It’s been sometime since I have been volunteering with people with hearing and speech impairment. Working with people with disabilities – or special abilities, as I would prefer to say – is not difficult. But as I learned, through my mistakes, there are certain practices and etiquette we need to keep in mind while interacting with them.
I owe this to my close friend Mani, who is both deaf and dumb and with whom I have some of my fondest and most amusing memories. Here is a picture of me and Mani having a gala time at a surprise birthday celebration in an orphanage! We were so excited! 🙂
In this post, I want to list down some of the basic tips that I learnt while going out with Mani. I hope they will be helpful to everyone who wants to interact more effectively with people with disabilities especially hearing and speech disability.
1.Do not call them on their mobile.
- For our first meeting, we had planned to have lunch at McDonalds. I had reached the place early and called him over his phone to know where he was. He cut the call once. I called again. How Stupid! I had completely forgotten about his ability.
2.Do not say the place is noisy.
- We were having coffee in Barista. The table next to us were not keeping their conversation to themselves. I showed him in sign language. Can we go to a quieter place? I did not realize until I could see his face. I am sorry Mani.
3.You may not like subtitles, but they are important for them.
- Discussion about movies is quiet common among friends and so was the case with us. Once, while discussing, since I hate subtitles, I showed him in sign-language, “sub-titles are annoying!” I was also celebrating learning “annoying” in sign-language. But I had already done the damage. Sorry again Mani.
4.Remember again: They cannot hear.
- Mani is passionate about a lot of things in life and wanted to learn so much! He used to ask me for tips to improve his English. I got him some grammar books too. I once told him “Your English is good. You can read newspaper and listen to news to improve!” Shooot! Not again 🙁
5.You make sure you explain the joke to him.
- Mani used to come to a lot of events. He was always keen to help and be part of the group. In a group, it would often happen that someone cracks a joke and everybody laughs. Mani would just smile looking at us laugh. And there would be a sigh, which most would miss. I had tears the first time I saw him do this. We must always make sure they take part in the group and not feel left out.
6.Do not be surprised if they give you their phone number.
- Of-course they can text! The first time he gave me his mobile phone number, I asked him,“why do you have a mobile phone?”.Do not. It might not matter to us. But it does for them. Big time.
7.Do not under-estimate them through your words.
- Mani always wanted to ride my two-wheeler. I used to say to him [in sign language], “if someone blows a horn how would you listen!” I think that was rude of me.
It is important to not feel sorry about their disability. One doesn’t need to feel awkward while interacting with a person with a disability; we just need to be a little more sensitive. Unknowingly there have been times when I have made Mani feel disabled by my words. I don’t feel sorry for him but I feel sorry for myself, for having done so.
I think everyone should have a friend like Mani! Going out with him was an adventure and every time, it was as fresh as it was the first time.
While Poornima’s tips are mainly about interacting with people with hearing and speech impairments; we also found a comprehensive booklet on Disability Etiquette, published by The United Spinal Association. The booklet can be downloaded for free from their website at: Disability Etiquette – Tips for interacting with people with disabilities. -VW