A teacher at an elementary school recently had to have a somewhat indelicate conversation with some of her deaf students: She had to break the news to them that hearing people know when they have passed gas.
Anna Trupiano is a classroom teacher at a school that serves hearing students as well as deaf and hard-of-hearing students. She conducts her lessons verbally and in American Sign Language. Sometimes, she finds herself explaining things to deaf students about how hearing people understand the world and vice-versa. But Trupiano wasn’t exactly prepared for this conversation.
The class had to take a break after an unexpected segue.
After a deaf student in her first-grade class audibly passed gas, the child was surprised to see hearing classmates starting to snicker. They weren’t sure why everyone was turning around to stare and asked Trupiano what was going on.
“Hearing people can hear farts,” Trupiano said.
Her deaf students were astonished. The concept had never occurred to them that these normal bodily functions made sounds.
“Tell them to stop listening to my farts!” the child demanded. “That is not nice!”
Trupiano explained that the hearing students couldn’t help but overhear bodily functions when they were loud. Her deaf students were also surprised to learn that everyone experiences those same bodily functions — even though they might not know when it was happening!
“I went to college for 8 years to have these conversations,” Trupiano quipped in a Facebook post.
The adorable conversation actually makes a real point.
But the teacher knows that the silly conversation had a much deeper meaning. It was a moment when students got insight into a new part of the world that hearing people take for granted.
“I know it started with farts, but the real issue is that many of my students aren’t able to learn about these things at home or from their peers because they don’t have the same linguistic access,” she said. “So many of my students don’t have families who can sign well enough to explain so many things it’s incredibly isolating for these kids.”
In addition to educating students, Trupiano has the challenge of helping deaf students adapt to society, especially since hearing people often don’t offer enough accommodation for the needs of non-hearing people.
Keeping deaf people out of the loop is one of the worst things you can do.
Most hearing people can’t imagine the sounds that they take for granted. But there are a lot of sounds that they rely on without even knowing it. Deaf people, meanwhile, have no way of knowing they exist without explanation.
It might be a silly example, but it points to a larger problem in the deaf community: feelings of isolation. Society at large depends so much on understanding sounds and hearing cues that it takes these things for granted.
The deaf community, meanwhile, is left out of these kinds of social cues, and it means being left out of a huge part of daily interactions. It’s almost like an inside joke that no one will explain.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation are extremely common in the deaf community.
Many hearing people also don’t make an effort to learn basic signs even if they have deaf people in their lives. Many deaf people feel extremely isolated or inferior because of this kind of treatment.
“I’ve always felt isolated and lonely particularly in social situations, even with family members,” said Vincent Wakeling, a deaf man living in England. “I find being deaf very hard, I am aware of how little I understand. I know when people are trying to talk with me that I don’t understand what they are saying, and as a British Sign Language (BSL) user I have the added difficulty of them not understanding me either.
“I feel sad that I cannot communicate easily with people, people seem to feel awkward and that makes me feel bad too. People don’t seem to understand that being deaf is not as easy as they might think.”
So, what should hearing people do?
The answer is to make society more favorable to deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Hearing people should try to learn to sign and reach out to their deaf peers. If you are around a deaf person daily, it is polite to make an effort to learn some basic signs, even if you are not planning on becoming fluent in sign language. In fact, this is not a courtesy. It is simply a basic gesture of respect, so the deaf people in your life know that you value their input and want to include them in what is going on.
“I deserve to be a part of the equation,” said Elizabeth Edgar in an article for The Mighty. “I deserve to be involved. I deserve to feel important.”
By refusing to include deaf people in everyday conversations and happenings, Edgar explains, hearing people make them feel like second-class citizens who don’t get to be included. A little bit of effort goes a long way.
Even if you don’t know a lot of sign language, there are plenty of ways to communicate with deaf people respectfully and thoughtfully.
Some deaf or hard-of-hearing people read lips. Ask them if they prefer to communicate this way and how fast or slow you should speak to accommodate them. Even if this is an uncomfortable conversation for you, it is a basic gesture of respect to make sure they can understand, even if you aren’t familiar with sign language.
Basically, the best way to reach out to a deaf person is to let them decide how they want to communicate and what pace to set. Then, follow their lead. Stay in their visual field, keep eye contact, and don’t go out of your way to make exaggerated facial expressions or slow your words drastically. This can make it harder to understand you. If they need you to slow down, they will ask.
Treat them like normal people, because they are!
The worst thing you can do as a hearing person? Treat a deaf person like they’re disabled.
The fact is, deaf people lead completely normal lives. They drive, walk, joke, get married, and have children. Treating them like they’re helpless or stupid is extremely insulting. Do everything you can to reach out to them, but don’t ask rude questions, act like they’re faking, or speak down to them because they can’t hear.
The best thing you can do? Learn sign language. There are tons of resources to learn basic signs, or even more if you’re interested. The hearing world reaching out to the deaf world is the best way to bridge the gap between communities.
Please SHARE this with your friends and family.