How to support deaf people in your life

Simone Margett 18 January 2022

Deaf people commonly get misrepresented in the media and this can have detrimental effects on how they are perceived. Check these myth-busters out if you'd like to help deaf people

Imagine waiting for years, to have the representation you craved growing up. And that time finally happened in 2021, as Rose Alying- Ellis became the first deaf contestant and winner of Strictly Come Dancing.

Many deaf people are pigeonholed to what society deems the norm and Rose’s Strictly success has challenged the conversation around deafness.

As someone with a moderate hearing loss, I am often met with frustration by hearing people for simply not hearing them the first or third time but just imagine the difficulties deaf and hard of hearing people deal with daily, from listening fatigue, lack of understanding, mental health issues and more. 

According to leading deaf health charity SignHealth, up to 50 per cent of the deaf community in Britain experience mental health problems, with rates of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem almost double that of hearing people as reported in The Guardian.

 Deaf and hard-of-hearing people can succeed if given the same opportunities as hearing people.

It may seem so simple but deaf and hard of hearing people are having to work even harder or if not more than their hearing counterparts. There is a lack of support for deaf and hard of hearing people entering the workforce and further education.

Not all deaf people are the same

It is important to remember that deafness is a spectrum. Not all deaf people sign, or use speech or use both. Someone may prefer to be identified by one term and be offended by the other.  It is always best to ask how that individual on the deaf spectrum identifies and not assume that we all can sign and or speak. 

Just because we have a hearing loss doesn’t mean we lack the ability

This goes back to giving us the same opportunities as hearing people. Deaf people are completely capable of leading a quality life, they can drive, have a job and have successful relationships. Don’t put barriers on what we can achieve.

The common misconception is that all deaf people can sign and read lips. And the assumption that wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants means our hearing is restored, depends on many factors such as their hearing history, their level of deafness. 

Not all deaf people know sign language

Sign language is an important part of deaf culture but not all people who are deaf know how to sign, especially if you are born into a hearing family, you are not given the opportunity to do so like many people. 

There are many different languages in the sign community like the spoken language takes many forms. In the same way as spoken language, different cultures and groups develop unique communication methods. English is the primary language of both British and American natives. However, American Sign Language and British Sign Language are very different. 

Don’t assume what deaf people need, ask

Deaf people live the experience every day, 24/7. If there’s something you want to know, just ask. The deaf community would rather answer questions than have to correct misconceptions. 

Use Captions

For deaf people having access to captioned content is a necessity. Having to ask for captions or transcripts can make a deaf person feel like a burden when they are just simply wanting to enjoy the same things as a hearing person does. Captioning is vital as it helps describe every audio element that contributes to the overall story, not just spoken words.

In this modern-day and age where things are online and we have the internet—there are no excuses. Using captions on social media posts makes things accessible. Consider live captions but be aware of accents.

You learn to develop a strong belief in your capabilities

Deaf people are more than capable of succeeding in education, careers, and everyday life. When deaf people are given the same opportunities and chances to take space in what is rightfully theirs.

Breaking down stigmas with one story at a time

Deaf culture has taught us as deaf people that we see the world differently, we communicate differently. Deafness is not something to be fixed. Using the word “disabled” implies that having a disability makes you less than. It’s important to remember that some deaf people don’t mind the word “disabled” but others do.

Just by removing the label, you are breaking the stigma. It is about perspective. Rose has broken the stigma around deafness and dance, and how something so simple such as a hearing person going into the world of a deaf person and creating something special. 

Clear communication

Lip reading is difficult and trying to follow a conversation when you hear a small bit of information becomes frustrating. Just because we are frustrated doesn't mean we want to change our deafness—ableism is what needs changing.

When you are talking to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, make sure you are speaking clearly and slowly.

You can’t go wrong with a pen and paper. We will appreciate your efforts even more if you use a combination of communication methods, such as hand gestures, facial expressions and the written word.

Advocate for your deaf friends and family members

Growing up deaf can be isolating if you are not giving a deaf child the opportunity to access British Sign Language aka BSL. We deserve fair treatment. Look at the person and rephrase sentences if needed, and be patient! 

More understanding and kindness go a long way. Bear in mind saying “oh, don’t worry. It doesn’t matter”, it feels like they mean “you don’t matter”.

Deaf people can achieve just about anything when given the same opportunities and even if it takes just that little bit longer. Don’t assume deaf people are the same because many of us have different ways of communicating. 

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