How deaf people hear

"GDeafness is easy when you can't hear anything and talk with your hands - otherwise everything is the same as with other people "many people believe. And then they are very surprised when I disagree. "What else is different?", do you want to know. "I once had a colleague who couldn't hear anything, but otherwise he was completely normal"some say. "So what's the big difference?"

D.he question is justified, at first glance everything seems so simple and clear. But the answer is not that easy. Because of course one deaf person is not like the other, and you can't even go on a study trip Deafistan or Sign country to get to know the way of life of the residents. Despite several years of instruction in sign language, self-experiments with earplugs and turned-off sound on the television, many private contacts with the deaf and work for and with the deaf, I still cannot explain to you what it is like to be deaf. No, I can't even imagine it - we hearing people are far too deeply rooted in the world of noise.

W.What I think I know, however, is that there are quite a few differences in thinking and acting between the deaf and hearing. I don't mean that in any way judgmental! It is similar with North and South Germans, East and West Germans. The other is always "somehow different". Really accepting one another is easier when you know and accept the differences, rather than generously overlooking them or pushing them aside. In order to accept someone else for who they are, you first have to know who they are.

V.on "You understand the deaf really well" to "What nonsense, that's completely different" I've already received all levels of praise and blame when I thought I understood something. So I cannot offer you any final wisdom here, but only describe a few things from my experience and my very subjective point of view, in which the deaf and the hearing differ. Perhaps this will give you a little more understanding for each other or even the curiosity in you to get to know the deaf yourself and to form your own picture.

Hpity often afflicts the hearing, "because the poor deaf cannot hear any music or the twittering of birds." Apart from the fact that most of the hearing people hardly ever consciously perceive the highly praised "chirping of birds" (the brain filters it out as "unimportant" information): Do you miss the ultraviolet colors of the flowers? Or the ultrasonic calls of the bats? (Humans cannot see ultraviolet light or hear ultrasound.) Hardly. The situation is similar for deaf people who cannot hear from birth or when they were young: they often do not miss any music because they have never heard it before. You do not lack music in your world.

I.I can already see the screams of some deaf people who tell of themselves that they couldn't live without music. Those who love to put their hands on the piano, go to discos or turn up their stereo at home. You perceive the vibrations with your fingers, feet and stomach. They can concentrate much better on subtleties than hearing people, whose brain is fully occupied with the signals from the ears. For music lovers among the deaf, this can be just as beautiful an experience as "real" listening.

D.he world has no fewer beauties in store for the deaf, only the focus is different than we hearing people are used to. We have already learned that deaf people are much more aware of the vibrations of the floor, a table or other objects. Above all, however, they use their vision. Information on orientation, learning, interacting with the environment, communication - almost everything is visual. Many deaf people even think in sign language, hence the name of this website. (However, the brain processes sign language in the language centers and not in the areas for visual stimuli.)

I.In contrast to hearing, which is constantly picking up noise, you have to look with your eyes to see something. That is why deaf people can quickly get past something. The name of the Queen of England is something that hearing people get caught in between, a deaf person only knows the answer if he has read or seen exactly this information - en passant he does not find out. This can quickly lead to misunderstandings if a deaf person does not show up at the works meeting (the appointment was only given over the loudspeaker), has forgotten a colleague's birthday (he could not hear the secret whispering) or a child does not know that dogs bark. That is why the deaf are not stubborn or even stupid. You just have to tell them so that they can see it.

W.so that brings us to the subject of lip reading. Have you tried this before? Well, I can hardly do that. We all do it a little unconsciously, but understanding entire words or sentences alone is incredibly difficult. But hearing people expect the deaf to understand everything we mumble over. I know deaf people who can see very well, but they also have to fit when I speak "normally" with almost no lip movements. A little more effort on our part can work wonders.

W.hen the conversation is in sign language, the situation suddenly turns. For the deaf, it is not difficult to follow a dialogue in which two people are signing at the same time (but I immediately lose the thread). You can easily recognize blurred ("mumbled") gestures and can join an ongoing discussion without any problems. Would you like to get a glimpse of how deaf people feel among the louder? Then attend a party for the deaf or go to a sign language theater performance. This advice is meant seriously. You will learn more from it than from many, many clever books.

V.You might be lucky enough to be able to attend an evening of sign language poetry. It really does exist, and it is wonderful. Even if you don't understand anything. "You can't translate that", said an interpreter at the deaf culture days. "It's like a poem by Enzensberger: You just have to enjoy it." Even without knowing what the poem is about - beautifully presented sign language poetry takes the direct route to the level of feelings for me. Just like usually the music. "The poor hearing people have no sign language poetry ..." ;-)

A linguistic minority

M.ith sign language, deaf people flourish, the supposed barriers in their lives fall. In sign language they can easily talk about anything, make jokes (which are impossible to translate into spoken language) and sing songs (watching a sign language choir is simply fantastic). "We are not disabled", that's why deaf people keep explaining to hearing people. "We are a linguistic minority." Indeed, the problems of the deaf in a hearing environment are not so much a reminder of the concerns of the disabled, but rather of the difficulties of a German in a holiday destination whose language he cannot speak.

NThere is also one essential difference to wheelchair users or the blind, for example: Deafness cannot be seen. If you, as a hearing person, speak to a deaf person from behind and he does not react, no one can know that he is not stubborn, but simply has not heard anything. Or you ask someone for directions and they'll answer in a completely surprising way in a voice that is harshly loud and incomprehensible. I admit that even now I sometimes get a shock when I'm not expecting it. It is incredibly difficult for the deaf to have good control of their voice without hearing themselves. Few of them succeed so well that hardly anything can be noticed, most of them speak "strange", some cannot be understood at all. In any case, a hearing person does not know beforehand that the other person is deaf and how he should behave.

M.ag the pronunciation might be unclear - deaf people are not "dumb" and therefore not "deaf and dumb". Deaf people even find this term an insult, and hearing people should not use it. It is in the newspapers again and again and many doctors use it, but that only shows how little we hearing people know about the deaf. Better say "deaf". Many deaf people also accept the word "deaf", some even prefer it because it does not"Loss" stressed.

W.Since deaf people see themselves as a linguistic minority, deafness is not a disease for them, as many hearing people would classify it. If the famous fairy tale fairy made her rounds to the deaf and granted three wishes to everyone, she would certainly get a lot of things like house, travel, car, computer, motorcycle, ... and health. But this "health" would mostly not mean: "I want to be able to hear"but the protection against diseases and disabilities, which deafness is not counted.

D.But I would like to restrict what has just been written: There are certainly deaf people who would very much like to hear. Probably more than would be admitted. These deaf people often see their deafness as a disability and try to minimize it, possibly to hide it, at least to be as "normal" (which in this case means "hearing") as possible. There's nothing wrong with that. It is a personal attitude that should be accepted as well as the decision to fully engage with one's own deafness.

GTo put it roughly, there are two groups of deaf people who differ in whether they regard spoken or sign language as their mother tongue. Unfortunately, some deaf people reject each other's decision, which can create tension. Both parties have the same problems communicating with hearing people, they just deal with it in different ways. A little more tolerance among each other would be very helpful in solving common problems.

A.As a L├╝beck resident who now lives near Heidelberg, I sometimes rub my eyes in amazement at the customs and traditions here. And the same applies to holidays in France, Hungary, Denmark or anywhere else. And sometimes also when I have contact with deaf people. They are just there, the small differences in behavior. Not all of them are for every deaf person, but when you look at it all in all, certain peculiarities can be noticed. Finally, even the Visual Theater from Hamburg processed some points in skits that were broadcast on the television program "Seeing instead of hearing". Here are three points that I noticed that concern contact with the deaf.

W.hen you get a letter or fax from a "typical" deaf person, you will find that it gets straight to the point. There are no polite phrases to introduce and no paraphrases, there is immediately after the salutation: "I want to borrow your circular saw" or something similar. Directly. That seems strange to a hearing person. We are used to wrapping everything up as a polite question, surrounded by bland attempts and subsequent trivialities. When a deaf person reads something like this, he sometimes doesn't even know what the letter is about. He prefers clear statements. It has nothing to do with rudeness.

S.If you arrange a meeting with a deaf person, you may find yourself standing alone at the agreed location. Some deaf people only see appointments as binding if they are expressly "firmly" agreed. So if you want to be on the safe side, ask if the date is "fixed".

R.Only a few hearing people get really close contact with the deaf. Even people who are good at signing and who have been meeting with deaf people for years are often amazed at how non-binding relationships remain. Often there are only communities of convenience that exist until a joint project is completed. After that, the connection breaks off or at least goes back sharply until there is a new target. Contacts without a cause are rare.



W.hen you've read this far, you'll know a little better why it is not so easy to explain deafness. I think that no one who can hear, and probably also no deaf person, can do that exactly. Because despite all the generalization, we should not forget one thing: People are different - each one.