Deaf Awareness Week will be over at the end of this weekend for another year . Sadness, indeed. How was it for you? I think any opportunity to shout out about the simple things that can be done to include and involve deaf people is a good thing. With that in mind, here’s my fifth and final personal deaf awareness tip.
5. Don’t be scared to ask.
I won’t be offended. I probably won’t mind. Yes, go ahead and ask me about my deafness and how I communicate.
I’m often surprised people don’t. Do I look fierce? I may be increasingly grumpy with age but I’m not Gordon Brown, I don’t stab people with pens or call them a bigot behind their back. I’m always happy to talk about myself and my experiences as a deaf person. Frankly, I can’t think of many things more interesting. So go ahead and ask me what helps me understand what’s being said and how I prefer to get my voice across. It’s nice and I appreciate it. It’s better than having impossible conversations, trying to stumble on, hoping for the best before finally discovering that we weren’t actually talking about Chewbacca from Star Wars.
It’s also better than making assumptions about a deaf person’s communication approach straight-off. As a child, I didn’t sign, and would always be confused and irritated when people just started signing to me, without also speaking, before checking that I actually signed myself.
This is not to say that communication isn’t a two-way responsibility. It’s obviously important for deaf people themselves to take charge of their communication and proactively explain to other people what works for them. But many deaf children are not particularly confident in doing so, either because of their age or because they haven’t been empowered to be assertive about their deafness. So my fifth and final deaf awareness tip of the week is: don’t be scared to ask. Get down to a deaf child’s level and ask them to explain to you what communication approach works for them – sign? speech? combination? flags? drums? Make sure they know that they can stop you and ask you to do something in a different way. Check and refine your communication approach as you go.
And that’s it from me. Don’t forget that these are just my own deaf awareness tips that are most important to me – the National Deaf Children’s Society have something more official. And you can also check out a poster done by Welsh deaf pupils last year.
Finally, remember, deaf awareness is for life, not just for one week in May!