Have you ever met someone on the Internet and then when you met up you found you had dashed dreams or expectations? It happens to all of us – we build up a belief about who we are talking to. Ditto in them thar olden days of pen pals.
I’ve had the good fortune to meet folks IRL (In Real Life) whom I first met on the net and no matter how prepared I am for the fact our expectations or dreams of who they are will never be who they really are, it is always a surprise. I will have you know that my pal BitcoDavid of DeafInPrison.com doesn’t look a bit like a black dog. And he wears shoes with toes. OTOH, my friend Pastor John looks just like himself, but who knew he liked Indie movies?
When a hearie and a deafie connect online and if the hearie has never met a deafie expectations are fraught with peril. Okay, BitcoDavid got it that I wasn’t going to hear all that well – and we met at a very noisy place – so it was probably a baptism of fire for him. Now he’s learning ASL – Woo hoo! – I really gotta get down there and see my signing group again someday.
Communications in dimly lit places are pretty much impossible to someone who reads lips and desperately seeks to interpret spoken voice – especially if there is other noise in the general area. Turn up the freaking lights, would ya? I can’t see ya talking. Was that a word or did you just clear your throat? Just a minute, I’m looking for a Tiki Torch here… What do you mean that candle almost set yer mustache on fire? Those murmured little nothings really are nothing if you can’t hear them. And, if you stop to think about it, a deafie is probably going to be on edge rather than relaxing into the moment. Anyone here do tactile sign?
I’ve had hearie friends insist to me that they also don’t hear things perfectly, but since they manage to have conversations over the top of a blaring TV, in the middle of a dimly lit room with a buzz of noise so dense it is like a wall of sound, or in a noisy restaurant and bar, I really don’t think they understand the problem. While I’m fading into the wallpaper, hoping I don’t have to respond, they are socializing. How is this possible?
Speaker at a party: Hi, I’m Walter and I sell spritzers.
Hearie: I love white wine spritzers!
Deafie: (hearing “spits”) You’re selling what?
So, if you are a hearie who has a deafie friend, just remember that communication to you and communication to us is different. Lipreading and watching for whole body communications (body language) is exhausting. I can only do it for just so long and then my brain just flutters away. A hearie can relax into “passive listening” and even let their attention wander and still pick up auditory cues. If I’m following what you have to say I’m so focused on you that it can be misinterpreted as anything from flirting to obsession. My eyes are my ears.
At the end of a long day of listening to other people, I’m beat. If you have a deafie friend there are things you can do to help.
1. Face us when you talk to us – and make sure we know that you are talking to us, not just talking in general.
2. Don’t over-pronounce words – it makes it harder to lip read.
3. Dont shout - it distorts the voice.
4. Speak at a moderate rate of speech – speaking very S L O W L Y distorts mouth movements.
5. If you have an accent, please be patient, because it changes the lip movements you make as well as the sound you produce and it will take longer to process until we learn your voice.
6. Turn off or turn down extraneous noises you can control – like the TV or background music.
7. Realize that a hearing aid doesn’t create normal hearing, it merely supports the ability to hear some of the sounds of speech – and, unfortunately, also a lot of non-speech sounds.
8. Sound travels in a straight line – not around corners.
9. If we can’t see you we may not be able to hear you – at least not as speech.
10. An exasperated, “Never mind!” is never the right response.