I really like our new dentist. The office staff is friendly, and even though one lady behind the desk calls me "Hon" every other second, I am happy with it. The techs who cleaned my teeth and did the original evaluation were kind and funny, and I felt like I was among friends. It's not often that you find the staff watching The Price is Right and asking what your bid is, while passing tools back and forth and filling a tooth.
Friday, November 11, 2011
It's a great, comfortable place.
But it's obvious they do not deal much with Deaf people.
This past week J-Man and I both had cleaning appointments scheduled on the same day. I was called back first, and I informed the tech that my husband who was in the waiting room was Deaf, so he wouldn't be able to hear them call his name. She didn't seem fazed, and said she would let the other tech know.
So in the middle of my cleaning, the other tech, who would be doing my hubby's teeth, came into the room. The following conversation ensued:
Tech: So, I assume he is pretty good at reading lips?
Me: Um, no. He's actually really bad at that. He doesn't prefer that.
Tech: [crickets] [blank look]
Me: He speaks English, so you could write him a note.
Tech: [looking slightly annoyed] So I have to do everything with writing?
Me: Well, do you know sign language?
Me: Well then, writing will work just fine.
She left to get started cleaning his teeth, and I finished my appointment. The tech cleaning my teeth made a few comments that it seemed obvious to write a note, and I kept my mouth shut. It was a miracle.
When my cleaning was done I took a seat in the waiting room. Two minutes later the following conversation ensues:
Desk Lady: Hey Hon, did you want him to have x-rays today?
Desk Lady: Did you want him to have bite wings done today, since he's new here?
Me: Did you ask him if he wanted them done?
Desk Lady: No. Do you want him to have them done?
Me: You need to ask him.
Desk Lady: Ok, Hon. Thanks. [disappears briefly, then sticks her head out the plexiglass partition again] Do you want him to have a doctor exam today Hon?
Me: If he wants one. Did you ask him if he wanted an exam? It's his first check-up in a year, so if that's what you normally do, then do it. But you should really ask him. You can write him a note.
Desk Lady: Thanks Hon. [to another employee] Yeah, she wants him to have one.
Now, was that even close to what I said? No. I am not his mom. I do not make his medical decisions. At least not until he's in a coma and can't speak for himself.
Now, I totally understand that a lot of people have no experience with Deafness. In that case, it can be awkward trying to communicate. Writing things down is never as easy for hearing people as verbal conversation. Hearing people are often afraid of saying something offensive if they try to use body language, and to be honest, they fear looking foolish.
Can I just clarify a few things about Deaf people and Deafness, please?
1. Deaf people are in no way of lower intelligence than hearing people, nor are they mentally retarded. They do not think like babies. They can't hear, that's it.
2. Most Deaf Americans you meet read and write in English. If you do not know sign, write them a note. (Unless they are immigrants, and speak another language.)
3. Body language will very rarely be mistaken for swearing or something sexual, unless that is your intent. So don't be afraid to try and communicate! Body language can go a long way to get your point across.
4. A wife/husband who is hearing does not act like a mother/father to their Deaf spouse! Deaf people are perfectly capable of making their own medical decisions, ordering their own food/drinks, disciplining their children, and listing their preferences on any and every thing. ASK THEM.
You wouldn't presume to answer medical questions for your hearing spouse, would you? When they are in the room with the nurse already, and you are in the waiting room? Wouldn't that seem a little offensive to you? Think about it for a sec. Yeah....
5. Do not assume that all Deaf people read lips. Have you ever tried to read lips? It's hard! Look at your mouth in the mirror and mouth the word 'mom' and then 'bomb'. Do they look different? Not. Easy.
6. Make sure you have their attention before trying to communicate. Tap them gently on the shoulder, or wave slightly near them, and make eye contact. If you're in a lip reading situation, don' turn your head sideways, or turn your back to the person. Your lips are much harder to read through your skull.
7. Shouting is futile.
8. As is over-enunciating words. Making your mouth look freakishly twisted in order to somehow convey an 'L' or 'O' sound more clearly just makes you look weird. It's actually worse than just speaking normally.
9. When asking a question through an interpreter, don't treat the Deaf person like a third party who is not present. (Example) "Tell him I need him to...", "Ask him if he can...". Look at and speak directly to the Deaf person, not the interpreter: "I need you to...", "Can you...". The interpreter is there to convey information, they are not speaking FOR the Deaf person.
This can be awkward, because the Deaf person will be looking at the interpreter, but they will glance at you every so often to make sure of tone, etc. It's important you look at them too.
10. If you know how to fingerspell, do it! Use what you know. It goes a lot farther than you might think. If you can get the context of the conversation across, it helps.
11. There are varying degrees of Deafness. Some people may be hard of hearing, while others are profoundly Deaf. Never assume that because a person has hearing aids that they can understand everything you are saying.
12. Never appear frustrated that the Deaf person doesn't understand, or you don't understand them. You don't speak their language (sign language), so it may be slow going. Keep trying. Do not throw your hands up and say "Never mind", or "Nothing". They cannot help not being able to hear.
In this day and age of fast paced everything, it can seem like a huge inconvenience to slow down and communicate with someone by writing, or trying to use lip reading. However, if you really want to convey information, or to include a Deaf person in an event or conversation, then you will take the time to make sure they understand what is going on.
Trust me when I say it is frustrating for both sides!
With a little consideration, thoughtfulness, and patience, it can be successful!