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Working with hearing impairment

By: Kimanta Moodley (Intern Educational Psychologist)

This blog topic is one that speaks to my heart and soul… Working with the d/Deaf community has been something that I fell into by chance. It all started when I was at University and I needed to carry a course while I was on the waiting list for Sociology. It was my first year at University and the options of what course to choose from seemed endless. Alas, I saw a d/Deaf man (who turned out to be one of my lecturers that year) with his interpreter signing to one another. It literally stopped me in my tracks and I thought to myself, imagine if I could sign, how cool would that be? I signed up immediately and still thought to myself that this was just a ‘filler’ course while I waited to be placed for Sociology. This of course never happened. I ended up getting my Honours in South African Sign Language! It literally changed the way I saw people, d/Deaf people in particular. Without ever having studied about the d/Deaf community, engaged with them and learned about their culture, I would perhaps have always felt pity for d/Deaf people or over enunciate had I ever come into contact with a d/Deaf person.

“Deaf people can do anything that hearing people can do, except hear…”

My perspective obviously changed and I was able to be open to learning that people with a hearing impairment are just people! They have varying levels of hearing loss and choose different ways in which to express themselves. There are people who are regarded as being profoundly deaf and these people are often associated with a lowercase d. It is often the lowercase deaf that is viewed more from a medical perspective as the hearing loss is seen as something that can be treated by means of some type of amplification device such as hearing aid or a cochlear implant. This will enable, in certain cases the person to make use of their residual hearing. Another way that people can be viewed is with an uppercase D. Deaf people who associate with this prefer to be acknowledged as a linguistic and cultural minority group where sign language is their primary means of communication and their culture as being a Deaf Culture.

It is important for individuals working with the d/Deaf community to be aware of the differences. It is also important to be aware that d/Deaf individuals experience the world in a similar manner to how a hearing individual does, just that their means become more visual. Also, there are a rare amount of professionals in the field who are able to work with and help the d/Deaf community due to a variety of reasons, one of the many reasons being language. In South Africa, along with many other countries in the world, the d/Deaf population is often classed at a minority language group. Some countries have recognized and implemented sign language as one of the official languages of the country, however in South African, Sign Language is not recognized as the 12th official language and its usage in schools for the d/Deaf and institutions working with d/Deaf people are not always implemented.

From my learning about the d/Deaf community, there are a higher percentage of d/Deaf babies born into hearing families (90-95%). This means that most of the time, the birth of a d/Deaf baby to hearing parents is often a shock and a surprise. Some parents are emotionally able to work through the fact that their baby cannot hear and will find other means to communicate, either by learning sign language and sending their baby to a school for the d/Deaf or signing and speaking to the baby as they grow. However, not all parents are able to accept this and emotionally it can be quite challenging for parents to accept and deal with. Further complications come in when parents will not accept the deafness and will keep trying to fix it. The emotional consequence of not learning in a language that is most accessible to anyone is vast. For a child who is identified as being deaf when they are 7 or 8 years old, is already very late for language development and the emotional impact of placing a child of that age in grade 1, with no language is difficult. One such difficulty to consider is the possibility of the child being bullied for being older than everyone else. Another example is the possible feeling of being excluded when conversations are happening, either at the dinner table or listening to news from the radio in in passing conversation. In these instances, if there is no member of the family who can sign, the d/Deaf child often does not get the information that is being exchanged in spoken language and they are left out. Emotional difficulties that are frequently attached to d/Deaf people are feelings of frustration, isolation, exclusion, depression and anxiety as they are often left feeling quite misunderstood.

In light of the above, it is important to keep the following in mind – sign language is a visually-based language. This means that there are non-verbal behaviours such as facial expressions, eye contact and body movements when communicating with a d/Deaf individual. Also, if the use of an interpreter is made, the person should still communicate and speak to the d/Deaf person as they would a hearing person. They should try to avoid over-enunciating their words or speaking to the interpreter. They should try to speak to the d/Deaf person directly, maintaining eye contact and allowing the interpreter to make the connections between signed and spoken language.

 “No-one is as Deaf as the man who will not listen…”

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