Why Deaf Awareness?

This is a guest post by Suzie  Jones@suziejones2010 . Many thanks to her – cb

Why deaf awareness?

When you think about the people you meet and talk to in your everyday life, I wonder if it crosses your mind that one in every six has a hearing loss? That’s 10 million people in the UK and this number is growing steadily with exposure to loud noises at an ever younger age. Over half of people who are 60 or older have a hearing loss. (and one in six has a vision loss, that equates to approximately 2 million who may be partially deafblind).

So, what’s a deaf person? Most of you will think that someone is a deaf person because they use sign language. But you may be mistaken. There are an estimated 50,000 to 75,000 deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL), the rest will be using hearing aids, cochlear Implants, speech and lipreading.

How would you recognise a deaf person? The most obvious clues are they don’t respond to noises behind them and may be looking at you intently when communicating. They’re lipreading, and some of them probably don’t realise they are doing it. If you see someone wearing a hearing aid, don’t assume they are hearing like you are. The majority of deaf people have what is called a perceptive hearing loss, this is permanent, and it makes sounds not just quieter, but distorted too. Have a listen to this simulation :

Blindness cuts you off from things, but Deafness cuts you off from people says Helen Keller. How true this is. Communication is probably the most important thing to a person. If you can’t communicate you get frustrated, lose your confidence, withdraw from socialising with others and some people become suicidal and think life is over. Friends and colleagues think the person is being rude, ignoring them on purpose, or is simply not interested in them anymore. Yet communication is needed to tell people what you want or need, how you feel and to take and give instructions. It is no surprise, then that deafness is a major cause of mental health issues.

So how can deaf awareness help social workers? The best deaf awareness training will equip you with the knowledge to understand exactly how deafness affects an individual and an understanding of the diversity of people who are deaf and how they react to it.

From those who think being deaf is wonderful, to the point where they celebrate the birth of a deaf baby, to those who literally fall apart when they lose all of their hearing, sometimes overnight. It will also give you skills to speak clearly, know tactics you can use to make yourself understood and show you why deaf people make so many mistakes in lipreading and appear to not understand you.

It’s not just about what you see on the lips, lipreading is only 30% accurate, the rest is intelligent guesswork and can be extremely tiring. Deaf awareness will also teach you about the support that is available to aid communication and access, from registered communication professionals to technological equipment, like loop systems, TextRelay and other aids.

Deaf people really do blossom when they are treated with respect and given the opportunity to partake in things that other people take for granted. Such things are opportunities to go to the local leisure centre, to go to social events, to attend a subtitled screening at the local cinema, or even a tour of the local museum.

If you know how to make these accessible, you’re on a winner. After all deaf people are legally entitled to these things, it’s a fact though that most of them still a luxury or out of arms reach for many of us.

Don’t think that we can “make do” using family or having a sympathetic friend to be with us to do this communication support. It’s not independence, it makes us “needy” and reliant on people. We have a right to make our own choices in life and the freedom to say so without being influenced by the opinion of others. That’s the difference between providing professional communication support or not.

So next time you see an opportunity to go on a course to learn about deafness, do take it up. Don’t think that by learning BSL only is going to make you “deaf aware”. It won’t. You need to know who you’re learning it for before you start. If you would like a course run in your local area, do get in touch with us, we are here to make things better and raise this much needed awareness throughout the UK. The more people who are privy to this valuable knowledge, the better we can all make life for the 10 million people who are living with deafness every day in silence.

Suzie Jones


5 thoughts on “Why Deaf Awareness?

  1. How simplistic. Deaf people would not take kindly to being portrayed as needy, which most ‘awareness’ seems to focus upon, they prefer ’empowerment’ and ‘rights’ to the dated and obscure patheticism used by most British charities, “you need to do this, you need to do that..” this message to mainstream will not be listened to,it’s nagging. WE won’t listen to these messages because this is not addressing the complete differences by culture or by lifestyle or degree of loss whatever, 90,00 deaf have 90,000 views, and that is before the AOHL start on with its negative spin on loss, on another 10 million by warning people they would end up like deaf people, like what is that but an totally negative view of people with profound loss through no fault of their own and living with it, so they get penalised for saying that too.

    I’ve been deaf 35 years I’ve never seen an successful awareness campaign, because the people who run these things are NOT deaf and many are not even hard of hearing and using messages dated to the 1960s, which is primarily an medical model roadshow. This is 2011, needy is out, positivism is in. Basically we need an complete change of communication support classes and in education, we need holistic communication taught, an norm of BSL would be a start, as well as sorting out lip-reading classes which actually DO NOT TEACH DEAF PEOPLE, nor do BSL classes, any wonder its an lottery of awareness. How can you make people aware of communication strategies, deaf are not even taught themselves ?

  2. This is article is clearly a commercial venture to have people sign up to the deaf awareness course offered by this agency

    However what I would say is that many SWs (in my experience) have little or no sensory awareness – both visual and hearing impairments, so the point of considering Deaf awareness training has some validity.

    Overall, the tone of the article is patronising to Social Workers and insulting to the deaf community

    I was a social worker with deaf people for a decade, this included working with clients with complex needs – mental health, serious offending behaviour and child protection. Greater awareness of the range of needs of clients and their situation always needs to be considered in a holistic way to address and support in appropriate ways – which in relation to deaf clients is about meeting their language and linguistic needs, their preferred communication means alongside other social needs etc

  3. Can someone tell me what the differences are between British Sign Language and American Sign Language. Are some of the signs different for individual words (like the spelling is) or only when they are spelling things out letter by letter, which of course has to be different because the spelling rules are different in both countries.

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  5. Hi
    I don’t want to ignore these comments but don’t feel I can respond fully as I didn’t write the original post..
    As for BSL and ASL, I really don’t know the difference! I am starting a BSL class in September so will come back to you on that!

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