When a Stranger Said 'But, You Don't Look Deaf'

Have you ever noted your hearing loss for an airline and had them show up with a wheelchair? Or requested a transcript of an audio guide at a museum and gotten something in Braille? When I hear stories like this, I always shake my head in amazement at how uninformed people are about hearing loss, and wonder what we, the hearing loss community, can do to better educate them.

But what about when this type of behavior comes from someone who should know better — someone who has an immediate family member with profound hearing loss? It is harder to know how to respond.

Recently I attended an open captioned performance event for people with hearing loss. At intermission, I was gushing about the captions to my husband, and the gentleman seated behind me must have overheard. “Why are you so enamored of the captions?” he asked. I was excited to have the opportunity to sing the praises of the open captions and help build awareness about hearing loss. I told him that I have a hearing loss and the captions help me catch the dialogue I might otherwise have missed. They really help me enjoy attending the theater.

“But, you don’t look deaf,” he said to me. “Do you even wear hearing aids?” “I do,” I replied, “Two.” Then I turned away to talk with some other folks I knew at the show. Later, the man engaged me again. He wanted to know if I was here with these other people. They didn’t look deaf either. And we certainly all spoke too clearly to have significant hearing problems.

I was starting to get annoyed. Didn’t he understand that someone can’t look deaf? People with hearing issues are young and old, of every race, religion and creed. We don’t look a certain way. We just can’t hear. Despite my irritation, I decided to keep talking with him to help break down the misperceptions people have about people with hearing loss.

Eventually he came clean. It turned out this man had firsthand experience with hearing loss. His brother was born deaf and had battled significant issues with stigma while growing up. He had a tough time in school both academically and socially. It made his life very difficult. Only recently had things improved for his brother, when he received a cochlear implant at age 65.

I started to have more sympathy for this man. Maybe he was just angry at the people who had mistreated his brother growing up, or perhaps he was jealous of our group of people with hearing loss who were happily enjoying a night at the theater — something his brother probably never got to do.

My takeaway from this experience — I feel gratitude for how much things have improved for people with hearing loss over the past 25 years. But it also shows how much work remains to be done.

Readers, do you “look deaf?”

A version of this post first appeared on LivingWithHearingLoss.com.

Follow Living With Hearing Loss on Facebook and Twitter

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Deafness

Hearing aids.

A 'Quick-Start Guide' to Understanding My Hearing Loss

Recently, I have been focusing on improving my self-advocacy skills, including finding ways I can advocate for myself and explain my hearing loss experience to my friends and the people whom I interact with every day. Sometimes I wish I could write a “quick-start guide,” like the instructions you receive when you purchase a new [...]
Fingers touching.

Why I Believe Language Acquisition Bills Should Include All Options for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

I believe true inclusion is to accept people’s right to choose things for themselves. The utopian vision for disability rights is that there wouldn’t even be a debate about “right” or “wrong” in regards to ableism because people would be accepted as they are, not based on what communication choices they made. Shafik Asante makes [...]
ASL I Love you pillow - American Sign Language.

6 American Sign Language Gift Ideas for Babies and Children

Do you still have some holiday shopping to do? If you have a deaf child, a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), or a hearing child with or without disabilities whom you want to teach how to sign, these gift ideas would be great. My CODA daughter, Coral would have loved these gifts when she was [...]
Deaf couple signing.

5 Things I Never Told My Friends About My Hearing Loss

I was diagnosed with moderate hearing loss when I was in my third year of college. It felt like just another thing on top of a bad health sundae. I was not a stranger to hearing loss, as I was studying American Sign Language and had been for over a year. However, that didn’t change [...]