When you think about the people you meet and talk to in your everyday life, I wonder if it crosses your mind that one in every six has a hearing loss? That’s 10 million people in the UK and this number is growing steadily with exposure to loud noises at an ever younger age. Over half of people who are 60 or older have a hearing loss (and one in six has a vision loss, that equates to approximately 2 million who may be partially deafblind).
So, what’s a deaf person? Most of you will think that someone is a deaf person because they use sign language. But you may be mistaken. There are an estimated 50,000 to 75,000 deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL), the rest will be using hearing aids, cochlear implants, speech and lipreading.
How would you recognise a deaf person? The most obvious clues are they don’t respond to noises behind them and may be looking at you intently when communicating. They’re lipreading, and some of them probably don’t realise they are doing it. If you see someone wearing a hearing aid, don’t assume they are hearing like you are. The majority of deaf people have what is called a perceptive hearing loss, this is permanent, and it makes sounds not just quieter, but distorted too. Have a listen to this simulation.
Blindness cuts you off from things, but Deafness cuts you off from people says Helen Keller. How true this is. Communication is probably the most important thing to a person. If you can’t communicate you get frustrated, lose your confidence, withdraw from socialising with others and some people become suicidal and think life is over. Friends and colleagues think the person is being rude, ignoring them on purpose, or is simply not interested in them anymore. Yet communication is needed to tell people what you want or need, how you feel and to take and give instructions. It is no surprise then, that deafness is a major cause of mental health issues.
So how can deaf awareness help? The best deaf awareness training will equip you with the knowledge to understand exactly how deafness affects an individual and an understanding of the diversity of people who are deaf and how they react to it. From those who think being deaf is wonderful, to the point where they celebrate the birth of a deaf baby, to those who literally fall apart when they lose all of their hearing, sometimes overnight.
It will also give you skills to speak clearly, know tactics you can use to make yourself understood and show you why deaf people make so many mistakes in lipreading and appear to not understand you. It’s not just about what you see on the lips, lipreading is only 30% accurate, the rest is intelligent guesswork and can be extremely tiring.
Deaf awareness will also teach you about the support that is available to aid communication and access, from registered communication professionals to technological equipment, like loop systems, TextRelay and other aids.
Deaf people really do blossom when they are treated with respect and given the opportunity to partake in things that other people take for granted. Such things are opportunities to go to the local leisure centre, to go to social events, to attend a subtitled screening at the local cinema, or even a tour of the local museum. If you know how to make these accessible, you’re onto a winner. After all, deaf people are legally entitled to these things, it’s a fact though that most of them are still a luxury or out of reach for many. Don’t think that we can “make do” using family or having a sympathetic friend to be with us to do this communication support. It’s not independence, it makes us “needy” and reliant on people. We have a right to make our own choices in life and the freedom to say so without being influenced by the opinion of others. That’s the difference between providing professional communication support or not.
So next time you see an opportunity to go on a course to learn about deafness, do take it up. Don’t think that by learning BSL only is going to make you “deaf aware”. It won’t. You need to know who you’re learning it for before you start. If you would like a course run in your local area, do get in touch with us, we are here to make things better and raise this much needed awareness throughout the UK. The more people who are privy to this valuable knowledge, the better we can all make life for the 10 million people who are living with deafness every day in silence.