Thursday, June 21, 2012

Deafblind Awareness week: Fun with Pronouns and other randomness

Many people who have never spoken to a deafblind person through the use of relay service or an interpreter may feel rather flustered when they have a conversation ith someone who is deafblind. They want to have a conversation, but it seems intimidating and they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. This is actually a simple process and if you keep these simple rules in mind, you should do fine.
The first thing to remember is that the interpreter or relay communications operator is there for one purpose-- to facilitate communication for a person who is deaf blind. Just pretend they aren't there. This means using the correct pronouns. If you say "Does she want a morning or afternoon appointment?" the operator or interpreter will say exactly that, and I will look at you funny. Talk directly to the deafblind person, just like you would anybody else. "Do you want a morning, or afternoon appointment?"

Talk at a normal speed, at normal volume. The communication facilitator will tell you if they need you to slow down, or speak louder. Look at the deafblind person when you talk to them. Understand that there may be a slight delay while the message is being relayed.

Understand that the interpreter or relay operator will relay *everything*. This means, if you get a phone call from a person who is deafblind, and you turn to your coworker and say: "It's one of those stupid deaf people, can you take this call? I hate this sh*t." This conversation will be relayed to the deafblind person and you will look like a rude jackass. Same thing with an interpreter. If you whisper behind your hands and point at me, I will know about it. If you try to sneak pets of my service dog, when I have asked you to ignore her, I will know about that, too. If you sound pissed off that you have to talk to me, the communication facilitator will tell me. Treat me just like you would a sighted/hearing person. Maybe you are just consistently rude to everyone, but that has not been my experience. People say things about me, or too me, that they would never say if I were hearing. They make gestures at me, or try to do things that they'd never do if I could see. Then when I call them on it, they feel really stupid, angry and embarrassed.

If you are a business owner, you are required by law to take relay calls. There is no excuse valid enough to exempt you from the law. People have gone to court and have won against businesses who will not take relay calls. If you are a business owner, train your employees to be educated about this. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

If a deafblind person is using an interpreter, everything the interpreter hears while working is privileged and will be kept confidential. Even if you are a family member or spouse of a person who is deafblind, the interpreter cannot share information with you about their client.

Ever since I started using the various kinds of communication facilitators, I have had some very interesting experiences. If I want to call and order a pizza, a task which takes hearing people two minutes takes me ten minutes-- if I'm super lucky. Sometimes it won't happen at all. I'm surprised at the number of people who will just stair at me in public if I use ASL. Many people have no compunction about telling me they are staring. My favorite was a lady, who was taking an ASL class. She was watching my conversation as some kind of self-test. Then she had to come up to me and tell me that she understood all of our conversation. And she acted like I should be proud of her. I said: "So... You get an A in eavesdropping on conversations which don't involve you, then?" The woman was mortified, and tried to make all kinds of excuses. I do admit to feeling a juvenile glee in her discomfort.

If you have stuck with me through this long entry, you deserve a cookie!

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