You know, it’s interesting to watch people who meet someone who is deaf suddenly get the urge to speak loud, almost shouting in some cases. Sadly, more often than not, we find that people tend to be uneasy around someone who is different from them, thus creating an atmosphere of awkwardness, exclusion, alienation, and marginalization.
I remember a community event I, along with another co-worker were assigned to do for a Springfest event in the mid-80’s. I worked for a cosmetics company in a major department store at that time and no one else in the department wanted to leave the store to participate in this assignment. The Buyer decided to “make” me and another counter manager attend the event…end of discussion. When my coworker and I found out that this presentation was for a statewide festival for deaf students, we were scared to death because we had no idea how we were going to communicate with them.
After we arrived at the location and checked in, we were taken to our area to set up for our presentation. As God would have it, there was an interpreter there for us, but we were not told that prior to our arrival. We felt a sigh of relief and commenced with our demonstrations. As it would be, these students were not any different from us. These attendees were able-bodied, normal and happy individuals, just with the inability to hear. That was it. Period.
Those students and interpreters have no idea how much they touched “our” lives, not vice versa. After we returned to work, of course, everyone wanted to know how disappointed we probably were and what a failure our presentation was. They were about as surprised as a deer in headlights when we told them we had an amazing time, plus we were invited to stay and eat lunch with the students.
Before we left, the one thing I asked them to show me how to sign were the words, “Thank you!” Their level of communication was far more advanced than mine. They “heard” and “listened” attentively with their hands. As I was sifting through tons of paper stored in a box one day not long ago, I found a few hand-written thank you letters from students we met that day. I sat on the floor, reread those letters and cried like a baby. It’s amazing how a simple handwritten thank you note can make you happy and humble!
This week, September 24-30, 2017 we are observing Deaf Awareness Week. Observed annually during the last full week in September, this observance is designed to focus on promoting the positive aspects of the deaf and hard of hearing (HOH) community. This commemoration helps to raise awareness about those organizations who support the deaf and to encourage social inclusion of the deaf and hard of hearing (HOH) communities.
It simply blows my mind how much those who are categorized as deaf or hearing impaired, listen far more intuitively than many of us who are categorized as normal “hearing” beings. They celebrate and have heartaches just like anybody else. They are not aliens, they are our brothers and sisters with unique skills and gifts. Instead of judging or ignoring them, we must exercise more compassion and a willingness to learn so we can better understand and discover how more alike we are than different. Do you hear me now?