There are two words that I always hate to hear, and they’re not what you might expect: “Never mind.” As a Deaf person, I’ll often ask someone to repeat what they said, maybe because we’re in a loud and crowded area, they were mumbling or I simply didn’t understand what they said. But sometimes, people will get fed up with me asking them to repeat themselves, so I get a shake of the head and the good ol’ “Never mind.” In a way, the “Never mind” is actually saying, “You’re not important enough for me to go out of my way to help you understand me.” Maybe it’s a little dramatic, but a whole lifetime of “Never mind” will do that to you. That’s not the only common thing said to me as a Deaf person, though.
I get all sorts of strange, rude or just plain condescending comments and questions all the time. Here’s another example: “Wait, you’re Deaf and allowed to drive?” or “Deaf people can drive? Isn’t that illegal?” These examples are often followed by “Wow, you’re really functional/smart/cool/insert any adjective for a Deaf person!” No. Just no. Just because I’m Deaf doesn’t mean I’m incapable of living an average and normal life. Yes, I can drive because I took the license test at 16 and passed it (My first try, too.) Parallel parking is still a pain, though. Being Deaf is just one small part of my identity and life; me being functional, smart, boring, cool or whatever is just ME as a person. The fact I have no hearing has nothing to do with that. Another good example: “You’re Deaf and you got into college?” Yes, I did based on my academic merit. Again, nothing to do with me being Deaf.
Another one is “You don’t look Deaf.” What? I also often get people who say, “Oh! I know sign language really well!” Only to then proceed to take 5 minutes just to do the whole alphabet. Don’t act like you’re fluent in a language when you’re not. It’s absolutely great if you’re learning, but I’d much prefer if you said something more along the lines of, “I just know a little,” “I’m learning” and so on. I’m also always happy to help you learn! However, I’ve also had multiple ASL (American Sign Language) students who had only taken a few semesters of ASL “correct” me on my signing. Who exactly do you think you are to correct a person on their native language? Come on. That’s like correcting someone from Spain on their Spanish. Deaf people are not helpless. We can handle ourselves just fine, especially when it comes to ASL. I even get super inappropriate questions like, “How do Deaf people have sex?” To all the people who ask this, I suggest you retake Sex Ed.
And this one isn’t something that people say, but do instead. Sometimes people will talk very loudly and extra slow to or at me to “help” me understand. That doesn’t help me at all. It actually makes it even harder to understand you. Please just talk normally. Sure, there are cases of people who are naturally fast talkers where I might ask them to slow down a bit. Otherwise, I want you to just talk as you normally would. It’s rather patronizing if you say, “CAN….YOU…. HEAR….ME?”
Also, I don’t know how to read Braille. “Oh, so you can read Braille? That’s cool,” “Can you read Braille?” or even the waiter bringing out a Braille menu for my Deaf friends and I at a restaurant is also another common situation I find myself in. Wrong disability, people.
So, the next time you meet or speak to a Deaf person, maybe reconsider and don’t say any of the above. We are normal people just like you. The only difference between you and I is our hearing.