I didn’t fully realize how unobservant people can be until Tuesday night. I was running around with my godbrother and two of his children, both five years of age. The girl is deaf and wears hearing aids like me. I love being around her because she’s an amazing kid and we understand each other and connect in a way our hearing families don’t fully understand. Honestly, I feel like a bad ass when I walk hand in hand with this little girl.
Now, our hearing aids are not subtle. She chose zebra striped hearing aids and bright pink and green ear molds, while my hearing aids are custom painted blue with polka-dots and my ear mold is blue, purple, and white. I can spot her hearing aids from a mile away, and I can see mine whenever I walk past something reflective.
Well my godbrother decides to get the kids icecream. I pick my niece up so she can see the different flavors and sign, “Which one do you want?” She trails her finger over the glass to show me that she’s still thinking and finally pokes at the chocolate brownie flavor. I point too and she signs yes. All the while the guy working keeps asking her what kind she wants.
“Did I hide my hands while I was signing?” I think. “No, I didn’t. Surely he must have seen? Surely he sees her hearing aids and has noticed that neither I or her father have spoken verbally to her?” I frown at the man, and he asks my niece again what flavor she wants. She of course is still staring at the icecream. I point to the flavor she wants and the man puts his scoop in the one in front of it. “No the middle one in the back,” I say. He puts his scoop in the back left one. I sigh and say “No, the middle one.” He finally puts the scoop in the right one and looks up at my niece. “That one?” he asks. She stares at him. “Do you want this one?” he repeats. Just when I start to burn at the fact that this man is not using his eyes whatsoever, my godbrother tells the man, “She’s deaf.”
If I hadn’t been holding my niece I would’ve slapped my palm over my face. I was signing nonstop to the child, she was wearing very noticeable hearing aids, yet the man noticed none of it.
There is something wrong with this picture. Not just with people not noticing hearing aids, but with their ignorance as well. A boy pointed at my ear mold and said, “What’s that?” My school’s VICE PRINCIPAL asked what the ear mold was for, and I had to lift my hearing aid up partially off of my ear so that she would see it.
I’ve known for a couple of months now that people don’t really notice hearing aids. I had NO idea that once noticed, people wouldn’t understand what they were. The thought had never occurred to me. How could someone see a hearing aid and ask what it was? Yet it has happened to me now on many occasions.
It gets worse though. I was talking to a friend of mine in sign at my school, and a security guard came up with a ridiculously stupid look on his face and started mocking us. He wanted us to move to the front of the school to wait for our rides (which in itself was irritating because at the time I was involved in the school musical and couldn’t go home until 9pm) so instead of asking us to, he mimicked our sign. Not only was the fact that he was mocking us irritate me, but the fact that he didn’t even sign what he intended to. He was trying to say, “You both need to go to the front of the school,” but instead he said, “You dance over there.”
Just as mimicking a Chinese person talking in their language is not okay, mimicking a deaf person’s language is also not okay.
The more I learn how little everyone else has learned, the more I feel defeated. How can it be? But I know that I can’t let it go. I can’t sit by and watch the ignorance happening all around me. I have to reach out. I have to teach everyday of my life, sometimes I have to teach the same lesson to the same person multiple times. Will I be around to see the results? Maybe not, but I will still work to make change for all the deaf who come after me. Would meeting the president of the United States help? Sure, of course! I guess it’s a good thing I’ve just been presented with the shot of doing just that.