Top 10 misconceptions about Deaf people you need to know
Updated: Aug 20
With more than 10 million people living with some level of hearing loss in Pakistan, it is unfortunate that so many of us from the hearing world still remain blissfully unaware of their culture and tend to make wild assumptions about them.
So, today, let’s dive deeper into some of these misconceptions and learn to let them go!
1. All sign language is the same around the world
Just like the variety of spoken languages around the world, such as English, French, Spanish, there are also many forms and dialects of sign languages.
There are around 130 variations of it worldwide, with almost every country having one or more different versions. For example, there is Pakistani Sign Language (PSL), British Sign Language (BSL), French Sign Language.
All of these variations of sign language do have some similarities between them, but each one is unique in their own way!
2. All Deaf people are the same
If only hearing loss was simple enough to have one cause, one type and one restorative.
Hearing loss happens to be one of the most complex health conditions that has no definitive or preventable restorative. There are various degrees of hearing loss, which acts on every person differently.
So, how can you correctly refer to a person with some level of hearing loss?
Deaf (with an uppercase ‘D’) refers to people who have been deaf all their lives, or since before they started to learn how to talk. They are pre-lingually deaf, and communicate almost exclusively in sign language as their first language.
deaf (with a lowercase ‘d’) refers to anyone who has a severe hearing loss. It is sometimes also used to identify people who are severely hard of hearing too.
Hard of hearing describes a person with a hearing loss who relies on residual hearing to communicate through speaking and speech-reading.
Hearing-impaired is a general term used to describe anyone with any degree of hearing loss, from a mild hearing loss to profound deafness.
3. Deaf people cannot drive
The simple answer is: Of course they can! It is actually a common, worldwide misconception that Deaf people can’t drive.
It is true that we need good senses to drive. And that we should be able to know when a car is honking or when a police car and ambulance are making sirens.
But a hearing test is not a necessary condition to obtain a driver’s license as being able to see is far more important than being able to hear when it comes to navigating the roads.
Deaf people adopt various ways to defeat this:
They use electronic devices in their cars that alert them, using a lighted panel, to sounds coming from outside the vehicle.
They pay attention to visual cues, such as the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle or cues from other drivers on the road. For instance, noticing other drivers move to the side of the road is an indicator that an emergency vehicle is approaching.
Even statistically speaking, Deaf people have fewer accidents than hearing people. That is because they may have a limited sense of hearing, but they are far more visually aware and cautious of their surroundings at all times.
So, basically, you’re in way safer hands sitting in a car with a deaf person driving than you are with a hearing person.
In fact, did you know? In Sindh, Pakistan, Deaf people won the right to gain a driving license to drive for the first time and ConnectHear was there to support them too.
4. Hearing aids completely restore hearing loss
People tend to think that hearing aids behave the same way power glasses do. You wear your specs, and POOF. You can finally see through everything like you just gained X-ray vision.
Even though hearing aids do benefit some people with hearing loss, this is not really the case with them. The degree to which they help depends on the person and their specific type of hearing loss.
Hearing aids enable people to hear sound, understand speech, and enjoy things like music and the sound of nature. And while it replaces most of the hearing that was once lost, it is not a perfect recreation.
The most important thing to note here is that hearing aids are a form of treatment and not a cure for hearing loss. You can’t just pop in a hearing aid and instantly, be able to hear the same way a hearing person does.
5. Deaf people can lip-read
It’s true that people with hearing loss will focus more on reading people’s lips, and it’s a vital skill for them to have, but lip reading is a difficult task to accomplish.
After all, we all know someone who speaks as fast as this man here:
It is extremely difficult to catch everything someone is saying by simply watching their lips for a number of various reasons:
It requires good eyesight.
It is impossible to lip-read in the dark or when someone is mumbling.
Some letters are mouthed out in the same manner such as ‘b’ and ‘p’ and so, some words are likely to be misinterpreted and unclear.
In case the other person is wearing a mask or has their mouth covered, lip-reading here is virtually impossible.
Accents, beards and moustaches also make the practice more difficult.
Some deaf individuals are better at lip-reading than others and are able to identify different lip patterns, but it is beyond one to be absolutely perfect at it and rely on it as a form of communication with the hearing world.
6. The Deaf can’t listen to music
We all know a stereotypical notion that goes around that music can only be heard and therefore, can only be appreciated by hearing people.
It’s quite a surprise for people to learn that deaf people not only enjoy music, they can also sing as well as play instruments. Many deaf people have also led successful careers as composers and musical performers. Remember the famous pianist and composer, Beethoven? He composed some of his greatest musical works even though he was almost completely deaf, and whose music has continued to live on for generations.
The experience of sound is different for so many people, including those with all degrees of deafness. Music is very multi-sensory, which is why deaf people are able to feel the vibrations produced by the music being played and consume those vibrations through their body.
The humming sound produced by picking a bass string or the boom of the drums can be felt very easily by them. The lyrics evoke different types of feelings, and the combination of vibrations and lyrics is how deaf people enjoy music.
It’s just a different experience. Sure, they can’t hear exactly what hearing people do, but that doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate music and enjoy themselves at concerts the way we do.
7. Hearing loss only occurs in old people
In our society, we tend to believe that old people are the only ones who can experience hearing loss because, well, because they are old.
But this is so far from the truth!
People can be born deaf or even acquire hearing loss afterwards because of various illnesses, and you can begin experiencing sensorineural hearing loss (which occurs when the hair cells are damaged) at any age. Common causes of sensorineural hearing loss can include long-term exposure to loud sounds, genetics, diseases, and injuries to the head.
In fact, absolutely anyone can develop sensorineural hearing loss.
Older adults are not the only ones that experience hearing loss, and this belief causes many people in the deaf community to go undiagnosed because they think they’re too young to have hearing loss.
Getting your hearing checked frequently is something we must all do in order to ensure that we don’t have a condition that we possess unknowingly.
8. Deafness is genetic
Right off the bat: this is rarely not the case. Although there are types of deafness that are genetic, not all instances of deafness is related to genetics.
There is actually no proven scientific study that establishes that all deaf people have genetic features that cause them to become deaf.
There are two types of permanent hearing loss: congenital and acquired.
Congenital hearing loss is present from birth, though not all of these cases are genetic.
9. Deaf people are not as intelligent as people who can hear
Repeat after me: The ability to hear has no relation to intelligence.
The inability to hear affects neither intelligence nor the physical ability to learn and perform everyday functions, so deaf people are as capable as those who can hear.
In fact, this misconception has caused deaf people to have a lack of educational and job opportunities available to them because the hearing world holds this negative view that deaf people aren’t very smart.
It’s actually offensive and demeaning to assume deaf people are not intelligent.
Besides, just because you can hear does not in any way mean that you are bound to be superior to a deaf person in any way, shape or form.
After all, not everything out there is worth listening to.
10. Talking louder or shouting at people with hearing loss helps them understand you better
DO. NOT. SCREAM.
No matter how loud you talk, if the other person has severe enough hearing loss, they won’t be able to understand what you are saying.
Hearing aids are there to make sounds and voices clearer and to limit background noise. If you start talking louder at someone with hearing loss, it will just appear to them like you’re shouting at them.
If a deaf person who can lip-read asks you to repeat yourself, it’s mostly because they weren’t able to clearly pick out what you were saying, not that they had an issue with the low tone of your voice.
So, just face them, speak naturally and at a comfortable pace, be telling with your expressions, and while speaking up, make sure your words are clearer without slowing down or greatly adjusting your tone or speed.