What You Can Ask When Meeting Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing People

It’s no doubt that many Hearing people (referring to those who are not Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing) raised a lot of questions in their mind when they saw Lilo and I signing publicly whilst traveling last summer or earlier this summer. Actually, it even still occurs in our own country, in USA. We’re accustomed to the fact that no matter where we go,

We’re alienated.

Several facial expressions ranged from confusion to amusement; we could feel they may have several unanswered questions in their mind due to their facial expressions. For example, when we were riding a subway in South Korea, two girls were sitting across from us. Their faces — the eyes, eyebrows, and mouth — told us a lot of things. Their eyes were alarmed, eyebrows scrunched together, lips tightened or pursed. These are strong nonverbal signals that showed us that they’re primarily signaling shock and confusion. Then, they would look away when one of us looked at them. One had her eyes peek through her peripheral vision and then she talked into her friend’s ear. This behavior is the most common reaction, but it doesn’t bother us at all (unless they literally just stared us down like a hawk or a staring game).

When we were couchsurfing in Taiwan, there was this kind gentleman who seemed to be hesitant to ask something. We were sitting in his guest room, and

I noticed he was fidgeting his fingers and stretched his arms across his lap, cupping his knees, as if he was trying to resist or debating whether or not to ask something.

“Can I ask you something….?” he awkwardly asked as we read his lips. “It’s about your…” He pointed at his ear. I noticed his body was a little tense and his eyebrows knitted. “Of course, anything! Don’t be afraid to ask, because we’re happy to tell you about it.” I told him. He awkwardly nodded and smiled, “Um, how- how did it happened to you?” We assured him not to worry and that we’re open to his questions and would love to talk to about it. Lilo and I explained how we became Deaf and that we stand proud of being Deaf.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of being curious,

especially when you have never encountered a Deaf person before. Although, there are a lot of questions that Hearings asked us (we’ll write a post about what not to say), such as “Can Deaf people drive?” or “Can Deaf people read?” that may be silly, we know that they often ask out of not being aware or nervousness. We acknowledge that we can’t expect everyone in the world to be aware of Deaf culture – just as many people don’t know a lot about LGBTQ culture and many other certain things. Hence, all the more reason why we would love to spread awareness through blogging and traveling.

So, there are perhaps countless of questions that you may be wondering whether it is right or appropriate to ask a Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing person. Bear in mind that every Deaf person is different – some may view themselves Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, “Hearing impaired” (it considered to be an offensive term for many), Oral (one who speaks and may not know sign language), etc. Many Deaf people may accept who they are and perceive that being Deaf is not as terrible as Hearing people think, whereas some just don’t accept it as who they are. Additionally, there are also many Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing people who are not involved in the Deaf community or unaware of the existence of sign language.

Therefore, we recommend that you can start off like this:

“I hope that you don’t mind if I ask questions about you, because I noticed you are (insert: signing / wearing hearing aids / wearing cochlear implant/ etc); I’m eager to learn more about Deaf/Hard of Hearing culture; is that okay?”

We want to write down list of questions that are realistic – what Hearing people would be often naturally be curious about.

Here are list of questions that are okay to ask when you meet a Deaf/Hard of Hearing person:

  • How did you become Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing?

We’re all, naturally, curious creatures. Many want to know what is the cause of being Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing. There are numerous of factors that cause it: ear infections, heredity, syndromes (such as Usher or Waardenburg syndrome), prenatal exposure (i.e. rubella), loud noise, trauma, age, etc. Many Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing people will answer you, because it’s not only the Hearing community who are curious. In the Deaf community, we often ask each other, “How did you become Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing?” Why? Curiosity. It’s also part of getting to know each other.

  • Is there anyone in your family who is also Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing?

Do not say, “Is there anyone in your family who has the same thing like you?” This can be extremely rude. It is as if you are making us the “other.” This question makes us feel abnormal — as if we don’t belong. Instead of saying, “…same thing like you?” you can simply say, “Who is also Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing?” This is a more friendlier (and respectable) approach to this question that doesn’t make us feel excluded.

  • If you have a chance to become Hearing, would you?

This is a common question that many Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing people ask themselves and others: “If there’s a magic potion that would give you the chance to become Hearing, would you take it?” Many of us have different answers – some would hesitate to answer, proudly say no or say yes. (Note that cochlear implant (CI) is NOT a cure — in case you were wondering about it).

  • Can you hear anything?

I repeat, do not even tease: “Oh, can you hear this? (clap) Can you hear that? (slam the door) Can you- ” It’s honestly quite ill mannered and rude. Some of us will say we can hear certain things with hearing aids or CI on, some will say they can hear a little/some without hearing aids or CI, some can’t hear anything. However, just because some of us do hear something, it doesn’t always mean we hear like Hearing people. We usually rely a lot on visual inputs.

  • Isn’t learning sign language hard?

If this question is applicable, many will answer differently. Some Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing people learn at such a young age (due to having Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing family or learning sign language at school), whereas some learn at a later age (due to a variety of reasons) which can be more difficult.

 

To ask these questions, be aware what communication method they prefer (they will tell you). Some prefer to sign, written conversation, gestures, or speaking, etc. Many Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing people you meet may give different answers. There are probably many more questions concerning what and what not to say that you may have on your mind, and please feel free to leave a comment below! We’ll do our best to answer any questions you might have! 🙂

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