Deaf with Speech

Some of you may know I was born Deaf, granted I was born with more hearing than I have today and it wasn’t until I was around 4 that I was diagnosed profoundly Deaf. I think even today my parents have a hard time believing I was born Deaf.

My Deafness has got better as I’ve got older looking at it positively (meaning I’ve become more Deaf!) Joanne Woodhouse-Roberts

From a young age I have always used speech, (in the hearing world) I come from the old school of ‘oralism is better than sign language’. I was encouraged from a young age to use my voice as opposed to learning to sign. Equally, it wasn’t really available for me to learn. Could this have been due to the system or down to the training of TOD’s or was it simply the era?! The belief was that if I learned to sign, I wouldn’t retain the speech I had acquired from childhood.

Attending an oral school and being the age I was, I didn’t have that many opportunities to stumble across many BSL signers whilst growing up, however at 16 I discovered the Deaf Community and fully embraced them. I learned Sign Language, became part of the Deaf Community, and learned to love my identity.

I am now Deaf with a big fat D in bold and wow am I proud of it! Most of all I realised where I felt most comfortable and where I belong and should have belonged.

If I am with Deaf people I sign without my voice. I suppose being with a Deaf person communicating without voice allows me to be ‘free’. It allows me to use BSL. I don’t have to constantly wonder if I am saying a word correctly, I don’t have the pressure to ‘fit’ in the hearing world.

I don’t have to constantly wonder if my pronunciation is correct or have a hearing person say to me ‘I know what you mean’ when the pronunciation isn’t quite there, or have someone correct me. Nor do I need to admit, I can’t say the word or memorize words that are really off my radar such as Pizza, Porsche and Guru for example. At times I avoid saying those words to prevent embarrassment!

Whilst the tone of my voice may be pretty good as I am told (for a Deaf person), a lot of the time it may be understandable. My speech doesn’t reflect my Deafness (medically speaking). Audiologically if you were to look at my audiogram I have very little useful hearing, in fact I have a few low frequencies in one ear only.

I wonder, do people in the Deaf Community feel like me?

Do you wonder why hearing people who have known you since birth, understand you are Deaf and know you use Sign Language to communicate and recognise it’s easier for you to communicate using BSL, never sign to you?

I accept years ago we were told ‘oralism is best’ but today we have moved on.

Anybody can access signing material and there are plenty of opportunities to learn but then, again have we moved on?

I sign all the time as my husband is deaf, so if I communicate with hearing people and he is with me, I sign to give him access. However if I am with hearing people without the company of deaf people, I find myself only using signing to BSL interpreters as there is no point signing to a hearing person who is a non signer.

When communicating with a hearing person it requires me using my voice and to lip read them. Whilst I appreciate many hearing people do try and speak slowly and clearly, it’s still such hard work lip reading hearing people, particularly when environmental conditions are far from ideal. For example lighting, shadows, distance, or the person I am lip reading is simply impossible to lipread!

Lip reading is challenging, mentally exhausting and often a guessing game and I’m constantly playing catch-up even with my own family. I avoid people I can’t lip read and stick with people I can. I’ve done this subconsciously all my life!

I often find I nod without understanding, not having a clue of what is being said and walk away none the wiser! If hearing people threw a few signs in their sentences, it would improve communications between D/deaf and hearing people and take the strain from the Deaf person. This goes without saying it’s very basic stuff, so why do I find in 2021 I am stating the obvious?

There is a misconception that some D/deaf people don’t use their voice because they can’t speak or perhaps they can’t hear at all. Many Deaf people do not use their voice for a variety of reasons.

I’ve found when hearing people communicate with Deaf people who do not use speech, they make adjustments to their communication methods primarily because they cannot understand what the Deaf person is signing. However, when faced with a Deaf person using speech they make fewer adjustments simply because they can understand the Deaf person.

I have been in situations where a hearing person communicates with me very differently to someone who either doesn’t have speech or the clarity I have. I believe many hearing people make assumptions on the basis of how a D/Deaf person speaks/sounds which clearly is quite wrong.

The link between Deaf people with and without speech is not a clear audiological one, in short it’s not necessarily because one is deafer than the other, there are a variety of reasons.

By using my voice, does it help me? Not really! I use my voice to help hearing people but this impacts negatively on me, the assumption is made that I can hear better than I can therefore they make minimal adjustment.

What is the solution? Education would be a starting point introducing BSL to all children in schools over the UK. One would hope these children would grow up with some deaf awareness, better understanding and some signing skills. These children are our future.

Also, having a BSL Act in the UK would empower the professional sector to meet the different communication methods used by all d/Deaf people, equally it would raise awareness, knowledge and hopefully that would ripple through the wider community. Likewise having a BSL Act would give d/Deaf people power, confidence and hope.

Finally on a personal note, if you are hearing and you meet or know of a Deaf person please do not assume we are all alike. Try and learn a few signs and some d/Deaf Awareness – the opportunities are endless, even online. You don’t need to be at an intermediate level to enhance communications with a d/Deaf person.

D/deaf people like me will not need to avoid you. Your kind gesture will never go unnoticed  – I guarantee!

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