Sunday, October 3, 2010


 (WARNING: Angry Deaf Woman Venting Ahead!!!)

The church my family joined when we moved to Michigan had a sign language interpreter available for the services. It was nice, but I was the only Deaf member. A couple of years later, the interpreter moved, leaving me without an ability to participate in services or activities within the church. Still, my family liked the church, and so we stayed. Well, I should say, they continued to attend services, while I stayed at home alone. After a while, my husband’s work schedule changed and he had to work Sunday mornings. So, he called another member of the church, and asked if they could pick the kids up on their way there. It worked out OK, but I started feeling like a hypocrite…telling them they need to attend church and learn about Jesus, while I sat at home and picked my nose. (I didn’t actually pick my nose…often…I was just using that as an example.)

So, earlier this year, I decided to embark on a journey of finding a church with a good-sized Deaf ministry, that also had a great youth department and was, of course, Baptist. It actually wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected. I found one fairly quickly. It was perfect for the kids: Awesome activities, fun ways of teaching and including them, and lots of opportunities to join in with the crowd and make friends. It had the second largest Deaf ministry in Grand Rapids as well. Cool beans!!

I knew several people in the Deaf ministry (other Deafies, not the interpreters), so that helped make me more comfortable as well. Although people do not believe me, I’m rather shy and going to new places scares me. What if they don’t like me? What if I’m not accepted? This church gave me a glimmer of hope that I would be very much accepted and included.

So…I decided to take the plunge and join the church. I had attended several services: Sunday morning and evening and a Wednesday night Bible Study. For the Sunday morning service, it was a pretty usual set up. The hearing congregation sat in the general area and there was a section set-aside for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to follow an interpreter. That was great! Most of the interpreters were pretty good, too, which can be rare in a church setting.

The Sunday night and Wednesday night gatherings were good, too. Although the Deaf and Hard of Hearing had their own class. They’re not in with the “general” population. That seems good, unless you’re a mixed couple (my hubby is hearing) and want to attend something together. Sure, he could attend the Deaf Ministry, but it’s not as face-paced as the Hearing studies. So, he went to his and I went to mine. Really not a big deal and, to be honest, I kind of liked the small break from him. Just kidding. Sort of.

But I started noticing something. When I was out in the hall alone, with a hundred other members, no one would approach me, much less try to communicate with me. And when I was with my hearing husband or children in the same situation, people would approach the hearing family members and speak to them. I stood there like a tree stump and smiled (fakely) as if I was just simply honored by their presence. They wouldn’t even look me in the eyes. Scared that, if they did, I might try to communicate with them. And then they’d have to communicate back. Heaven forbid! (Considering it IS church, I suppose if Heaven forbade, it would be a legitimate excuse. But I haven’t found anywhere in the Bible where it states to love your neighbor unless they communicate differently than you.)

When they would approach to speak to my husband, I was OK with it. A little insulted that they wouldn’t even look at me though. But when they approached and had lengthy, laughing conversations with my children and completely ignored me, THAT caused a problem. I will NOT be made to feel inferior to my kids. I will not be ignored while hearing people address the ten-year-old, instead of the Deaf mother standing RIGHT THERE!

That really started to get me miffed. But I was in church. “Though shalt not get miffed in church.” I think I’ve seen it written somewhere. So, I smiled and acted like I was just happy they would share my general space and breathing air with me. How flattering. How daring for them! (Can you sense my sarcasm, here??)

Then, this morning, my 13-year-old daughter, Mollie, and I went forward to join the church at the end of the morning service. My husband was working, so he wasn’t around. I’d seen a joining by another person before and knew what to expect:

We would go forward (an interpreter knew and was to come with me), fill out a paper, give it to the pastor, the pastor would announce us (he’d already spoken to my husband, so he knew the deal), and then the congregation would come forward, form a line, and shake our hands to welcome us. Cool. I’d joined a church before. I knew how it went. However, I’d never joined a church without my hearing husband with me. And that seemed to make all the difference in the world.

We went forward, filled out the paper, gave it to the pastor and stood there as he announced us and our joining to the congregation. Of course, he also mentioned that I was Deaf. That’s OK. I am. He then said the usual about coming and welcoming us as the new members of the church and then he ended the service.

This is where everyone gets up, gets into a line, and welcomes us……right??? Nope. Three member of the Deaf ministry came up and shook my hand, two very elderly hearing individuals came up and said, “Welcome”…everyone else shot out of there as quickly as they could get the doors open. Why? No, they didn’t have an emergency or a pot luck to attend (which could be considered an emergency to a bunch of hungry Baptists). They left, because I’m Deaf. They’re Hearing. No need to welcome me. Let the Deaf Ministry do it. And that leaves me with the anger I’m feeling today.

It seems in this world, that people think people who are alike congregate together. In this case, Hearing people hang out with Hearing people, because obviously, Deaf people have their Deaf friends to hang out with. What year is this, people?? I felt like a Black person back in the old South. You hang out with your kind, ma’am. And I’m sick and tired of it!

It happens everywhere I go. People assume that, because I’m Deaf, I’m unapproachable. Don’t worry about her, she’s Deaf. Is she wants a friend, she’ll find another Deaf person to be her friend. OR they think, Well, I don’t know sign language, so I guess I can’t try to chat with them. They’re different, you see. Bullspit!

Just because I cannot hear a person does NOT mean I should be shunned by anyone who cannot sign! I am not an inferior person because I have a communication difference from a Hearing person. I am just as much a person who needs friends and compassion and to feel included at church as anyone else! And I’m tired of being set apart. Tired, I say!!!!

What doesn’t help (on my end) is that I haven’t always been totally deaf. Growing up, I usually didn’t even have to mention my hearing loss, because I could work around it. So, as a “hearing” person, I know how if feels to be treated like another hearing person. You’re treated like a….GASP…human being. A person on the same level. Not an inferior form of the human race. Which is how Deaf people are mostly treated like. And it is really pissing me off!!!

I know how it feels to be treated “normally,” and I know how it feels to be treated as a Deafie. There is a HUGE difference. Difference in politeness, in respect, in equality. And why?? Just because one can distinguish your vocal sounds better than the other?

(Deep breathing………………………)

Look, I’m not asking for special treatment. If ANYTHING, I’m asking for the opposite. I want to be treated like everyone else. Stop being so scared of me! What is the deal with that, anyway? Why are most people so freaking scared of Deaf people? The only thing I can figure that might help us be treated better is to make ourselves less scary. Perhaps we should all buy some files and file down our fangs. Would THAT make you look at us any differently?


  1. If it's any comfort, others feel that way anyway. I try not to expect others to do what I don't do. I have to try really hard to be friendly, especially in groups. Not natural for me. I don't worry others won't like me-i already assume they don't!

    Keep walking!

  2. Thanks, Bill. I try not to let it bother me, but I can't shake it off. I go out of my way to make sure others feel included, comfortable and respected. Seems I'm the minority in a MAJOR way with that. If it's any consolation, I like you. (smile) And I will keep walking.....

  3. I feel the pain. It can be difficult to break into a larger group especially in certain cultural climates where people keep to themselves more.

    Joining smaller groups like ladies' auxilaries or special project committees will help a lot to break into the larger group. The pastor can help here by introducing you to key people. I wish you lots of luck and eventually tranquility.

  4. heh, yep there's no getting around that. It's hard for a lot of people to get out of the mindset that church is all about meeting their needs. It is about that, mind you, but everybody needs to about be meeting others needs to. It's nice that there are some churches with Deaf ministries, it's true, but it would be nicer if that wouldn't have to be the criteria, that accessibility and accommodations would be assumed.

  5. Wow.... I am not sure I have the words for this but it makes me want to scream. I won't scream because my son can't hear it but my daughter can.

    Funny and not the same but I have teachers tells me they are nervous to teach my son. It is fear. They don't know what to do but want to get it right. The fear of the unknown can create a wall.

  6. Um. You know that it's Methodists that is the Church of the Holy Potluck.

    Seems like no matter where you go, being different sucks. People fear what they don't understand. They fear being deaf themselves, so they want to distance themselves from that fear. Confronting it makes them uncomfortable.

    All we can do as rational people is confront our own fears and try to teach others not to be afraid.


  7. I totally understand what you go through, it happens to me in my work I have the plague or what??
    It seems like when people are clueless about deafness, we seem unapproachable or they are afraid we won't understand and it seems so much easier for the hearing to speak to the hearing without even TRYING to communicate with us deafies.

    The don't know what to do. In this, I think education is the key. If one person befriends a Deaf person others will eventually follow.

    Hang in there!! I completely understand, as do most of the commenters here.

  8. Kym, I love your "Do I have the plague or what," example. Exactly! It's like deafness is contagious or something. And because I've been on the other side of the fence (where hearing/deafness was not really a specific issue), I know the difference in how deafies are treated compared to hearies.

    haddy2dogs, it sounds like you're in a similar boat. People "scared." Must be frustrating to you as a mother, because you want your son to be treated like all the other kids.

    Rich, you're right about being different. And it does suck. I just wish we, as a society, didn't focus on the one or two things different in another person and looked at the other stuff. I am NO different now than I was when I could "pass" for hearing, except that my ears don't work. But, somehow, that's made all the difference in the world to those I knew (who stopped communicating with me -- incl. some family) and those I meet now. Sigh.

  9. Most hearing people are embarrassed and afraid of not understanding and making a fool of themselves. It is fear, and frustrating for everyone. I hope you can talk to the pastor about your experience. This is a very important topic for a church that has a deaf ministry. If they think they are being open to deaf people, but are not including the hearing congregation in this portion of the ministry, then they are failing. Good luck.

  10. Here's a possible suggestion -- approach the Pastor and see if he/she is willing to preach a sermon on Leviticus 19:14....

    (I know its the Old Testament, but hey - its scripture)

  11. K.L., very well said.

    abc, thanks for the suggestion, but they're not really "cursing" the deaf. Just not treating us equally.

  12. Michele,

    I support KL's encouragement for you to talk to the pastor about this. People are uncomfortable around us, because they're clueless.

    However, there is one thing that I think is important for you to understand, which is that Grand Rapids is heavily steeped in the CRC mentality and oralism.

    For those who don't know CRC, it was only until recently that they preached that being deaf and so on, was 'bad'. That it's our albatross to bear, apparently. Because of that, you will find many in the older generation who still believe that - even some Deaf in the community here, due to their upbringing in the CRC.

    These two issues compound the problem and hence, contributes to why you're being treated like this. So yeah, talk to the pastor, and I also would suggest talking to the other Deaf members and see how they feel about this. They may not realize this, but after pointing out to them, I'm sure they will back you up.

  13. I do know I should talk with the pastor. I just need to figure out the polite but clear way of wording it.

    Pundit, It seems the Deaf members of this church are either very old or have physical barriers. The few who are not, seem very complacent with the fact that at least they have an interpreter and can "participate" in the Deaf Ministry. They don't seem to care if the Hearing members pay any attention to them. It would be nice to not care, but, because I have a Hearing husband and Hearing children, I HAVE to be included in the Hearing events to some extent. Talking with some of the Deaf around here, I almost feel like I'm the only one who notices. Bill and you have shown me otherwise. :v)

  14. Hi Michele,
    Yep, been there done that, can't stand it! When I'm with my personal care attendant, sometimes people seem to forget that I'm there; I cease to be a human being and become a slab of beef in a shopping cart. Grrrr... And the questions people ask my PCA? DUMB! Like, "Can she talk?" "Does she want a glass of water?" Seriously. When I speak and tell someone I read lips, they say "Oh, wonderful!" and proceed to move around the room mumbling to themselves, stare at me after apparently asking some kind of question, and then if I hesitate..."Never mind!" You've got to be kidding me! Yes, if I'm with my Deaf friends and we're all signing, the line separating "us" from "them" is as pronounced as the boy-girl separation at a middle school dance. A barrier made of barbed wire and broken glass would be easier to cross than that Deaf Cootie barrier!

  15. As a hearing person I understand the anxiety about how to interact with a Deaf person (not knowing if they can they lipread), but it is really rude & dehumanizing for anyone to ever interact with your husband or children without at least making eye-contact with you, smiling & greeting you in some way. It seems strange that simply being Deaf is enough to make some hearing people not acknowledge/communicate with you at all. Hearing people will never 'see' what it is like to be Deaf (and to be treated differently as a result)- living in a world where social communication is always easy for you makes it easy to be very blind/ignorant to how life is for others. It is very sad that many hearing people let their anxiety (about interacting with the Deaf) override their human kindness, and end up unconsciously treating Deaf people as if they are not fully human.

    I live in New Zealand & at my old church we had quite a few Deaf people (and a couple of interpreters). Mostly there wasn't a huge amount of interaction between the Deaf & hearing people, but there was some. A lot of hearing people are afraid of an awkward situation - we don't know how to communicate with a Deaf person & will feel embarrassed when we 'get it wrong' and fail to communicate (of course, hearing people need to get over the fear & do it anyway... how hard is it to - at least - smile, make eye contact, and say hi?).

    There was an elderly Deaf man at my church who was very friendly, and always said "Hi" to me. I never said more than "Hi, how are you?" back to him (in speech & sign language) because I didn't know how to communicate with him beyond that.

    I think a lot of people with disabilities (that effect communication) get treated like non-people by others. I had a friend in High School who had cerebral palsy & was in a wheelchair. When other students wanted to talk to her they would always use me as a go-between, they were too afraid (or too lazy) to communicate with her directly. It was really stupid. Someone would ask me a question to ask my friend (who was sitting right next to us). She would hear the question, and answer it herself (in English) - but they wouldn't bother listening to her, they'd just wait until I reiterated exactly what she had just said.

  16. Michelle - Thank you for bringing this to light, and I hope that if you ever visit my church, you would be welcomed fully.

    I have also observed the "we're afraid to talk to you because you're Deaf" situation take place at restaurants, libraries, the post office, etc.

    Something I've committed to doing as a hard of hearing person is to initiate an ASL conversation with people I don't know who I observe signing and/or wearing hearing aids. Granted, I have poor signing skills, but can get by with signing, "Hi, are you Deaf? I'm hard of hearing... My name is (fingerspelled) S-H-A-N-N-A... (awkward pause as I try to remember my signs)... Nice to meet you."

    Recently, I did this last week at a pharmacy with a hearing teacher and her Deaf students. The teacher and one of her students were friendly and forgiving of my signing mistakes. I ran into this teacher and her family again at a gift shop the very next day; they were signing to her teenage daughter who was Deaf. I repeated my "Hi, are you..." ASL introduction. The girl seemed pleased that I had attempted to strike up a conversation.

    And again, today, at the post office, I initiated a signing dialogue with a woman I'd never met. She spoke very clearly and lipread well, so I used more voice than sign. I learned she teaches at the very same school where I had met the Deaf students and their teacher. We agreed to look for each other if I visited the school.

    I applaud these two women and students for being forgiving of my signing skills... and allowing me to engage in friendly conversation with them.

    - Lip Reader

  17. Thanks for sharing, Shanna! It's nice to know you're trying and I hope you continue to do so. How did you know the woman in the post office was Deaf and/or signed?

  18. I'm hearing and I just started reading your blog. My cousin has some deaf friends and, though I'm usually very accepting and I KNOW there's no difference between us, I get kind of nervous when I'm around them. For me, it's because I don't want to offend them accidentally. I also have this habit of moving around while I talk so, though they can lipread, I'm afraid I'll turn my head or something and they'll miss what I said. I don't mean to start a fight or dignify how those people act around you; I'm just telling you my own personal problem. Anyway, I think you're really funny and I love readying your blog.

  19. Anonymous, I thank you for your honest post. I wish this attitude did not exist among hearing people, but I know that it does. Obviously, I've experienced the results first-hand.

    You said that you have "this habit of moving around while I talk, so, though they can lipread, I'm afraid I'll turn my head or something and they'll miss what I said."

    First, I do hope you know that not all deaf people can lipread (me begin one of them). However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try. Even the worst of us guess right once in a while.

    If you're speaking with a Deaf or HOH person, and you know this about yourself (that you tend to move around), why can't you consciously put forth the effort to *not* do that for one conversation? It's not like it's a physically tic that you can't control. If you're speaking with someone who lipreads, keep telling yourself to look at them, don't cover your mouth, and be clear. It shouldn't be so hard to do it once in a while. But you have to *want* to do it. You have to *want* to have a conversation with that person and get to know them. Maybe the fact is that you don't really want to or care either way. Maybe?

    Regardless, it's nice of you to post and your refreshing honesty is wonderful! Thank you, too, for the compliments on my blog. :vD I hope you post again!!

  20. I don't think people are afraid of you as much as they feel embarrassed that they don't know how to communicate with you..of course, all they have to do is shake your hand and smile and welcome you, but maybe they feel they should be doing something more and feel very insecure because they can't. People don't like to feel uncomfortable, and most will do anything to avoid it.

  21. Coledean71, I totally get that, but I'm also SO tired of being mistreated or ignored to save other people a bit of discomfort. It gets old and it's very rude.