I’ve been a grouch.
Stewing through the day yesterday.
All because of one woman.
If I had to pinpoint one thing that bothers me most about interactions between deaf and hearing people, it would be the times when an oblivious hearing person treats the deaf person as if they were somehow less intelligent.
This is never more evident when you witness these actions:
“Nevermind” (when a deaf person asks them to repeat something)
Talking only to other hearing persons, excluding the deaf person
Refusing to face the deaf person and talking while facing another direction
Speaking at twice the normal volume while dumbing down their words
All of these things happened to me yesterday.
And rather than just being frustrated as a deaf person, I was angry as a parent.
This has happened before. Memorably at Children’s Hospital at a very important appointment for our little guy.
Normally our doctors are wonderful. Lots of communication and interaction.
But on this day, Mr. World-Famous Specialist was there to see our rare little boy.
And as I kept trying to ask questions, he literally ignored me and spoke only to Mr. Daddy and to my mother.
My mother signed everything to me to ensure I understood. I tried to speak several times and he was utterly dismissive.
Frustrated, I watched him turn his back to me and begin walking out the door with his entourage of medical students. In desperation, I said in a not-quiet voice, “So he doesn’t have (X Disease)?”
You see “X Disease" was a rather clunky word and very rare. Mr. World Famous Specialist stopped on a dime, turned around to see that those words had come from the deaf mother’s mouth, walked slowly back to me and repeated what I had said.
The change was instantaneous. As I pumped him for more information using every big word I had learned in my research, I was painfully aware that he had considered me to be unknowledgeable and not worth his time earlier.
He engaged in a lively discussion with me – finally making eye contact, when before he had literally made me feel like a non-person.
And as the mother of the little boy on the examination table, I hated feeling helpless and excluded.
I’ve noticed for some time that our handsome little guy tends to cross his eyes when focusing on something a certain distance away.
As he sat through his first real eye exam yesterday, the technician gushed over how adorable and polite he was.
It was no biggie that her back was toward me when she spoke to him, but when addressing his parents, she turned to her computer and began asking questions.
Mr. Daddy answered a couple of questions, then told her more than once, “my wife is deaf, she needs to read your lips”.
“Mmm-hmm” as she swiveled around. “OKAY”
Then went back to her computer and continued to ask questions that only Mr. Daddy could hear.
At double volume, she prattled along, ignoring me entirely when I tried to ask her to repeat herself. Anytime I asked a question, she’d answer to my husband.
Seriously, this was the look I got every time I asked a question:
Then she’d immediately answer to Mr. Daddy as if I weren’t there.
And the kicker?
She had Mr. Daddy step out into the hallway while she discussed Itty Bit’s eyesight. So I was completely excluded from the conversation.
She was smiling and cheerful and looked at me as if you would a grade-school kid who knew nothing about corneas and irises and dilation drops. And as if I were somehow less intelligent and unable to be an active part of the decisions that were happening about my child.
When she stepped out to get the doctor, I admit that I loudly said to Mr. Daddy, “is there a reason she is refusing to speak with me? She is doing everything she can to make me feel like a second-class citizen”.
It changed nothing. When the doctor came in, he was perfectly friendly and answered every single one of my questions. And then she returned with the same smiling not going to talk to the deaf mom attitude.
I was grateful to get out of there. I struggled to keep from crying as we picked out a tiny pair of glasses for our little man.
Sure, I’m sensitive to it… because I’m making the effort. I speak clearly and attempt to communicate verbally. I try hard not to make it more difficult for someone to reply to me. Being ignored is the worst feeling.
May I ask a favor? Next time you run into someone who has an obvious disability… treat them normally. Like they exist. Like they can understand your communications. Like their thoughts matter to you. Don’t assume they cannot understand or that they don’t have feelings.
I struggle with venting like this, because in real life, this woman is probably perfectly nice. And she was probably uncomfortable with the situation and chose to handle it by pretending it didn’t exist. It reminds me that how we treat others can make or break their day.
And just because I’d rather leave you with something funny – here’s Itty Bit right before he exuberantly yelled, “that’s a HORSIE!”
Stay tuned for pictures of our dapper bespectacled little man!