For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to know another deaf person’s story. I was curious as to how they are coping, and what deafness is like for them. Not to compare myself with them, but to see if there is a tendency to do and experience things only we can identify with. It’s always nice to feel like you belong, and I wanted to know more about the “deaf culture” which I am a part of. We created the campaign with the aim of not only providing facts to spread awareness, but to add a “human side” to it. This “side” is one everyone can identify with, thus we wanted to spread deaf awareness on another level.
Curiosity is a “human” thing. I think every deaf person has had some daring person ask the question “what is it like being deaf?” It is actually very easy to answer that question, but very difficult at the same time. We have all experienced total silence at some point in our lives, thus we are able to imagine total deafness. That is exactly what it “sounds” like. In order to experience total silence, hearing-abled persons, need to put themselves in a certain environment where there is absolutely no sound. Now, imagine total silence even though you are still lying in bed at 6am and someone is mowing the lawn right outside your window (forgive me, I couldn’t resist the temptation of pointing out an advantage of being deaf LOL). That’s how simple it is. Well, not really …
Although it is easy to imagine total silence, imagining hearing absolutely nothing for a great amount of time isn’t so simple. Eventually you start to “feel” more. It’s not as if this sense has heightened. It is almost as if it’s a sense you don’t pay much attention to because you can hear. When you are deaf, you are forced to pay attention to it. I remember when I first started taking note of this “feel”. Around the time I lost my hearing, my family had this tendency of not closing the kitchen cupboards silently. Every time I felt a “bang” sitting in the kitchen, I would raise my head and look around like a meerkat. My family noticed this, and we all thought maybe my hearing is returning. Of course it didn’t. I wasn’t hearing a “bang”, I was feeling a “bang”.
Accurately put, it is the ever-present vibrations we become accustomed to. After a while, you are able to “categorize” these vibrations and feels, putting your own meaning to it. You would think it is always easy to sneak up on me when my hearing aid is off. For example, here is how I know someone is entering my room on varsity when my back is to the door and my hearing aid is off:
- The obvious knock I can feel, but it is difficult to determine if it’s from next door, two doors away or above me
- My door code is 6 buttons and my door is not very tight at the hinges, so 6 faint “bangs” with wind pushing between them means someone is trying to enter
- When the door is being opened my curtains will always move, no matter how sneakily you try to enter
- I attach certain “feels” to the certain tendencies of people who regularly enter my room, eg. Some press the buttons really fast while some drag their feet when they enter the room
It is not always the case that what you “feel” is actually what you think it is. When you are around deaf people, pay attention and see if you can notice them randomly looking around attentively.
This might sound simple, but after a while it no longer becomes an effort to pay attention to your “feels”. It becomes so natural and effortless, even to a point where you are able to dance in sync to music because the bass makes “sense” to you. Remember the great Darren Rajbal? I’m also a dancer and my hearing aid has failed me many times during performances, but my “feels” are able to let me carry on.
There is absolutely no need for a gap, especially a communication gap, to exist between the deaf and the hearing. This gap allows the deaf to be at a disadvantage, more so than it does the hearing. We need South African Sign Language to become the 12th official language of South Africa. Why do we need to travel to certain a place in order to be understood? I have made this point before, and I will continue to make it until proven not true: deaf people have the ability to dream beyond their circumstances and the potential to realize it. There is no need for a limit, which is beyond their control, to be placed on that, simply because the institutions, schools, etc can’t be able to understand and respond to them.
Don’t be afraid to engage with a deaf person. It can be more fun than you think. I play the prop position in rugby, and it has been really fun coming up with our own ridiculous hand signals for when it comes to scrumming, line-outs and explaining what the ref is penalizing me for.