A request for courtesy for the hearing impaired

October 20, 1999|By Lisa A. Goldstein

SAN FRANCISCO -- The moment of realization, when it comes, is often surprising. "Oh! She's deaf!" one woman gasped recently. Unfortunately, the knowledge all too often never dawns, leaving the impression that I'm either rude, strange, or both. I'm not anti-social. I just can't hear.

So why does something so simple have to be so complex? Even though as many as 10.1 million Americans have hearing problems, the widely held assumption is that everyone you encounter can hear. And that can lead to problems -- like nearly getting run over by one of those airport electric carts with the annoying beep (or so I'm told).

Close call

Recently, at Pittsburgh's airport, I was waiting for my husband outside a men's restroom and became engrossed in a magazine. When I looked up, I was surprised to see an electric cart a few feet from me.

The driver and an employee behind him looked quite angry. Apparently, I had been blocking their path for quite some time as they repeatedly told me to get out of the way. I motioned to my ear and said, "I'm deaf."

Meanwhile, my husband appeared and informed the employee behind the cart as well. Her response? A pity-laced, "Oh, I'm sorry."

My husband replied tersely, "She doesn't need your pity."

How ironic that carts used to transport physically disabled people mow down other disabled people in the process. I may need one of those carts if I'm ever run over by a disgruntled airport employee.

My husband was right, however: I don't need pity, just understanding. Having been deaf all my life, one would think I'd be used to things like this by now. But it doesn't get any easier.

At a department store not too long ago, a couple of salespeople followed me, asking if I needed help. When I turned around, I caught them talking about my rudeness.

A deaf accent

The fact that I can speak and read lips may make it easier for me to "pass" as a hearing person. My deaf accent isn't always recognized. In fact, I'm usually asked what country I'm from.

Here's a tip for dealing with people with a hearing impairment: Don't yell. When you are as deaf as I am, yelling won't help. Moving your lips as much as possible doesn't help, either. It just exaggerates your lip movements, which makes it harder to lip read.

And please remember, the next time someone doesn't respond to something you say, they may not simply be ignoring you. They may be deaf and ignoring you.

Lisa A. Goldstein wrote this for the San Francisco Examiner.

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