Want to know what it’s like to be deaf? Go to a new country!

I have oftentimes been asked what it’s like to be deaf.  It’s hard for me to answer that question because I don’t know anything else.

Let me ask you, what is it like to be hearing?  Kind of hard to answer that question when you haven’t been deaf.

The closest comparison I have been able to come up with is to go to a different country where you’re not fluent in their language.  In many ways the frustrations that you would experience is what I experience on a daily basis.  In other ways it’s not the same.

However, a couple of situations this week  made me realize how much of what is new to fellow PCTs  is what I have always experienced on a daily basis.

Situation #1:

Attempting to communicate with host families who only speak Swahili or aren’t fluent in English has been challenging for some of the PCTs as well as myself.  However, I am more used to it because I have dealt with communication barriers almost everyday of my life.  People have mentioned they’re unsure and not as confident as to what’s going on.  This is how I feel sometime when I’m in a group of hearing people when they don’t sign.

Situation #2:

We had an activity yesterday where we were split up into 2 groups.  One group was supposed to be tourists who just arrived in a new country and wanted to know how to get around town.  The second group was supposed to be locals.  Some people in the second group had index cards taped to them and some didn’t.  I was in the tourist/foreigner group and was supposed to ask one person with an index card and one person without an index card how to get around town.

We weren’t told this until the end of the activity:  People with the index cards were supposed to just smile and say nothing.  People without the index cards could answer your questions and could repeat your questions.

I went up to one person with an index card and quickly figured out they weren’t supposed to answer us.  It was interesting to see how some of the other people who could hear kept trying to ask questions and were becoming a bit frustrated and uneasy because they weren’t sure why their questions weren’t being answered.

I then went up to a second person without an index card because I had seen her answer someone’s questions.  I signed to her not realizing she didn’t know any sign language (I felt really bad for putting her on the spot).  She wouldn’t answer my questions because she wasn’t sure how to communicate with me.

I found it fascinating that even though the outcomes of speaking with two people were supposed to be different…they were the same for me.  Person #1 didn’t answer my questions because I was a tourist/foreigner.  Person #2 didn’t answer my questions because of the communication barrier between hearing-deaf people.

I kind of wish we could have discussed this issue after the activity because after all we will be working with deaf children and teenagers.  I think it’s important for everyone to understand that how we’re feeling as foreigners in a new country is how deaf people feel on a daily basis.

3 thoughts on “Want to know what it’s like to be deaf? Go to a new country!

  1. Good perspective, Kelly. I agree that wherever we go, we’ll almost always feel like foreigners due to the fact that it’s a “hearing world” out there. I think that’s why people with hearing loss either group together and sign/speak clearly/support each other, or they look for a cure or a fix to their hearing loss so they can stop feeling so “foreign.”

    It is intriguing that the outcome of the activity was the same regardless of the role – both people essentially “didn’t understand” you. I hope the PCTs learn quickly how to deal with these feelings!

  2. Oh my goodness, I can’t tell you the moment of recognition I had reading this! When I was in Costa Rica, I compared my feeling to what it must be like to be deaf. I could still hear, but it didn’t really matter, because I couldn’t always understand. Two situations in particular stand out… the first was being in a large crowd of people. I can’t filter conversations in Spanish the way I can in English to just focus on the one that’s closest to me, say? So I ended up hearing fragments of many conversations and being reduced to smiling and nodding the rest of the time. The second was those rare times when try as I might to talk around an idea, I just could NOT make myself understood. So frustrating!
    I am loving the blog. Your descriptions of every day life — of bathing and of laundry — are fascinating. Thanks, and keep writing!

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