It's sad, but true. I've observed friends, family, and strangers with perfect hearing reluctant to talk to someone who is Deaf. I've seen this happen in restaurants, libraries, the post office and -- yes, oh yes -- church.
Something I've committed to doing is to initiate a sign language conversation with people I don't know. These are people I observe signing and/or wearing hearing aids. Granted, I have preschool-level signing skills since I didn’t grow up in the Deaf community, but can get by with signing my introduction.
ME: "Hi, are you Deaf?
STRANGER: (nods head)
ME: (grinning, ear to ear) I'm hard of hearing... My name is (fingerspelled) S-H-A-N-N-A... (awkward pause as I try to remember my signs)
STRANGER: (signs something to me)
ME: (eyes squinted at first, then pretending to understand) Yes. Okay…
(I pause. Stranger signs. I squint, then pretend to understand again.)
ME: (quickly) Okay. Nice to meet you.
At a drugstore, I tested my American Sign Language (ASL) skills with a woman signing to a girl I observed to be her student. The teacher and young person were friendly and seemed forgiving of my signing mistakes, awkward pauses, and bluffing.
I ran into this teacher and her family again at a gift shop the very next day. They were signing to a teenage girl, who I learned was her daughter. I repeated my "Hi, are you..." ASL introduction to the girl who was Deaf. She seemed pleased (or pretended to be) that I had attempted to strike up my hands-on conversation.
Later at the post office, I yet again initiated a signing dialogue. The woman spoke very clearly and I could lip read her well, so I used more of my voice than sign. From the exchange, I learned she teaches at the same school as the teacher I’d previously met- small world indeed.
I am thankful for these two teachers being patient with my rudimentary signing skills. We engaged in brief, but friendly conversation… with a few silent pauses from me.
Now, pretend *you* are the person observing a sign language conversation at the drugstore. If you know just a bit of sign, would you strike up a ‘Deaf’ conversation with someone you didn’t know? Would you feel comfortable doing this? Let me know your honest feedback in the comments section below.
Ask Lipreading Mom
Shanna Groves was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss after the birth of her first child. She was 27. Raised in a hearing family, Shanna traces her hearing loss to a genetic loss on the paternal side of her family. She is mom to three young children, a published author, and speaker. Her books are featured at www.ShannaGroves.com. Shanna blogs about being a hard of hearing mom at http://LipreadingMom.com.