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People Who Hear but Don't Listen

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

‘People who hear but don't listen concept: hearing people dismissing deaf perspective on deaf life.’ Written by Leonie Holley Leonie Holley is an 18 year old from the UK studying MSci Psychology. She wears cochlear implants since 2005. She raises awareness for all kinds of Deaf folks: inclusion and support. Follow Leonie on Instagram at hohawareness_x!


Firstly, there are crucial underlying factors that have fuelled the dismissal of the deaf perspective on their own lives. As far back as the 1880’s, speech was superior to any other form of sign language. This led to sign languages being banned worldwide from educational practices. Over the next century, deaf individuals were forced to only use speech, and failure to do so meant various punishments. This included their hands being tied together and/or brutally slammed in desk drawers.

This highlights the blatant ignorance towards the deaf perspective, as it took away their rights to use their own language and abolished their ability to voice how this construct detrimentally affected them. Their rights were shoved under the carpet to construct a normality where deaf culture was not present, which caused suffering stemming from a lower quality of life and prejudice and discriminations.

At this point, hearing people were not listening to us, it is very difficult to understand the way someone lives without listening to them, even more so when their very form of communication is taken away from them. Also, the prejudice around disability at this time allowed for such discriminating laws to be enforced. Deaf people were seen as ‘less than’ for being disabled. The whole ‘deaf people are disabled’ will be covered later as it amplifies how hearing people don't listen.

Nothing takes away from how morally unjust it is to take away someone’s main and likely only form of communication. As with that you take away their livelihood and ability to bond with others which is an essential aspect of humanity. That's like taping hearing people's mouths shut and making them sign. It's shocking to think about when sign used to be used extensively, before these laws were enforced.

Fortunately, in the 21st century hearing people began to acknowledge regret and apologise for the scarring effects of the banning of S.L. has caused for the deaf community. As @adventuresindeafed beautifully states: “our history of oppression and language deprivation at the hands of the hearing society has a direct impact on our perceptions when hearing people appropriate our lang/culture in the present day (especially when oralism continues to be heavily promoted over S.L.”

Furthermore, there is a whole deaf culture with its own set of values, art, history, socially accepted behaviours and communities. This culture is influenced at the very heart by deafness and the use of S.L. as the main means of communication. The fact that i was unaware of this as a deaf person until i researched it illustrates the prevalence of dismissal in our society towards the deaf perspective. I have had cochlear implants since i was 3 which has left me between the hearing and the deaf world. I was brought up in a world where oracy was the main focus. As an adult now learning about the deaf culture , it has revealed to me some start differences between the 2 worlds.

The inherent dismissal of my deaf identity by hearing people in my life has meant I haven't had the access to values that would’ve helped me enormously. The deaf culture seems to be commonly pushed aside, especially in mainstream education that I’'ll later bring up. This is a result of being a minority group. It also makes us prone to feeling misunderstood by those who don't know the values of deaf culture or S.L. There is a difference between the 2 that is constantly dismissed. This is evident by the facts that in the world there are roughly 466 million people with hearing loss and 90% of all deaf children are born to hearing parents. Also, a million Americans are deaf whilst 10 million are hard of hearing. Still hearing people don't listen even when there are so many of us out here. Our perspective is never taken for it’s value.

If nothing else could prove how deaf perspectives are dismissed, then have the knowledge that some members of the deaf community tend to view deafness as a difference in human experience rather than a disability. It’s truly shocking the amount of people (me included) that didn’t know about the existence of deaf culture. 3 key differences i have learnt and that many do not know is: body language, direct language, and deaf not disabled ( Body language is extremely important in deaf culture, it’s considered rude to look away from someone who is signing to you. Just like it is rude to walk out on someone talking to you. A lot of people don't appreciate the power that body language has to change the meaning of a conversation to a deaf person.

Secondly, deaf people in the culture usually don’t classify themselves as disabled. Deaf not, disabled. So terms like ‘hearing impaired’ can be offensive and really hurtful. Dismissal of the deaf perspective is seen when companies use such terms to try and sell their products. Most of these companies are run by hearing people, selling products to deaf people, without a deaf perspective, illustrating their ignorance to deaf culture.

Lastly, direct language was a very interesting key difference. As I was brought up as a deaf person in a hearing world, it shone light on some of the causes of my frustration. Mainly, it came down to my parents being hearing people. My parents knew I was deaf but did not encourage my deaf identity or any deaf values. They dismissed that part of me. They have been at times very disrespectful of me by dismissing my deaf values when I have shown them recently. I have exceptional hearing for a cochlear implant user so they must have fallen on the misconception that having implants restores your hearing so therefore i must be hearing fully. You couldn’t be more wrong, I heavily depend on lip reading. For this, I had to suffer muffled voices, their impatience, and their refusal to adapt communication in places of high background noise. Especially, whilst tying this into direct language, when they were not being concise, their beating around the bush and not getting to the point made me mentally exhausted a lot. As much as they do love me, they weren’t fully accomodating to my needs as a deaf person. They hear and see my struggles, but they don’t give me any relief as they don’t change. In deaf culture, speaking plainly like ‘she has a big mouth’ is seen as concise and an accurate description, whilst or others it is seen as rude.

So, even the people closest to me, I have grown to realise: ‘hear but don’t listen’. They are not aware of the deaf culture at all. This shouldn’t have to be a consequence for being a minority, an oppressed minority, even for the deaf children who have hearing parents.

When my parents are discriminating whether knowingly or not hurts, not listening to my needs as a deaf person. Sometimes i just want to scream “I am not just part of the hearing world because i have cochlear implants, i am very much deaf! Listen to me please!” I’m just so grateful to my partner and my friends who are open to listening to my struggles and adapting their hearing world to bridge with my deaf world. For example, my partner tries their very best to make sure i feel included in groups and repeats any of the jokes or the many witty one liners i may have missed. The other day, one of my closest friends gave me song lyrics in the car as she remembered I had difficulty deciphering the words. This is a positive light that those who are willing to listen will listen. They will engage in the deaf perspective if they have been informed of it and are caring people. As states: “ as it is difficult to connect with someone with hearing loss without understanding their culture can make you come off as rude, however intentionally.”

This links into having knowledge about deafness and the barriers we face around it. I think that having the refusal to learn is the biggest act of dismissal. Being ignorant means they know there is inequality but they are not going to shine a light on it. It makes deaf people non-existent, you can't see deafness, like you can't see a deadly disease, but that doesn’t mean it's not there and drastically changing the way we live our lives and the barriers we face (that also brings about the deaf perspective).

There happens to be several imposed perspectives on deaf people and culture that shape the treatment they receive and their role in society. In the medical aspect, there is encouragement for deaf children to undergo surgery. This originates from the medical perspective belief to discourage sign language as they thought it would distract them from developing auditory and speech skills. Encouraging deaf children likely without any information on deaf culture to undergo surgery illustrates a calculated move to minimalism the deaf community; imposing the view that deaf people need to be fixed.

However, it is not their fault for being born deaf and it can be argued that it is a difference in human experience and not a disability. A huge 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents, which makes me question why more parents are not adapting themselves to cater for their children's needs rather than vice versa. It is not a burden, only an anatomical difference. The idea that deaf people need fixing is even prevalent in many companies which I have mentioned used terms like ‘hearing impaired’ which is offensive.

It is just dismissing the whole idea of having a deaf identity, not incorporating deaf perspective on deaf life, not having any deaf role models, not being listened to because of those that refuse to listen. Think about the benefits of being deaf would have if there weren't so many barriers put in place by those exact people that don't listen, we would all be able to bond deeper.

Moving on, ethically speaking, the minority communities using sign language have had unsuitable construction of their group as a disability group. This leads to programmes that have discouraged deaf children from acquiring the language and culture of the deaf world, and the level of discouragement I'm speaking of is high. We’re looking at those trying to reduce the number of deaf births. These programmes are unethical and equally damaging to deaf people and their own narratives.

So, there are four key reasons why not to construe us as a disability group. It highlights the audacity of some hearing people to dismiss the hearing perspective. One, I will say it again that some deaf people don't identify themselves as disabled. It's disgraceful that some people don’t respect this. Two, construction of disability leads to medical and surgical risks for the deaf child. It's the same as viewing them as needing to be fixed. In this essay i read, it makes a case that our ethical standards for the majority of treatments shockingly depend on whether our representation of the deaf world is that of a disability or an ethic group which should be the case. Thirdly, it endangers the future of the deaf world. We need it to exist, especially when they are big for a minority group. There's around 466 million people worldwide with hearing loss. The fourth point is the disconnection brings bad solutions to real problems because it’s predicated on misunderstanding.

It could be said that the imposed prejudice deaf people face leads to those who have acquired deafness to ignore the deaf world too. Internalised bias by those who have acquired deafness may become adamant that they do not identify themselves with the deaf culture or use its language, profess its values, rather they consider themselves hearing people with a disability. I had internalised ableism towards the deaf community and I refused to be identified as disabled, I completely dismissed the deaf perspective as I did not accept any notion that it may apply to me. I didn't go to events apart from the one hosted by my audiologist clinic out of shame, denial and no knowledge of the deaf culture. I refused to listen out of shame, it was a complex relationship. I didn't want anything to do with it because it made me feel ‘less than’, now it empowers me. To be deaf is to be strong, to be different and bold. To be more compassionate as a choice as you know how difficult it is to not be granted access to be who you are freely. I've only just begun learning about deaf culture and only as of last year began to accept my deafness.

Deaf people are prevented from integrating with the hearing world. This is illustrated in the essay 'ethnicity, ethics, and the deaf world’ by Harlan Lane, which states ‘the more deaf people celebrate their language and culture, the more they affirm their distinct identity, the more they reinforce the boundary delineating them from the hearing world.’ This means that the deaf perspective will certainly not be listened to by hearing people as some hearing people discriminate against deaf people and the culture. Schools, jobs, in gaining access are some of the areas where deaf people get discriminated against. But they get discriminated against for more than their bodies: ‘the major impact of deafness is on communication” -(Bayton 2000). And when people hear but don't listen, we become broken off into an island in the middle of the sea, and the notion of a deaf perspective is disregarded.

In mainstream education it is hard for deaf people to integrate into the hearing world as teachers cannot communicate with them fluently. It is difficult, in my case some teachers refused to cater to my needs that would have actually benefited the whole class. Deaf people miss out on important information when learning because it has not been provided in their language, and have difficulty getting jobs when a job requires good English.

On one level, many minority groups including the deaf community are often claimed to be biologically inferior. Oppressed minorities such as LGBTQ learn from each other on success and the value of diversity in order to urge ignorant governments in the right direction. It’s so ethically wrong and politically corrupt that deaf people should have to struggle for their rights. It’s stated ‘Deaf people have to ‘embrace’ their disability label it might help them in gaining more of their rights’-( Bayton 2002). It is very dismissive of the deaf culture as an ethical group as it is seen and heard but not listened to. Deaf people have to dismiss their own perspective over their own life in order to get rights from the government. Atrocious. For example, interpreters are only given under the disability umbrella not as an ethical/cultural group reason.

It appears to be all about hearing, which dismisses the deaf perspective on being deaf when 9/10 children that have the implant surgery, those with little or no hearing, were born deaf. (Allen,Rawlings & Remington 1994). These children also rarely receive the benefit sought which is fluency in spoken language. Which adds the harm to the risks of a deaf child who has to have oral educational programmes. These are put on the parents to discourage sign language (Tye Murrey 1992). So, if children with implants are unable to learn spoken English and are prevented from learning at the same time, they will remain languageless for years. It’s inexcusable to leave a child without fluent language for years on end. Medicine is coming to realise that it’s the overall quality of life of the person not just the concerned organ that must be considered (Reinsenberg & Glass 1989). From such a young age they are heard and not listened to. Their perspective on their own lives is taken away from them without being able to make the decision for themselves. No consent is given to living a hearing life so they are stuck between the hearing and the deaf world as implants do not restore hearing.

Lastly, I want to include the barriers in mainstream education for deaf people as it is such a big impact on our childhoods. We have all sorts of barriers such as with legal aid, health care and ultimately life. But one that really hits home is at school.

Many primary schools are now teaching S.L in the U.K., which is a privilege I wish I had growing up deaf in a hearing world. Many of them didn't face the class when talking, a lot refused to conceptualise the fact that having cochlear implants don't restore your hearing. They didn’t give clear instructions and to be frank, these barriers to an equal chance at education made my life a daily challenge. Constantly filling in the gaps by myself. They heard my Teacher of the Deaf telling them I needed more support but they didn't listen. The gap in attainment between me and my peers grew until I reached secondary school where there was a little more help. Also, I really admired what was said in an 2018 article I read by The York Press on the educational barriers Deaf children face: “deafness is not a learning disability and when deaf children get the support they need at school, there are no limits to what they can achieve.” I find it shocking when I saw that around 78% of deaf children in England attend mainstream schools. Especially, with the lack of awareness around deafness. Deafness has always been there, teachers know a child in their class is deaf, yet they don't support them in the most necessary ways. Shockingly, just 41% of deaf young people achieve 2 A Levels or equivalent by 19, compared to 65% of other people.

So, to conclude the concept that hearing people hear but don’t listen appears to be a very real issue based on how they treat deaf people historically, socially, culturally and ethically. It is also highlighted through the many barriers we face such as in mainstream education, health care and jobs. This ignorance has shown to be harmful socially and potentially fatal in the medical aspect of being deaf and having cochlear implants. However, when facing towards the future there is still hope and a constant stream building into a river of change heading into the right direction for the deaf community. I would like to finish by saying that I am so proud of how far we have come in terms of deaf awareness, despite all the aversions that we have had to face in trying to show our brilliance as a community.


Note from Alexis: You are reading Deaf perspectives in a world where in the U.S. Deaf people did not have the right to work until 2008. Most content is published by hearing on Deaf issues or conforms to hearing norms. We are here to tell you our Deaf perspectives. We are the primary source. No citations needed.

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