Hearing is something I, and most likely many other people, take completely for granted. Going into this experience, I was a bit nervous, but mostly I was interested to find out what being Deaf would be like -like I expected or completely different. Knowing that I could return to the “hearing world” whenever I chose made it easy to get started, a luxury the Deaf Community does not have.
Interacting with the world around me through sign, lip reading, and written notes would prove to be a journey into a deeper understanding of how the Deaf Community experiences the hearing world on a day to day basis.
I do not know ASL. So signing to communicate was out, and speaking through gestures was definitely a challenge. Trying to communicate even a small piece of information was extremely time consuming because no matter who I tried to interact with, we did not have predefined mutually understood gestures for the words we tried to share.
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I ended up having to rely a lot on pointing to items to help guide the other person to even an idea of what I was trying to convey. Constantly repeating a gesture or version of the same gesture until the other person grasped what I was talking about was both exhausting and frustrating.
No matter how badly I wanted them to understand and even knowing that I had done everything possible to convey my message, I felt defeated if they could not understand me and eventually gave up. In the end, even if I was able to get the point across to the other person, the process started again and again each time I tried to conversate.
Although gesturing was extremely difficult, my experience lip reading made feeling connected impossible. There are so many variables from person to person, and each person’s face represented another foreign language for me to decode. It was confusing trying to understand something meant for my ears with only my eyes.
Groups of people added exponentially to my confusion because I found it impossible to keep up with the back and forth conversation between individuals let alone try to focus on decoding their lip movements. I was also unable to notice if anyone tried to engage me in conversation unless I was looking directly at the person.
If someone needed to tell me something, they had to tap me on the shoulder or make sure I was looking at them. But even with my full attention focused on their mouth, I missed a lot of details. I assumed lip reading was just reading lip formations, but it turned out to be much more, like deciphering mumbling lips, lips with accents, lips creating slang words, and lips with varying speeds of conversation.
My mind raced to stay on top of everything that was happening around me. Lip reading was a lot like decoding illegible handwriting, and I now appreciate the importance of an interpreter for many Deaf or hearing impaired people.
Since my generation texts the bulk of their communications, writing notes came easier to me than the previous two modes of communication. Initiating and continuing a conversation with someone via written text message was easy, however it became a little more difficult when I tried using a written note to converse due to handwriting, grammar, and abbreviations used to speed the process of moving the conversation between us.
Overall, written communication was much easier and faster with less frustration than gesturing and lip reading.
Each of the communication modes I used while Deaf was challenging in their own way. All of them made it hard for me to feel connected to the people around me and made me realize how much self advocating being Deaf requires. Much of my time was spent figuring out how to understand and be understood and realizing that it’s often hard to know if the intended idea was conveyed. Ultimately, I learned that my expectations of what it’s like to be Deaf were only surface level compared to the reality of navigating as a Deaf person in a hearing world.
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