7 Questions You’ve Always Wanted to Ask a Deaf Person

September 5, 2019 BY JACLYN LAZZARI
Updated: June 1, 2021

Happy National Deaf Awareness Month!

Spreading awareness and advocating for people with disabilities is a worthy cause year-round. However, September is a time of year where we can dedicate ourselves to increasing awareness around Deaf issues, culture, and people. That’s why this month we’re sharing content about real individual’s experiences with being deaf.

In this post for National Deaf Awareness Month, you’ll learn thoughts on the deaf experience from past Faces Behind the Screen interviewees, all of whom are deaf or hard of hearing.

This month, we hope to focus on learning more about the Deaf community and culture, Deaf history, and the experiences and stories of people who are deaf.

What is the best way to communicate with a person who is deaf if I don’t know sign language?

Matt Maxey

Deaf people really just want to be a part of the hearing world, too. They want to communicate. So, they will figure it out by any means necessary. Whether it’s typing into a phone, whether it’s writing down, whether it’s teaching you how to sign the absolute basics, just to get the message across, they will put in the effort to communicate 95% of the time…With the hearing community, a lot of [people] are so scared to make that jump and actually just try to have a conversation instead of freezing up and stopping once you hear, “Oh, he’s deaf? She’s deaf? Oh, I’m sorry.” What are you sorry about? It’s the reality. We’re cool with it. You can be cool with it, too.Matt Maxey

Matt Maxey is the founder of DEAFinitely Dope, an ASL interpreter and performance group helping deaf and hard-of-hearing fans enjoy live music.

What is it like to have your words translated by an interpreter?

Nia from Faces Behind the Screen

It’s been a new experience for me to use interpreters to speak because that means I have to give that trust to interpreters. And I have to learn that it’s not a big deal. And yeah, I believe that interpreters are very qualified and they’ll do a good job. And at first, it felt odd. It did. But now it’s part of my identity, part of who I am, and part of my language.Nia

Nia is Deaf, and moved to Boston to study Deaf education at Boston University. She has a strong interest in both languages and traveling. She’s studied languages, linguistics and Italian at Georgetown University, and is fluent in ASL, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

How do deaf people listen to music?

Nico DiMarco

The song “Yeah!” by Usher is a song I often listen to. I can pick up on when he says “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” without reading the lyrics because it’s an easy rhythm. I have no idea what he’s saying in the rest of the lyrics, so I have to memorize and study them. I put the volume on max so that I can try my best to hear very little sound. Most of it is bass that I can hear. Many people around me can hear [my music] from my headphones because they’re on so loud. People complain about the noise all the time. When my mom bought the entertainment system with subwoofers, the neighbors complained immediately.Nico DiMarco

Nico DiMarco is a successful DJ with a passion for music. He was born deaf and comes from four generations of deaf family members.

What do you wish that other people could understand about your experience?

Rebecca Alexander

Oftentimes when people publish stories about me and Usher syndrome, the first thing that they say is, ‘Rebecca Alexander is being robbed of her vision and hearing.’ [They’ll say] ‘People who suffer from Usher syndrome.’ Certainly, there is a lot of suffering involved. Life is suffering. We are all suffering in some form. But to be honest, going both deaf and blind, I feel like I have a much more fulfilling and meaningful life than many people who are fully sighted and [have] full hearing. The last thing I want from people is pity. The last thing I want from people is to see me as suffering.Rebecca Alexander

Rebecca Alexander is an author, psychotherapist, fitness instructor, and keynote speaker. She’s summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, earned two master degrees from Columbia University, and wrote a memoir titled Not Fade Away. Rebecca is almost completely deaf and blind due to a condition called Usher Syndrome.

What’s the best thing about being deaf?

Aaron Pagan

Definitely the culture. The culture is like no other…There’s something about being in a deaf community that is like nothing else. Like, sure, we all have our differences with whatever, but we all can always communicate effectively. And that’s not an everyday thing for all of us. So when we are together, it’s like home, like a whole other level of confidence, a whole other level of feeling involved, feeling like you can participate.

I just really admire the deaf community most of all. How people stick together as well, it’s very heartwarming — I just love the community.Aaron Pagan

Aaron Pagan is an Account Manager at Purple Communications. He is deaf and is an accessibility advocate for people with disabilities.

Can all Deaf people read lips?

Jessica Flores

There are so many crazy myths [about Deaf people] out there. I think my top “favorite” one is, “All Deaf people can lip-read.”

I remember when I first was asked if all Deaf people could do that and I was like, “Uhmm… Can you even lip-read? Oh, you can’t? Because it’s hard right?”

I think it’s funny how easy some people think lip reading is until they’ve actually tried it themselves. Then after they’ve tried it they are like, “Oh wow, this is WAY harder than I thought.Jessica Flores

Jessica Flores creates YouTube videos to help hearing people understand what it’s like to be a Deaf or hard of hearing person living in a hearing world.

What do music and voices sound like with a cochlear implant?

Donna Sorkin

Do cochlear implants provide someone with the same clarity of sound that you have? No, they do not. If you were to ask me exactly how it differs, I really can’t tell you because it’s been so long. What happens with a cochlear implant is that, over time, your brain learns to process the sound that it’s getting. You become more adept at filling in the gaps. There is a saying that “You hear with your brain. Your ears are just the way in.” That, in fact, describes the process of hearing.

You may have heard people describe the first experience that they had listening to sound with their newly activated cochlear implant. It is not uncommon for someone to describe the sound as robotic, or like Mickey Mouse. That’s because it’s a different signal than the brain is accustomed to getting, and it takes time for the brain to learn that sound. Over time, it does learn, and you do get better at using the sound.
Donna Sorkin

Donna Sorkin is the Executive Director of the American Cochlear Implant Alliance. She grew up with nearly normal hearing, but over the years, her hearing began to decline. When she was 39, Donna received a cochlear implant which completely transformed the trajectory of her life.

Happy National Deaf Awareness Month! Learn more about the Deaf community, culture, and people from the Faces Behind the Screen storytelling project.


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