’d seen it before on the BSL Zone website (a service similar to Netflix but all in BSL and free), it helped me to remember that not everyone finds their CIs useful and comfortable. Also, everyone looks at CIs from a clinical and Hearing perspective that it is easy to dismiss the reasons why some Deaf people don’t like them.
6. Deaf people don’t talk.
Trust me when I say, a lot of d/Deaf people talk. Apart from a few friends, nearly all my sister’s friends from school up to college use a combination of both speech and sign. A lot of it depends on how comfortable someone is speaking and whether they’ve been influenced to speak as a result of speech therapy and the use of HA/CIs.
The one thing I would say is if you meet a Deaf person and they do happen to speak, don’t say “oh you speak well for a Deaf person,” or correct the pronunciation of words that might have been said wrong. I’ve found it just makes the situation uncomfortable. Also, if you know someone speaks and signs and they prefer signing, go with it. Don’t force someone to speak if they don’t want to.
7. Sign Language is Universal
I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll say it again, Sign Language is not universal. There may be an International Sign Language made up of basic signs influenced by ASL but it is not what we use every day.
Just like each country has their own spoken language, they have their own Sign Languages too, and the differences are vast! Saying that, there are Sign Languages which have a lot of similarities based on their history and evolution. Examples are:
ASL and LSF (American Sign Language and Langue des Signes Français)
BSL and AUSLAN (British Sign Language and Australian Sign Language)
If you look at BSL and ASL (American Sign Language) you’ll see instantly that they are completely different. It doesn’t matter if some signs might be slightly similar, others different.
And I am going to assume this will be the same again in other countries but even with BSL, signs vary depending where you come from. With my parents taking classes in Warrington and Sarah going to school in Bolton, I grew up using both Liverpool and Manchester signs. However, when my sister moved schools and met other Deaf people outside of our region, she picked up a lot of sign variants that I ultimately ended up learning as well.
It definitely makes you a more adaptable signer to recognise and understand the variations in signs. As long as you don’t mix two different Sign Languages, you’re fine!
8. Deaf people can’t drive.
This is a common misconception and it’s not true at all. I know a few Deaf people who drive and I happen to think they make very safe drivers because they wouldn’t always be distracted by the radio, a phone ringing and other audio disturbances. They’re also more perceptive and visually aware of the conditions around them.
9. Deaf people can lip-read everyone and everything.
Lip-reading is a skill, one that takes a lot of time, patience and understanding to do well. It’s quite hard to grasp because as well as being able to pick up words, you have to be aware of context which can be difficult if someone is speaking too quickly or you come into a conversation half way through. A lot of it is filling in the gaps because you’d be able to get some words and not others, not forgetting to mention that quite a few words and phrases have the same lip patterns so you’re not entirely sure what is being said.
10. Deaf people don’t listen to music.
I’ll admit I thought this when I was younger so I’ll give little me a slap on the hand for that ignorance. It is certainly true because I remember getting angry when Sarah took my radio and one of my cassette tapes.
Yes, even me who is all about the awareness now could be wrong as a child.
Anyway, that little anecdote should make you aware that yes, Deaf people do in fact listen to music. Sarah has even taken after me and listens to nothing but Disney music nowadays! She loves the feel of the vibrations, although she says they’re too strong and sometimes uncomfortable when she’s listening to parade music. As this is a more recent thing and she’s not used to the heavy beat of the music, I can understand that.
However, lots of other d/Deaf people listen to music. They even play and dance to it – Nyle di Marco for example!
And there’s the 10 misconceptions. I hope breaking them down was helpful and gave you further insight.
Before I sign off, a lot of what I covered here can also be seen in this video for BBC3. I think it’s a great resource and one I know I’ve watched a few times. Also, one of the women in the video – Jessica Kellgren-Fozzard – has her own YT channel and I’d highly recommend watching all of her videos! They’re brilliant for some BSL tutorials, awareness and general day to day vlogs – all subtitled of course!
As this post is incredibly long, that is it!
What other misconceptions have you come across that require breaking down?
Thanks for reading and have a brazzle dazzle day!