Tuesday, August 3, 2010
CAN I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE?
Standing at the shelf in the crowded bookstore I was completely engrossed in the book I held. It wasn’t until some very elderly lady performed a full body slam on me that I was shaken from my trance. My reaction at the time? Just a bewildered expression on my face. I had said nothing to her. What could I have done in that situation? If someone had been with me, I could have signed to them to let the woman know I was deaf, but no one was with me. Should I have written her a note to ask what the heck her problem was? I’m really not sure. All I know is that, even though that happened some time ago, I still get steamed up about it. What I would say to her if I could go back in time and do it again!
The upsetting part of the whole ordeal is that, if she had simply touched my shoulder, none of this would have been a problem. I would have seen that she needed by and I would have happily stepped aside. The fact is that she must have stood there asking me to move for quite a while before she became so annoyed at my “ignoring” her that she decided to just ram me with all that she had. I simply don’t understand it. Why, in all that time, while waiting for me to respond, didn’t she simply reach out and touch me?
Unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon. Oh, the body slam might not be the norm, but hearing people have a very strong fear of being touched or touching someone else. So, rather than be impolite and place her hand on my shoulder, she decided the best bet was to nicely (and quietly, I’m sure, since it was a bookstore) ask me to step aside so she could through. When this didn’t work—over and over and over again—she continued until she completely lost it and tore into me. Makes sense. (Sarcasm.)
As a Deaf person, I’ve run into this question often: How do we (hearing people) get your attention? Most of the time, it seems self-explanatory, but I’m starting to discover that that term may not exist anymore. So here are the basics:
If you’re out there in the world and you come across someone who doesn’t respond to your spoken request, please do not assume that that person is a jerk and get angry. With over 200 million people in American with a hearing loss, there is always a good chance that they may, indeed, be one of them. If you find out later that they’re not, then go ahead and proceed as you see fit. But call me first, so I can watch.
If you’re standing next to the deaf or hard of hearing person of whom you need their attention, gently, but firmly, place your hand on their shoulder. No poking, please. I have welts all over my body from people whose index finger should be considered a lethal weapon.
If you’re not within touching distance, do not throw things at them or even toward them in an attempt to get them to look at you. If there’s someone standing nearer to them than you, ask them to get their attention and then direct them back to you.
In some instances, it may be OK to flick a light switch. Be careful with this though. You will end up getting the entire room’s attention. Not to mention, if you do it for too long, it could be considered rude. Well, actually, anything can be considered rude if you do it inconsiderably.
For example, if you’re sitting with a deaf person at a table and you tap it to get their attention, that would most likely be fine. However, if you bang on the table as hard as you can and do this for a considerable amount of time, that would be considered rude. Not to mention that you’d probably scare the hell out of the person sitting with you.
The best way to get someone’s attention, if it’s possible, is to wave your hand and see if they catch it in their peripheral vision. Deaf people are very visually adept and we notice stuff like that a lot more readily than others.
Some ways not to get our attention? Don’t throw things in our general direction, pelt us with small items, jam your fingers into our arms, stomp on a concrete floor, snap, clap, or blast the television.
One time I was in the hospital and started to walk away from a nurse. I was halfway down the hall when she realized she needed more information. She began calling after me, then snapping, and finally clapping as loudly as possible and yelling short, staccato notes of, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” It wasn’t until my hearing friend came around the corner and saw what was happening that I actually discovered she needed my attention. Duh!
It always intrigues me the way this world works. Getting a deaf or hard of hearing person’s attention wouldn’t seem to be that much of a bother, but apparently anything that isn’t super easy (read: anything where you can’t just yell, “Hey, you,” and everything is solved) is considered bothersome to most hearing people.