Silent Communication in a Loud World

Sat, 10/02/2010 - 17:04 — Carrie

Communication is important. Vital, in fact, for a person hoping to live amongst other people. For the average person, all that’s needed is to simply open your mouth and talk. Others respond in a similar manner. Have you ever wondered, however, what it would be like if you were Deaf, and incapable of communicating in this seemingly simple manner? That was my assignment. To not only find out what it was like, but to actually pretend to be Deaf, and thus feel the frustrations, and triumph, of communicating to the hearing world, without using words. 


I did my assignment on a Saturday, October 2nd, and I decided to start simple. Someplace where I could convey what I wanted simply by pointing. A restaurant seemed a good place to do this, so I headed to Red Robin with my mother. We were seated at a table, and our waitress soon came over to take our order. My mother ordered, and the waitress looked expectantly at me. My time had come. 


The first thing I did was indicate I was Deaf, by pointing to my ear, and shrugging. She immediately nodded, and I looked down at my menu to order. I wanted water, but was unsure how to communicate this, since water was not listed on the menu. Instead I simply pointed to the lemonade listed, and she wrote it down. I’ve always wanted to try their lemonade, anyway! When she came back for our burger order, I thought I had it all figured out. I pointed to the menu listing of the burger I wanted, and then indicated that I wanted to substitute a different kind of cheese. All good so far. Then she asked if I wanted my burger a little pink, or well done. Not being able to read lips, I had to pretend to not understand her. Finally, a pink sugar packet was pointed out, and I nodded to show I understood. Everyone was relieved.

The rest of the meal proceeded with no other difficulties, and we were soon out the door. One stop down.


The next place I wanted to go was Michael’s Craft Store. I needed to buy some stickers of Autumn leaves. After finding the section I wanted, I decided to flag down an associate. They were rather scarce that day, however, and I was almost about to give up and just try another store, when I rounded a corner to find a woman stocking shelves. Gently, I tapped her on the shoulder, and then indicated that I was Deaf. She nodded, and I began to pantomime ‘stickers’, and ‘leaves’. It took a few minutes of gesturing back and forth before she understood. I was amused by the fact that, along with gesturing back at me, she also raised her voice quite a bit, and leaned in closer to me. 


Once she figured out what I wanted, she led me to the right section, found me the correct stickers, and then gestured whether I needed any other help. I didn’t, so I smiled my thanks, and she went back to the shelves. Check-out was next, and it involved very little. My cashier was not very talkative, and said nothing to me except to ask for my zip-code. When I pointed at my ear, she waved her hands and said, ‘oh, never mind’, and skipped that step. Store two was done.


I thought about going home, then, but we passed by Babies-R-Us, and I love baby stores, so decided to see what I could find there. I know a friend who just had a baby boy, and I hadn’t gotten her a present yet, so in I went. I decided to get some clothes, and wanted a cute pair of overalls. After finding an associate, I began trying to pantomime someone putting overalls on. She didn’t get it. After a couple tries, she finally waved me over to another associate nearby, and explained the situation.

  “This lady is Deaf and needs help. You’re better at this stuff than me!” she said.

The other lady was immediately interested, and after watching me for a minute, commented excitedly to the first associate, “This is fun! It’s just like charades!” 


After guessing a couple different things, including a backpack, and a snowsuit, she just didn’t seem to be able to get it. After nearly 5 minutes of me trying to think up different ways to pantomime "overalls" she threw up her hands in laughing frustration and, with several gestures to convey her meaning, asked if I could write it down for her. I hesitated, but then nodded yes. After I wrote, “baby overalls” she turned to the first associate.

“I should have been able to get that!” she laughed.


She then asked if it was for a boy or a girl, but once again was unable to communicate after trying for several minutes. Finally she wrote the question down, and I answered. 

“I really need to learn Sign Language!” was her next comment, as she enthusiastically tried to find out the age of the baby in question. 

That part was thankfully easy, and I simply pantomimed rocking a baby for her to understand I meant an infant. 


She found me a pair of overalls, and I smiled my thanks and headed for the register. There I was met with a smiling man asking if the gift was from a registry. When I pointed to my ears and shrugged, he proceeded to raise his voice, and speak very slowly and clearly. Once more, I pointed to my ear and shrugged, and he thought for a minute, then ruffled under the register for something. He pulled out a copy of an old registry, and pointed to it questioningly. I shook my head, and he rang up the item. Then he asked for my rewards card. I was just about to once again point to my ear, when he remembered, and pulled out a rewards card from under his register and pointed at it. Once more, I shook my head, and he finished the order. As I left the store, he smiled and waved to me. 

 Overall, I enjoyed myself very much. I found that most everyone was very kind, and would often bend over backwards to try to help me out. It was kind of fun trying to communicate without words, and I’d like to try it again sometime. I do imagine, however, that it would get rather old after awhile, and I certainly have a different appreciation for those who are Deaf. It takes quite a bit of talent to not only gesture what you mean, but to do it in such a way that those you are trying to communicate with can understand your meaning! 

Oh, to be an innocent

Oh, to be an innocent bystander Laughing out loud

I can totally see you doing

I can totally see you doing this. I've seen you do the rocking the baby pantomime before, I think.

Did you worry at all about

Did you worry at all about the consequences if you had been discovered? The torture equipment in the dungeon beneath Babies'R'Us must have come to mind at some point.


It came to mind, but I was pretty sure of myself. My palms got a little sweaty at one point, but overall, Ikept my cool pretty well. Smile


Hah. I've come across deaf people while working, and it reminded me of being in another country where I did not speak the language. The two situations are very similar... even to the point where people raise their voices while speaking.


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