How much empathy do you honestly feel for the way disabled people live their lives and cope on a day to day basis?
As many of you know, I'm a CODA and I understand all too well the silent world. Both my parents are profoundly deaf and they communicate through sign language. I am constantly campaigning to raise deaf awareness - in my personal life and also in my job as Digital Campaigner at Deaf Umbrella.
Whilst considering a new topic for our latest blog post, I decided that it could be useful for our readers to play a game...
Have you ever thought about what your life would be like if you were born deaf, what things do you think would be different in your life?
I would love to encourage you to try this:
Before starting, are you in a quiet place? You could be on the Jubilee Line reading this or somewhere equally noisy, and I really need you to be 100% focused on what I'm trying to say.
Now imagine that you cannot hear; not a single word, not the smallest noise, not your favourite song or your mobile tone. Absolutely nothing at all!
If you are currently in a busy environment with people laughing loudly, children crying or traffic noises surrounding you, you might feel relieved... But don't forget that this feeling will make you feel suddenly isolated too.
If you are completely focused on this article, you probably have suddenly felt this feeling. You might have had a look around you trying to remember that you are only doing an exercise and everything is still fine with your own hearing. However, I am asking you to try and re-capture this feeling of total silence. This will make the rest of your senses working at full stretch.
Now we can really begin…
Your eyes will quickly look for the control panel of the tube to see what's the next station.
Your sense of smell will let you know that there is someone that has chosen chicken curry for lunch today.
Suddenly you realise that your latte macchiato features more foam than usual.
Are you really feeling that "that" caress was deeper and warmly than you thought…
Yes, your senses have been raised. The lack of a sense improves the others and gives you a different perspective of the world and things surrounding you.
This isn’t a Hollywood movie special effect – this is Science!
The human brain is divided into 6 main areas: the frontal, parietal, occipital, temporal, limbic lobes and the insular cortex and our five senses are detected and processed by these sections.
When you don't have some of your senses, the brain will rely on other information sources to make sense of the world around you.
It might sound cool, but remember that you are still technically hearing nothing, and it will make you feel isolated...
Imagine that you are coming into your classroom or office... You can see all these faces you know, you smile, they smile you back and they keep talking in groups.
You take a seat between them and try to catch up with the chat. If the conversation is a fast pace, you cannot keep up…. they sometimes speak all at once, or cover their mouths while speaking, or eat a bit of cookie at the same time... There is no way to understand them so you ask -
“Hey, what's funny? What are you laughing at?”
“Err... well... it doesn't matter...” is the reply.
Obviously, it was a joke in the moment and explaining after the event would lose the meaning and effect…
There you go – you are instantly cut out of this social situation.
Now imagine you are working at your office. During the morning staff meeting they say that the printer is not working properly and they ask the staff to use the second floor printer until they fix it.
They consider that it is not relevant to add it to the printed agenda - surely everybody knows it already; they have been told?!
They didn't realise that you didn't receive this update as you can’t hear and were concentrating on the printed notes.
After that meeting you print some documents... Ink everywhere!!
“What happened?!” you ask…
“We said not to use that printer!” comes the angry and frustrated response.
You sigh... was it really too difficult to write it down?
How do you feel? Has that feeling of social isolation kicked in yet? You're doing very well, so keep focused and let's try the last example.
Let's go to the gym. Before your spinning class you go to the changing room. Fire alarm starts beeping and everybody run away.
You go out and…. what happened? There is nobody in the gym! Where is everyone?
Moment of panic!
Don't worry, everything is OK. It was a false alarm... this time maybe!!
Has nobody heard about luminous alarms?
There are many more situations that will place you at a disadvantaged or even more dangerous position than your contemporaries.
Most of the time, people won't even realise that you cannot hear. Don't forget that deafness is an invisible disability.
You will start fighting for your rights; for a subtitled film at the cinema, for accessible content, for a job opportunity... Unfortunately, sometimes it will be a hard and often lonely path...
How did you feel?
I'm not wishing to preach you or make a point… this is merely an exercise in realisation.
All the examples were real, but you only had to imagine these situations, not to go through them in reality – only in your own mind.
These were some of the many struggles deaf and hard of hearing people must face day by day.
As I said I'm always working to raise deaf awareness.
I do it with my Spanish deaf channel InfoSordos.com, with infographics like this (download here) and I think this was a different way to engender empathy.
I really hope it helped!
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