Misconceptions that Lead to Common Questions Deaf People are Asked

Deafness is often view as a disabling condition or an unfortunate mutation. This misconception creates predisposed beliefs in the general public about deaf people and what it means to be deaf. Often, what people do not realize is that Deaf people embrace the life they are given and are part of a culture of individuals who are like-minded and share several cultural values, such as language. Below are some common questions and misconceptions in which deaf people are often approached with.

You are deaf? Oh, I'm so sorry. That must be tough.

Most Deaf people, who identify with the Deaf community, do not view deafness as a handicap, a curse, or as a disabling condition. Deaf people do not want to be pitied. It is important to understand that deafness is simply the inability to hear; that is the only physical difference between deaf and hearing individuals. Other than being able to hear, deaf people can match any capabilities of a hearing person.

Oh, are you able to read Braille?

For some reason, our brains group deafness and blindness in the same category. One common question a deaf person is asked after informing an individual that they are deaf, is if he or she knows Braille. Braille is “a system of writing or printing… for use by the blind, in which combinations of tangible dots or points are used to represent letters, characters, etc., that are read by touch” (Braille, 2014). Braille does not benefit people who are deaf. This skill is useless unless the person’s job, hobby, or family dynamics deems it necessary to acquire the ability.

You are able to talk?

Unless there is a medical condition or anomaly preventing the ability to talk (which can afflict any hearing person too), deaf people have a voice. It comes down to an individual choice. Every person is raised uniquely and learns language differently. Some deaf people are taught how to use their voice and others are not. Whether or not oral speech training occurred as part of the upbringing of a person makes no difference. The deaf individual still has the right to choose to use his or her voice.

Can you read my lips?

On average, even the most skilled lip reader comprehends about 1/3 of what a speaker is saying. Often, gaps and missed words are filled in by context so the deaf person who lip reads is perceived as an efficient lip reader. Subsequently, the person who is speaking believes that relying on the deaf individual to lip read, in a sufficient means of communication. This is effective in certain situations, such as chatting with friends or getting a last minute message about a time change for lunch at work. This is not an effective communication strategy, however, for important information such as a medical appointment or a staff meeting. Situations such as these are most effective by involving a Sign Language Interpreter, if the deaf individual requests one, to ensure communication is conveyed efficiently.

You are deaf? I know Sign Language (but only the alphabet)

The alphabet in sign language is only one component of a very complex and structured language. While knowing the alphabet and how to fingerspell words is very nice for a deaf person to be greeted with, it is important to understand that it does not make a person know sign language and is very far from being fluent.

How are you able to drive?

It is surprising how often this question is asked. Somewhere in history, there must have been a notion that being able to hear is a requirement for driving. In reality, this is neither a requirement nor a law. Deaf people have a heightened sense of visual awareness. So when the emergency vehicles with lights flashing approach (from any direction), in many instances, the signal can be spotted before any hearing person will actually hear the sirens.

Further Reading

These are just a few common questions deaf people are often asked. The misconceptions are simply a result of the lack of education, exposure, or experience of deafness and Deaf culture. The following books are excellent references to learn more about deaf culture: “Inside deaf culture” By: Carol Padden and Tom Humphries “Words made flesh nineteenth-century deaf education and the growth of deaf culture” By: R.A.R Edwards “Signs and voices: deaf culture, identity, language, and arts” By: Kristin A. Lindgren