Travel and being Deaf
Last January, I graduated with a post graduate degree in Publishing and my parents kept asking me "Have you found a job yet?", and I kept answering them "No, but I have some leads to follow, so let’s see." Until one day, I said to them: "I’ve made up my mind. I don’t want to be trapped behind a desk for forty years. I’ve saved money, and I’m going to Australia and New Zealand for nine months, maybe twelve, to do a reporting project on my own."
My parents’ first reaction was not really enthusiastic. "You’re mad. You’re deaf, you can’t use a phone, neither understand anyone without lip-reading. You don’t know anybody there, and English isn’t even your first language. How the heck do you think you’re going to make your own way? You’re MAD. Stop this nonsense, go back to your job search, and stop babbling on."
But today I’m in Australia and have been here for one month, with no intent to go back – after all I’m still alive and enjoying myself!
Hearing people might think going abroad is difficult for a deaf person. Why? Because hearing people communicate easily. They aren’t used to misunderstanding and being misunderstood and are ashamed of it so their attitude is it must be so much more difficult for a deaf person. After all deafness affects communication, and communication is what you need the most in a foreign country.
Since I only have limited hearing it is more difficult to manage communication in English than in French. But what hearing people don’t realize is that communication is always a challenge for me and those of us who are deaf, even in our native language. Everyday, we misunderstand somebody speaking or repeat something three times without being understood. We have to find another way to catch up or give the information. We are used to misunderstanding and being misunderstood every day, and we know how to cope with it. So, why should it be more difficult in another country?
In Australia, I’ve never had any problem in finding my way, to do what I wanted, or to communicate. People are quite open-minded when they understand you’re a foreigner, even more when you say you’re deaf. They don’t mind slowing down their speech, repeating or even writing it down if needed – except a few silly people of course, but you can always find somebody else cleverer to speak to.
Technology has been a real advance for me. I have text messages, e-mail and Internet to get in touch with people, and can find useful information or book my flights and hostels. I don’t need to use a phone – and if some short sighted people really want me to phone, there’s the Australian National Relay Service, something we don’t even have in France.
Travel is not only a worthwhile experience in Australia. I have two deaf friends roaming around the world on their own for a year and both always manage to communicate with local people everywhere, even though they don’t know all the languages of the world. They’re just resourceful in their way of communication: they write it down, they draw, and even mime – and they’re always understood in the end.
Travelling as a deaf person is indeed a challenge. But you just have to get rid of this preception that misunderstanding or being misunderstood is shameful, and be ready to go off the beaten path of communication – and there you are!
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