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” (an offensive term,we want to eradicate this), Oral (one who speaks and may not doesn’t 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 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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53 thoughts on “What You Can Ask When Meeting Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing People

  • Scott

    Sometimes I think people lose all common sense when they meet a person with a disability. I’m sure part of it is nervousness and then they say or do something that they really shouldn’t.

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      Yes, it can be nervousness too! We know that can happen to a lot of people, especially when they’re experiencing culture shock

  • Eloise

    That’s an interesting post Scott, and I think it can be widen to other disabilities (or should we call it difference?). You’re doing a great job at raising awareness, well done!
    … But I wouldn’t approach someone randomly (and I’m talking about anyone here 😉 to ask a personal question just because I’m curious… I’m way too shy for that!

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      Thank you! ^^

      That’s completely understandable! Some people may be too shy, nervous or afraid to ask. Sometimes people do ask us, and we don’t mind answering them. We just wanted to write that what are okay to ask when people do want to try and ask 🙂

  • anna

    Thanks for this post guys. I think it will help a lot of people and I agree with the comment that some people lose common sense when they meet someone with a disability. I’m interested in knowing how hard it would be to learn sign language compared to other languages.

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      Yes, sometimes the nervousness or culture shock causes some people to lose common sense. It’s understandable! We wouldn’t be harsh about it if someone ask us some questions about anything.

      That’s a good thing to think about! Learning sign language is the same as learning any other language – only that it’s silence and involves a loooot of facial expressions. If some one learn sign language at later age, it applies to those who are learning Spanish or other language at late age, because our mind aren’t like a sponge comparing to a child.

  • Alouise

    Thanks for this post. It’s surprising how rude people can be when meeting someone who’s different from them. A few of my extended family members are deaf, and while I don’t know ASL, when we’d get together we always communicated by writing notes and passing back and forth (it was the early 90s…the original text message).

    As for learning sign language I have a Hearing friend who’s going to school to be an ASL interpreter. She only started really learning sign language when she began school a couple of years ago, but she seems to be catching on. I think because it’s an immersive course (you just use ASL in the class) it helps you to catch on quickly. It would be like any language. If you’re immersed in it and using it every day you’ll pick it up.

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      I’m sure your friend would be catching on! Just exactly what you said, once you immersed into it, you’ll pick it up like any other language. Learning sign language is the same as learning any other language – only that it’s silence and involves a loooot of facial expressions. 🙂

      I’m glad that you and your family communicated by writing notes! I’m sure it helps a lot and make your extended Deaf family members feel included too 🙂

      Thank you for reading! 🙂

  • mar

    This was very interesting and educating, thank you very much for sharing. I often hear the term hearing impaired, you say this is rude, would you mind elaborating? Thanks!

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      just wrote a long rely and it somehow didn’t went through >.< yikes, I'll try remember everything I said, haha: Even though this term is widely used, a lot of people don't really think about what it actually means. This term implies that something is wrong with us - that we're broken, something is wrong with us, that we aren't able to function. It segregates and excluded us from the "normal society." It implies that we are not "normal," we're "broken" and needed to be "fixed." We do not need to be "fixed." We are normal, we are perfectly capable to function. We are not "broken." There's nothing wrong with us, just that we cannot hear. We often say, "Deaf people can do anything (like Hearing People), except hear." And that's it 🙂 Even though we, Deaf/Hoh, sometimes use hearing aids or cochlear implant (CI), it still doesn't mean that we're unable to function. Many of us Deaf/HoH (hard of hearing) people are just fine with who they are; the major problems are lack of common understanding between Hearing and Deaf/Hoh communities and lack of visual access. Many Deaf/Hoh don't see being Deaf/Hoh a misfortune one, because after all, we're normal. Just can't hear like Hearing community 🙂

  • Erica

    Thanks for once again educating me with this informative post. I may be a nurse, but honestly, some things we don’t really learn from the books but from interacting with our patients. I’ve never dealt with a deaf patient before so this definitely opened a window and gave me a detailed idea.

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      You’re welcome!

      Yes, just like many things, we don’t learn it by books – we would learn by interacting with them. Sometimes the books are just to spread knowledge and it’s good to keep in mind, but we benefit a greater knowledge by interacting with them 🙂

      Thank you for reading!

  • Hitch-Hikers Handbook

    That’s very interesting and eye-opening. I guess it is natural for people to be curious about things they haven’t been exposed to before and it’s cool that you welcome their questions.
    I have a lot of respect for disabled people who travel round the world. It’s empowering that people with any disabilities decide to follow their dreams, conquer their fears and leave their comfort zones against any difficulties their disabilities might put in front of them. It’s something that many abled people would be afraid to do.

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      It’s definitely natural to be curious and even experience culture shock when seeing Deaf/HoH people. Even though we, Deaf/Hoh, have the capability to travel, a lot of parents (including Hearing or Deaf parents) are often afraid to let their Deaf/Hoh children, because of countless worries like “what if you didn’t hear the upcoming car?” “what if you didn’t hear someone walking behind you at night,” etc. But what important is that we Deaf/Hoh (who are not Deaf-Blind) relies a lot of vision. Our vision sense heighten. 🙂

      Thank you for reading!

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      You’re welcome! We’re happy to share this information, and we will write what not to say too 🙂

      Thank you for reading! ^^

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      Yes! 🙂

      Even though this term is widely used, a lot of people don’t really think about what it actually means. This term implies that something is wrong with us – that we’re broken, something is wrong with us, that we aren’t able to function. It segregates and excluded us from the “normal society.” It implies that we are not “normal,” we’re “broken” and needed to be “fixed.” We do not need to be “fixed.” We are normal, we are perfectly capable to function. We are not “broken.” There’s nothing wrong with us, just that we cannot hear. We often say, “Deaf people can do anything (like Hearing People), except hear.” And that’s it 🙂

      Thank you for reading! ^^

  • Gem

    Great post! I haven’t had the experience of meeting deaf people but I’ve met people who have other types of disabilities and there’s always that moment when you feel like you’ll offend them if you want to ask them about what happened so I try not to make it a big deal and let it come from their own lips while conversing about something else.

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      Thank you!!

      It’s understandable to feel concern whatever you should ask the questions you have in mind and not to offend them. Sometimes people with disability would prefer you get to know them and maybe eventually ask about it.

      Thank you for reading!

  • Meg Jerrard

    Thanks for putting together this guide – I think the biggest reason people are probably awkward about asking these questions is because it’s so unknown so they really don’t know if it’s being rude or not. When perhaps the unwillingness to come out and ask is what in itself leads to an awkward situation which is more rude.

    I love that you’re spreading awareness through your blog, you’re both an inspiration – stay awesome!

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      Thank you for your kind words, Meg!

      Indeed, we understand what you’re saying that if it leads to an awkward situation and how it becomes more rude. Often time, it is because of not being aware about Deaf culture, and again, Lilo and I don’t expect everyone in the world to know about it.

      Also, because of not knowing about deaf culture, Hearing & Deaf/hoh don’t often share mutual awkward feelings. To clarify that, for example… we often encounter Hearing people who try to ask us questions, and we’re answered and told them “we’re fine, completely happy,” but they started to feel awkward instead of us. “Oh,” “sorry to hear that you’re hearing impaired,” etc. Sometimes they still get awkward, perhaps unable to comprehend why we’re exactly fine with who we are.

      Regardless, we don’t take it personal 🙂 Lilo and I are completely open 🙂

  • Claudia

    I don’t think people realise what is rude or not. I didn’t know before you pointed it out that saying “hearing impaired” is very offensive. And in fact, I would actually like to know why. Don’t be mad at people for being rude. I think they just need to get to know you or other deaf people and I am afraid we still know so little. It is the same with other expressions we commonly use, until we eventually learn that they are offensive.

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      Absolutely – Lilo and I aren’t mad about it. We never get mad at people who for saying certain things, because we don’t expect everyone else in the world to be aware of it, because just like any situation, we weren’t always aware of it until we learn about it. We don’t mean to make this post sounds angry or attacking those who are saying certain questions.

      The only time we do get frustrated is when we tell them how to accommodate with us (like writing when they know English, they refused because they said we “can talk.”) That’s a whole different situation, of course. Just saying what we do feel frustrated about.

      As for the term, hearing impaired – Even though this term is widely used, a lot of people don’t really think about what it actually means. This term implies that something is wrong with us – that we’re broken, something is wrong with us, that we aren’t able to function. It segregates and excluded us from the “normal society.” It implies that we are not “normal,” we’re “broken” and needed to be “fixed.” We do not need to be “fixed,” because we are normal and perfectly capable to function with the society. We often say, “Deaf people can do anything (like Hearing People), except hear.” 🙂

  • Heather Simon

    Thank you for writing this. I have not been around deaf/hard of hearing people before. Not sure why, just do not know anyone and like anything, people’s stories open a world up. So thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      You’re welcome!

      It’s not often to see Deaf/Hoh people since our population is different to Hearing population. 🙂 You will perhaps will experience culture shock if you see one, and that’s perfectly normal! Just like anyone else who experience something very different (like going to other country), we’ll all experience it.

      Thank you for reading!

    • deafinitelywanderlust Post author

      Thank you Doreen!! 🙂

      Just want to know that even though the term hearing impairment is commonly used, it can be quite offensive too. It’s okay that you mentioned it though! We’re not upset about this, and we’re glad to explain why as many wondered:

      This term implies that something is wrong with us – that we’re broken, something is wrong with us, that we aren’t able to function. It segregates and excluded us from the “normal society.” It implies that we are not “normal,” we’re “broken” and needed to be “fixed.” We do not need to be “fixed,” because we are normal and perfectly capable to function with the society. We often say, “Deaf people can do anything (like Hearing People), except hear.” 😉

  • Tami

    I have a good friend who is deaf. She can read lips so we are able to communicate pretty well. I appreciated your explanations of appropriate questions (and inappropriate ones), but I have to admit, I wondered why deaf would be offended by a term like hearing-impired vs hard-of-hearing. Aren’t they the same? And I do hope that deaf people are not too offended should their hearing friends use a term they don’t know is offensive. Also, when you used the term Hearings as a category for people who hear, isn’t that just the same as asking someone if others in their family “are just like you?” — categorizing and possibly making people feel uncomfortable with your title? I think you are doing a great job of bridging chasms between the hearing and deaf. It must be very difficult at times. And possibly also awkward.

  • Jennifer @ Made all the Difference Travel Blog

    I have stopped being amazed by how rude people can be. I love how you present questions to ask. I do that one for you. It is just a personal curiosity, feel free to ignore. What is your opinion on the cochlear implant? As an engineer, the tech is amazing. I know it’s a little controversy in the deaf community so I was just wondering what your thoughts were.

  • Gemma Two Scots Abroad

    Lilo and Stacey – breaking down barriers one post at a time! You guys are my heroes. Keeping sharing your stories so we can pass them on and eventually more and more people will have an increased knowledge of Deaf people (and those who travel) and ignorance will decrease.

  • Natalie Deduck

    Great post!!
    You always surprise me with powerful words, and how you makes us comfortable to understand about the Deaf community! It´s awesome that you two are crossing all the possible barriers to exploring the world, even couchsurfing. That’s great!!
    Keeping up the good work, we need to show the world that the difference we have between us (deaf, gays, skin color…) don´t matter, we need to treat each other with love and respect!
    Cheers,
    Nat

  • karla

    Thank you for giving these things, sometimes I feel too shy to ask things or I might ask something that can come out offensive even when I don’t mean to. Thankyou for educating us too.

  • Chris

    I think if I’ve ever been guilty of staring too long at a deaf (or hearing) person sign, it’s out of admiration.

    What I’d love to see, is Sign-Language offered as part of school curriculum as regularly as Spanish, German, French, English, Italian or any other common language!

  • James | The Globe Wanderers

    Great post, Scott.
    I hope lots of people read this post… and most of your posts to be honest. They’re all brilliant.
    I know its a different thing all together but my dad is an amputee. He gets people asking the wrong questions or saying the wrong things around him but he’s used to it at 71 now. What he does appreciate is when people approach him and ask kindly if they may ask him about it. In America he has been overwhelmed with the kindness and understanding of people like this.

    I’d love to learn some sign language before we set off again. We lobe talking to people we meet when travelling regardless of how we communicate. You’re inspiring! 🙂

  • antonette - we12travel

    I love this article and it reminds me that I should indeed ask more questions, not just to deaf people but also to people with other disabilities. In all honesty I would never ask a lot of questions because I don’t want to make the other person feel uncomfortable, so that’s when I generally decide it’s better to keep my mouth shut… thanks for the suggestions on which questions to ask, I never really considered it may be rude to ask it another way (because English is not my mother tongue as well) …

  • Trisha Velarmino

    I really admire your courage in writing about this! I was in the Student Council during High School and all of us were required to study sign language to be able to communicate to all the students in my school (we have a deaf dept). I communicated with them on a weekly basis and I think the easiest method is through writing. 😉 Takes time but you will really get to know that these people have so much sensible things to say! I am really proud of you!

  • Dean

    While I was reading the part about silly questions you are asked it made me wonder if you had been asked how you are able to blog (thinking that being deaf means you are unable to communicate online) and also if any people SHOUT comments to you online.
    Yhank you for sharing these insights. I really enjoy your blog.

  • SC

    hi! i just found your blog and i wanted to say thanks for creating such an important thing for travelers. i now using hearing aids which i got later in life, but have had low levels of hearing most of my life. i haven’t been a part of the deaf community and culture. can you explain why “hearing impaired” is considered offensive? i’m assuming because it implies fully hearing as the default or the norm and therefore people with different levels of hearing are somehow less than that or “broken”. as a POC and member of the LGBTQIA community, i try to educate myself on these things. thank you!

  • Sarah Dittmore

    As someone always trying to become more conscious and aware of the abilities of those around me, I want to personally thank you for writing this. I recognize my privilege as a white, straight, hearing person with no physical disabilities and I hate that sometimes I seize up around those that do not fit my description. It’s not because of judgement, but because I am so terrified of saying the wrong thing. I will take your advice to heart. Thank you.

  • Gemma

    It’s really inspiring to hear your tale, being deaf must make some aspects of travel more difficult, but I guess it also gives you more funny stories to tell! The first deaf person I met was a client of my dad’s, she had been born deaf and while she could speak, she had learnt by watching peoples mouth movements so I struggled to understand her, (my dad had to translate) I remember feeling pretty embarrassed at the time, but hopefully I’ll be more prepared if/when it happens again. Good luck, and continue enjoying your travels! 🙂

  • Jackie

    Love how you wrote this post. It puts what others are thinking and feeling right to the forefront. It’s only natural for people to have questions but the approach can be such a blunder. Great for you to share your experiences.