Tuesday, August 3, 2010


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.


  1. I used to play soccer in middle school and the coach would clap and/or whistle to get my attention... I guess he wasn't deterred by the hearing aids! ;) But anyway, it made me feel like a dog, really. And the funny thing is I never heard him do those things, I just SAW him. Go figure!

  2. I have been shoved out the way too. Nothing said on either part when its happened.

    But yes you are right. Just being touched on the shoulder is enough to get our attention. Thankfully at work, I'm always alerted by a touch on the shoulder, which is very acceptable for me.

    But going back to being shoved.. well I'm always told I speak ok. So no one would be of any wiser I'm deaf at first glance. But some years ago, I was rammed by a woman with her buggy. I did not know until then she was coming up to my right, till this happened. People were watching. I felt a little embaressed, as she said "Do you mind, you nearly fell into my kid" I did not like the look of her as she spoke, as she looked aggressive.

    Well in the end I wasn't going to feel embarressed any longer, and while people were looking I spoke, or should I say I raised my voice, and distorted my speech slightly. I said, pointing to my hearing aids "What! I'm deaf, I did not hear you" Now she was embarressed.And inside, I was holding myself from laughing.

    You should have seen the look on her face, it looked like the world wanted to swallow her up. I'm sure in future, she will watch who she decides to ram her childs buggy into next time. And treat all people with respect.

  3. People are rude aren't they ? I've lost count of the times people have simply elbowed me or pushed me to one side because I didn't hear then ask to pass by. I found two sector are the worst, young mothers with prams (!) and the disabled in their motorised buggies. I've gone home with bruises to the back of my legs where angry parents simply rammed me from behind with the pram to make the point ! and they swear at you as well... An disabled woman in an electric wheelchair came behind me, I obviously did not know and she rammed my lags from behind, I stopped and I started to explain I was deaf and she cut me short and shouted "You should get out of the way for disabled, us first !" I hope someone lets her tyres down....

  4. Wow! Well, it seems I'm definitely not alone here! If I could go back to the body-slamming old lady, I wouldn't cuss her out or anything. My vision is to just be able to sign to her and have her realize I'm Deaf. Hoping, like Liz's experience, that she'd feel like dirt. That's not much to ask, is it? LOL

  5. Now being rammed by motorised buggies. Ow. That will hurt.

    But yeah if I ever come across a rude person like that again, that does not know me. They will end up being the ones being embarressed. But nothing has happened like that since.

  6. The next buggy that rams me WILL get their tyres let down ! Politeness costs nothing. It must be obvious to most the first impression you will have when someone has their back to you and doesn't respond when you talk, has a hearing issue, why respond as if we are obstructive deliberately ? And then assault you ? which is what the law would define pushing and ramming you as... perhaps we should sue young mothers in prams and the disabled in their chairs, especially when they hurt you. What is the betting deaf will lose that argument too ? We will have to carry posters on our backs...

  7. I make absolutely no excuses for rude people. They deserve what they get, and they deserve to be embarrassed. However, I do understand about the nurse panicking when she didn't get enough info. She didn't have time to think, and hearing is so ingrained, that the only instictive response was to call out. It takes a cool head to realize that you need to go after the person. Not all people have cool heads.

  8. Hi K.L.

    I understand that. But it what she needed wasn't important and she stood there calling out for me and clapping her hands for a good 3 to 4 minutes before my friend showed up. :v)

  9. interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you

  10. Hi, Studio5 -- I'm sorry, but I don't know what you mean. More details about what? To whom? Thanks!