I appreciate that what I’m going to be talking about in this post could be seen as controversial. I am just writing as things come into my life, and sharing thoughts that I have. I know my views will not be shared by all (hearing and deaf) or be relatable to everyone. These views are based on a recent conversation I had with a deaf person.
A brand new Iranian ice – cream shop has just opened in my local town. It is absolutely delicious with such rich flavours and quirky combinations. Ellie (my deaf friend) and I were talking to the owners about their story and how they began to acquire their new thriving and exciting business. Despite the interesting life story and how they are branching out into Selfridges (I told you they were fancy) – I totally zoned out from some of the conversation and went into my own little world, day dreaming about ice – cream and wondering how many tasters I could haggle. Ellie, who had been watching me interpret a lot of the conversation as well as lip reading the owner, had missed a particular word that was said. Ellie then asked me what the word was and I had to apologise and tell her that I’d not been listening and missed the conversation.
I felt really guilty and upset that I had ‘let Ellie down’. Rightly or wrongly, as a hearing person who can sign, I feel like I have a big responsibility to give deaf people constant access to what is going on. I am accessing the information so why should anyone have to go without if the ability to give access is there? I felt bad that I should have been more on the ball interpreting for Ellie. I felt bad that I had been selfish thinking about myself and my belly and not considering whether Ellie was following. I felt bad that maybe Ellie had wanted to engage in more conversation but didn’t because I was ‘busy’.
I kept apologising to her and it brought up a conversation which got us thinking, is my interpreting (or the interpreting of a hearing person) and my desire to make sure a deaf person has complete and full access, really as helpful as I think it is?! Ellie is a 25 year old woman, she does not NEED me in order to live her everyday life and it should be her choice whether I interpret for her or not. I cannot just assume that she will be interested in the discussion and she may want to even switch off to what is going on around us, but I am forcing her to listen.
Ellie has expressed slight annoyance at when people ‘over-interpret’. Naturally, her friends and family all want to support her and give her access, but quite often, she feels it is unnecessary as she is already understanding the person speaking. If she did not understand, she would want to have the opportunity to ask for clarification instead of already being interpreted at.
Of course, this is not the case for everybody as there is not one ‘type’ of deaf person. There are different levels of hearing and different forms of communication, but I suddenly thought how my being so keen to interpret and give Ellie access may be preventing her from being the independent person she is. Ellie said that she naturally becomes lazy and dependent on hearing people even though she is fully capable of communicating independently.
I noticed how the owner of the ice – cream shop was using me as a way to talk to Ellie. If Ellie had been with another deaf friend or by herself – then the owner would have had no choice but to communicate with her instead of relying on the hearing person. This always irritates me, so I’m sure for deaf people it is even more frustrating.
I have seen this happen in restaurants too. The waiters will ask me what Ellie wants instead of directly asking her. If I wasn’t there, then they would have to be deaf aware, gesture and communicate in a way that is accessible to her. This is quite literally a hearing person ignoring the deaf person involved and expecting someone like me (a hearing person who can sign) for communication. This could be a form of Audism that we may not realise is happening. Audism is when a hearing person feels superior and more important than a deaf person or someone who signs and that life as a deaf person is a bad/harder one.
I had learnt about this term at University in one of my deaf studies modules. At the time, I could not believe that this was a thing that people actually believed in. Now, being in the deaf community and seeing the prejudice and difficulties deaf people go through – I can totally see how some hearing people feel it is not their responsibility to adjust their register and tone for a deaf person, but they feel it is for the deaf person to adjust to a ‘hearing’ world. Again, this is obviously not all hearing people, but it definitely does exist.
In addition to this, believe it or not there is an actual group of people who have Surdophobia. Surdophobia is the hostility, intolerance or fear of Deaf people, deaf culture and the Deaf Community. Imagine being someone who people actually fear engaging with. If there was more deaf awareness in businesses and education, then this could largely be avoided and handled in a better way, instead of employees passing the deaf person onto a colleague because they do not know how to handle the situation.
I am certainly not saying that all deaf people should be independent in a way that they would be lip reading people all day every day and having to go outside alone as a way of becoming independent. Lip reading is tiring and very difficult. There is currently a shortage of interpreters and they are absolutely needed for doctor appointments, professional meetings, conferences and for TV, but is it possible for someone to over step in terms of interpreting? Where is the line?
It is Ellie’s choice what conversations she wants to have access to and I shouldn’t be forcing them upon her. Ellie said ‘You’re not my interpreter, you’re my friend it is not your responsibility to look after me in this way’. It made me question what are my duties as her friend? This whole concept is something I had never thought about before and yet it links to morals and ethics, law (equality) and the social aspects of daily life.
Emma Colton – firstname.lastname@example.org