Deaf Power

by Tina Blue
January 1, 2002

          Remember the rallying cry for the Black Power movement in the 60's and 70's?

          Say it loud!  I'm Black, I'm proud!

          Well, I think we deaf and hard of hearing people need to take a lesson from them.  We need to start asserting ourselves instead of allowing others to walk all over us just because we can't hear.

          For some reason, people with normal hearing feel justified in behaving with astonishing rudeness toward those who are hearing-impaired.  Even customer-service people, whose jobs depend on their polite handling of their employers' clientele,  consider the hearing-impaired to be fair game.  I have heard of people being snarled at and even yelled at over the phone by customer-service representatives, or by clerks and cashiers in stores.

          In fact, I have had to deal with a few such situations myself.

          Let me give you an example.

          Some time ago our local grocery story installed new computerized scanners.  The old ones sat where a normal cash register would sit, and the numbers on the screen were large and easy to read.  But the new ones have much smaller screens (with much smaller numbers), and the screen is mounted about three feet above the cashier's head.  As a result, it is no longer possible for me to read my total from the screen, and I have to wait for the cashier to tell me how much I need to pay for my groceries.

          Of course, almost all of the cashiers are high school and college students, so mumbling is their normal mode of speech.  I always have to say, "I'm sorry.  I am very hard of hearing.  Would you mind repeating that total for me?"  Usually the adolescent at the register is cooperative, so I seldom have to ask more than once for a repeat.

          But several months ago one young man, perhaps twenty years old, continued to mumble and turn his head toward a co-worker (evidently to register his disgust) every time he repeated my total.  I had to ask him several times how much I owed, and his recalcitrance was causing the line to grow behind me, at a time when the store was very busy and people were obviously in a hurry.

          The third time I asked him to repeat my total more clearly, he sighed and rolled his eyes theatrically, to demonstrate how
annoying I was to him.

          Big mistake.

          I slapped my hand down on the counter, leaned forward, and hissed, "Young man, I will have your apology, or I will have your job!"

          He was obviously amazed.  Middle-aged deaf women are supposed to be doormats, easy to score points off of.  They are not supposed to assert dominance over smart-alecky adolescent males!

          After he caught his breath, he mumbled what was probably an apology.  But since I couldn't hear it well enough to be sure, I demanded that he speak more clearly.  He did, and I said, "Fine.  Now, if you will tell me my total in the same voice, I can pay my bill and get out of here."

          As I left, there was a smattering of applause from the line that had piled up behind me while I grappled with that snotty cashier.  I don't know whether some of my "fans" were also hearing-impaired, or whether they just enjoyed seeing the little twerp taken down a peg or two.  Maybe it was some of both.

          I never saw him again at the store.  Perhaps he quit.  Frankly, I hope he got fired.  Either way, I suspect he will think twice before giving attitude to another deaf person.
          Every time I face someone down for such rudeness, I am doing it not just for myself, but for all of us.

          I think we who are deaf or hard of hearing need to be a bit more demanding--and a lot less self-conscious about being hearing-impaired.  We should not be embarrassed to say, "I'm deaf," or "I'm hard of hearing," and we should not feel guilty about asking others to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate our handicap.

          So say it loud! I'm deaf, I'm proud!

          Um, excuse me--Would you mind saying that a bit louder?  You see, I'm deaf. . . .
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