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To the Lifeguard Who Didn't Realize I'm Deaf

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As long as you don’t talk to me or know me, I can easily pass for someone without any disability. But if you try to strike up a conversation with me, I may give you a blank look, ask you to repeat yourself, or say something completely out of context and possibly rude because I have no idea what you’re trying to say to me. I’m deaf with a lowercase d, but I probably won’t tell you that. I’ll just try to guess what you’re saying or what you want and get flustered in the process.

This happened recently at the public swimming pool in my town. We’d forgotten to bring facial sunscreen, which doesn’t sting if it gets in my eyes the way regular sunscreen does. But since we didn’t have any, and the sun was beating down, I put regular sunscreen on my face and of course it got in my eye. My mom and I were sitting by the edge of the pool with our feet in the water when this happened, and I took the towel she had under her elbows and pressed it to my eye while laying down. At some point my mom got up and since I had my eyes closed and couldn’t hear her, I didn’t know. But a few minutes later, I felt myself being poked and looked up to see my mom and a lifeguard standing over me staring.

I didn’t think; I just reacted. In what I’m sure was my usual overly loud voice, I took a certain Christian figure’s name in vain and then said something about how “I guess it’s illegal to lay next to a pool.” Then I got up and stalked off to sit in our chairs instead. My mom did damage control with the lifeguard, as she’s done ever since I was little, and then explained to me that I’d been lying in an odd position and the lifeguard thought I had passed out or something.

I know it’s not you, Mr. Lifeguard, it’s me. I know there are different ways I could have handled that situation. I know I didn’t need to get frustrated. I know you were just doing your job. Do I wish I had reacted differently? Yes.

If I could redo that moment, I would have said something like this, “I’m sorry, I’m deaf. What is the problem?” That’s all I should have said. Or you know, I could have said nothing at all, since I’m deaf and I shouldn’t be talking if I can’t hear. Talking is a two way street. If I talk, others want to respond verbally too even if I can’t process what they’re saying. Sometimes I feel like it’s better to say nothing at all.

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Originally published: June 29, 2017
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