My Child, My Interpreter

by Tina Blue
July 15, 2003

          In one of her essays for the e-zine to the deaf/hard of hearing website I like to hang out at (to visit the message board to that site, click here; to visit the e-zine, click here) "Jo," one of the site's hostesses, says she wonders how many hearing-impaired people use their children as interpreters out in the wide world, as she says she does.

          My guess would be all of us. 

          And it's not just our kids, either.  We use friends that way, too.  In fact, we probably press anyone we know into service when some cashier or waitress or some receptionist at a doctor's office mumbles at us.

          It's interesting that my own two children (both now in their early twenties) make little effort to accommodate my hearing impairment when we are conversing at home or on the phone. And yet when we are in a store or some other public place, I automatically turn to them when someone says something I don't understand, and they always repeat it clearly enough for me to catch it the first time.

          Obviously, then, they can speak so that I can understand them.  But when we are alone together, they seem to consider it too much of an inconvenience to make the attempt.

          I wonder about the psychological dynamics involved.

          I think that it might be, at least partly, family solidarity in the face of strangers.  I am their mother.  When someone puts me at a disadvantage in public, perhaps they instinctively leap to my rescue.

          Or maybe it's a matter of personal embarrassment.  Interpreting for me the instant I miss something means that they will get me out of there right away, and thus suffer a minimum of embarrassment themselves from watching this woman they are obviously with ask for several repetitions of whatever has been said to her.

          A lot of hearing-impaired people I know say the same thing happens with their families.  Even though their spouses, children, parents, or siblings are often appallingly thoughtless when conversing with them at home, as if they just cannot learn to make the most basic accommodations for the person with hearing problems, out in the world, they become surprisingly effective interpreters.

          Well, I am always grateful for the help I get from my kids when we are out in public. I just wish they would communicate that effectively with me when we are at home.


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