April 11, 2010

Permanent Foreign Visitor

Being in a foreign country where another language other than my own is used primarily, made me think about what it must be like to be severely-profoundly deaf and rely primarily on sign language. You always feel left out (when in the company of non-signers). It makes it difficult to communicate on a daily basis with people who don't use your language. However, most signing people with deafness can write or read in the language used by the majority. At least they have that. Some can lip read, but it has been said that really good lip readers usually get only 30% of what is said.

Overall, it is not a comfortable experience.

The thing about being a severely-profoundly deaf sign language user, you can't move to another country or a large area where everyone uses sign language. It is as if you are a permanent foreign visitor in any country you choose to live. If you speak French and only want to communicate in French you can move to France or parts of Africa and other countries where French is the primary language.

For a person with deafness who relies on signs, anywhere he or she goes in the world, the majority will not sign. I understand the desire for signing deaf communities and Deaf Culture.

But with the fast growing amazing technology and instant access to information, the gap between individuals with deafness and individuals with typical hearing will hopefully lessen.

Do some of you feel like a permanent foreign visitor in your country? 



  1. When I wore hearing aids and used my voice, I definitely felt like I was a foreign visitor. Even though I could hear and speak English, I missed out on A LOT. In some ways, I think it was even worse because people expected me to understand them, and when I couldn't, they got frustrated.

    When I went to Gallaudet University, I finally felt like I was in my own country. Yes, the whole world does not sign, but they don't speak English either. I now feel like I live in my own country, now that I know how to surround myself with friends and family who sign. I've also learned how to communicate better (paper and pen) with hearing people and it's ironically so much better because the communication is much clearer, and they don't get upset when I don't understand something they said.

  2. Yes, it's like that when a Deaf person goes into a community like Gallaudet or NTID where everybody else signs. It's like coming home, where it is comfortable, normalized, and in tune with oneself. It is where one is not invisible.

    I wonder if people who are proud not to need sign language or who are completely mainstreamed know about this. I wonder if their parents who determinedly kept them away from signs since infancy know how relaxed and enriching this environment is.

    They are there, in increasing numbers due to the resurgence of oralism in the shape of CIs and AVT theory. A few more now are "successful" than there used to be. However, they are missing out on something important.

  3. If you go to a foreign country and want to live, work, and integrate there, then logic tells you, you need to learn the language to get optimum access to it. While it would be great if that country's residents all learnt yours, again logic tells us this doesn't happen all that often. The disadvantage with deaf is they have no means to access a spoken language effectively, unless they have implants or, are born hearing first and have an affinity or still speaking advantage. I think attitude will go a longer way than an acceptance you can't fit in because.... If you think you can't hack it, you won't.


Keep it civil.