Having hearing loss is a vulnerable state to be in, whether the person with loss feels that way or not. Finding out someone has a hearing loss can also be uncomfortable, and you may not know what to do in that moment. I have a lot of friends that make jokes consistently regarding my hearing loss. I give them permission to do so. Humor is the best way to approach an uncomfortable situation. Although humor is subjective, I’ve witnessed an interaction where someone crossed a line. It brought up several questions on my end. How do we define that line? There is no one answer. We always say every ear is different, it’s the same with sense of humor.
I used to be a server in a restaurant. It came with several challenges, but luckily, 85% of the tables were booths, making for beautiful acoustics at each table. I got by just fine.
In the back of the house, there was a food prep guy, David*, who was Deaf. I automatically felt a sort of kinship with him. He was always waving hello, and speaking to me in sign language (clear enough for me to understand). The lead cook, Shane*, was a rambunctious type of guy. He is an artist, and highly opinionated.
One night, David was facing towards the manager’s office, his back towards the kitchen. Shane was standing in the window, and was calling his name. There was no way David was going to hear him. Shane continued to call his name, with full knowledge of this. “Why are you ignoring me?” he jeered. Meanwhile, I am observing this while washing my hands, glaring at Shane. He saw me, and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “what?” The dinner rush came in, and we carried on with work. Once the end of the night came around, I swung to the back of the kitchen and got his attention.
“Hey, don’t let me catch you talking to David like that again.” He was a little taken aback. “What are you talking about?” The look on his face told me he was not at all confused. “Don’t do it.” We stood there peering at each other for a moment, and he said: “Alright, you don’t have to make a big deal out of it.”
Oh, but I did. David may not have heard his jeering, but I did. This was an insult that cut far deeper than he knew, and he certainly needed to know that. It did not matter whether I caught him or not. His integrity was not saved just because his bullying was not heard.
If you witness anyone that you know has a hearing loss struggling or being taken advantage of, speak up.
Can you think of a time when you had to speak up? Leave your story in the comments!
*names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people in this story.