Deaf Awareness Month 

Alexandra van Stelten

More than 5% of the world’s population is deaf or has hearing loss. September is the International Month for Deaf People, and it is time to show your support by learning more about the deaf culture and South African Sign Language (SASL).

A person who is “hard of hearing” has hearing loss and struggles to hear sounds the way other people do. This condition can be improved with a cochlear implant or hearing aid. However, not everyone qualifies for or chooses to use these devices. Deaf people make use of lip-reading and sign language to communicate.

The use of face masks as a method to prevent the spread of the corona virus, causes deaf people to struggle. Face masks muffle sounds and make it impossible to see facial expressions and to lip-read.

How can we make communication easier for people with hearing loss? Be patient. If someone does not reply to you, do not assume they are being rude and are ignoring you. More often than not, they cannot hear you. First try to speak louder and more clearly. If they still cannot hear you, stand closer and write things down when necessary. You can also make use of a speech-to-text app, such as “Google Live Transcribe” or “Signly”.

Like any new language, SASL is difficult to learn, but you can start by learning how to sign numbers, letters, and basic phrases. You do not have to be fluent in SASL to accommodate deaf people. Using your hands more when you talk, can be helpful because simple gestures are easily understood.

The deaf community has its own way of life, known as deaf culture. This consists of their shared social beliefs, behaviours, art, traditions, history, values, and sign language. It is important to educate yourself about their culture, so that you can be more caring and inclusive towards the deaf people.

Do not treat deaf people differently. They do not consider deafness as a disability because they have their own ways of listening and communicating.

  1. King Jordan said, “Deaf people can do anything except hear.”