Deafness and the Internet: A Level Playing Field at Last

by JoHarrington

The Age of the Internet has meant many things to many people, but for those with a hearing impairment it's been fantastic! Now we get a conversation without the hassle!

Before a fully deaf person engages in discussion, some things have to occur. Either he/she has to learn to lip-read, or both parties need to know sign language.

For a person partially deaf in both ears, then first there must be a hearing aid. Or the other party practically shouting. For someone, like me, profoundly deaf in one ear, the situation changes with the background noise. All to have a simple conversation.

But not on the internet. In cyberspace, there is no reliance on hearing a thing. Yay!

A Tale of Two Computer Users

I'm old enough to remember the world without the internet. So are my peers. When it blossomed into our lives, some of us saw the petals and others only the weeds.

My friend and I couldn't have a more different attitude towards the online world if we tried.

In real life, she is gregarious, open and confident.  As an extrovert, she makes friends easily and can enter into a meaningful conversation with anyone. 

I've tended to follow in her wake, letting her do most of the talking.

She is also dyslexic.  The advent of the internet, with its emphasis on text, was met by her with horror. This was her nightmare scenario - a world where the written word rules.

She can read.  She's highly intelligent and has letters after her name to prove it.  But it's so much hassle. 

The conditions have to be right.  She has to concentrate hard enough that headaches and exhaustion are the inevitable result.  Or, of course, she can fork out lots of money for speaking computer programs and other things, which broadcast her business to anyone in earshot.

Naturally this is met with, at best, a grudging acknowledgment that this is the way that the world is now.  At worst, it's underscoring how differently her brain works, and that has the potential to dent that deserved high self-esteem.

On the other hand, I'm profoundly deaf in one ear.  Conversations that spill out in text form on forums are paradise for me. I'm no longer struggling against the incessant background noise of society.

I leapt into cyberspace with both feet and a cheery banner waving out the legend, "Whoo-hooo world!  Here I come!"

Was the Internet a Blessing or a Curse for You?

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I loathe the internet because...
kate on 10/01/2012

I guess loathe is the wrong word - after all i understand and appreciate the opening up of information and communication to so many people - but as a dyslexic what I really get irritated by is bad website design. When I visit a site I often just get swamped with some much reading that I find it almost impossible to navigate to what i want. This results in my avoiding the internet as much as possible. I think a lot of designers could learn from the google search page - keep it simple - this is the one search engine page i don't find intimidating.

I love the internet because...
cmoneyspinner on 10/25/2013

I grew up in Miami, Florida and what was cool about that was the diverse population. So I met people from everywhere. Still, it's not the same as being able to visit a country and meet the citizens. I've always wanted to do that but finances prevented the dream from becoming a reality. The Internet made the dream real for me.

Greekgeek on 10/16/2012

I communicate better via writing than orally. Also, until 2000 or so, websites and forums were mostly places people congregated based on shared interest in a particular topic, hobby, or field. So it was easy to "find my tribe," find people interested in the obscure things I like, regardless of age, gender, ethnic group, appearance, etc. I have a lot of online friends I first met through hobbies, fandoms, and interest in obscure subjects.

Cynthia Dixon on 09/29/2012

I'm hard of hearing, and love to read! I also try to get the word out on HOH issues with my Website:

Ragtimelil on 09/29/2012

I love staying home. It's a way to communicate and hopefully earn a living one day.

What the Internet Meant to Someone Deaf in One Ear

It was more than just a digital universe; it was an invitation to access the whole world on an equal footing.

I'd always been happier in one-on-one conversations in quiet rooms.  It reduced the risk of people talking over each other, thus creating white noise and excluding me from participating.

You can imagine then the glee with which I encountered my first e-mail.  This was perfect!  A series of personal discussions, with as many friends as were online, cutting through time-zones across the whole world.

It was like the universe opened a door and hailed me with a welcoming, "Come on in!  The water's great!"

It should have come as no surprise therefore to learn that Vinton Cerf (who led the programming of the world's first commercial email program) is partially deaf.  He's a man also responsible for many other aspects that are now fundamental to the world wide web.  Cerf is Google's vice-president for a start.

Then there were forums, live chats happening with dozens of people typing away.  I was not required to hear. No-one asked, nor needed to know, whether I was fully hearing, deaf or any permutation between. 

For the first time in my life, such considerations were irrelevant.  I stood and fell on my own merit, without worrying about suppressing my frustrations nor if I'd heard all of the facts.

There is no deafness on the internet.  At least not unless you're checking out a video or being linked to a song. 

Of course, verbal chat programs, like Skype and Vent do occasionally allow the real world factors to play out online too.  But you have the option of side-stepping them without feeling like you're missing the best part.

Or, like I do, you keep to conversations solely with those aware of your limitations, and who will ensure that they are never an issue.

For me, it wasn't so much the Age of Technology and Information, but the Age of Joining Human Society.

Buy Buttons to Ask Hearing People to Face You

It can be excruciating AND boring to keep having to remind people that you're hard of hearing. Let these badges do the job for you.

Fellow Wizzley author and artist Ragtimelil created those wonderful pin button badges to help us out. Yes, she's another deaf woman here!

How the Internet Opens Doors for Deaf People

There are some things which are excruciatingly difficult offline, which have found easy alternatives online.

One of the biggest bug-bears of my life is the seeming inability of anyone to watch the television in silence.

I've never understood why viewers felt the need to discuss all that they could see.  Like the program could only be enjoyed with a running commentary in the room. 

But then, those conversations were just clashing discordant sounds to me.  Annoying, excluding and, if it went on too long, painful in its propensity to drain. It was a form of drip-drip torture, which has left me with a strong antipathy towards television.

Not the programs.  I quite merrily watch those online, where I can use headphones and block out all background noise.  Just the chatter of hearing people over it.

Then I finally got a taster of what that is all about. 

My friend had a movie, which she was sure that I would enjoy.  She played it on her computer and streamed it into a channel.  I logged on to watch it with her.  No clash of sounds, as we could both only hear the film itself.

But alongside the stream was a chat channel.  We could type into it.  As the story progressed, we began doing just that.  We commented on the action; made quips about the characters; noted when something made us jump/laugh/cry/think.

It became a sociable occasion.  Not just one person experiencing a televised journey on their own, but a communal moment. 

I finally understood why people talk over television shows.  They are just being friendly and interacting in a way that forges bonds.  It's all part of the human condition, but alas, not for me in real life.

I'll watch a movie or show online, with typed commentary in chat, any time that someone wants to invite me in.  That was great!  Plus it's just one example of how deaf, or partially deaf, individuals find inclusion online.

Buy Buttons and Pins for Deaf Geeks

Online Empowerment Between Deaf People

The internet allows deaf people to communicate with other deaf people. Goodbye isolation! Hello really useful things to know.

Until now, I've discussed how the coming of the internet improved dialogue between deaf individuals and the rest of the world. 

It can be read as an aid to integrating us into a hearing world.  But that isn't the only community out there.  The world wide web is a brilliant way of prising the deaf from isolation into a vibrant society of those who understand.

It puts us into contact with each other!  Suddenly tips and tricks can be shared.  Issues are highlighted.  Action groups can be formed. 

We can raise awareness of new gadgets or procedures, that would make life easier back out in the hearing-oriented world.  Like, for example, an Induction Loop System.

Empathy and support are given.  Real world awkward situations are joked about and dissolved in a large vat of humor.

I may be the only person in my town or peer group who has unilateral hearing.  But I'm one of many on the internet. I no longer have to feel like I'm different and, in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, 'baby can't be blessed until she finally sees that she's like all the rest.'

This reaching out across cyberspace can do more than salve social matters, it could save lives. When the tips include things like fire alarms for the hearing impaired, then life and death really could come into play.

In all kinds of ways, the internet has been a true gift for people with any level of deafness.  I just feel sorry for the dyslexic, for whom the world just flipped in the other direction.

Online Services and Programs for Deaf People Books

Buy these sourcebooks to learn how much further the internet can assist the hearing impaired.

More Articles About Deafness on Wizzley

They are amongst some of the biggest names in entertainment, politics or the news, and these celebrities are deaf in one ear. Find out who they are and how it happened.
Alarms in your house warn of anything from a fire to a burglary. But what if the only person there is hearing impaired?
I've been deaf in one ear since I was nine years old. The most frustrating thing about that is other people. Grab an Angry Deaf badge to defend against the audists in your life.
Unilateral hearing affects a significant percentage of the population. How would you welcome a client or guest with this kind of deafness?
Updated: 07/11/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 10/25/2013

I've been on the other side of such exchanges so many times! I'll look up to find someone looking at me with a hurt or annoyed expression, and realise that they'd attempted conversation in a noisy environment.

No need to be embarrassed though. You weren't to know and it all turned out fine in the end.

cmoneyspinner on 10/25/2013

Excellent article. One time I was walking somewhere and couldn't find my way. There were two ladies walking ahead and talking to each other. So I asked them for directions. I was right behind them. I asked. I asked. They kept on walking and talking. At first I thought they were being rude. Then I moved up ahead and pounced in front in them. I was scared. I was lost. They both stopped and looked at me real hard. I asked them for directions. It was at that point, I realized they were both deaf. But they could read my lips, so they answered me. I was so embarrassed inside of myself. I said "Thank you" and hurried off.

But you're right about having great online conversations. Though you can't hear the tone of a person's voice, most of the time you know it's friendly discussion. Have not really had bad experiences with communicating via the Internet. It brings people together - handicapped or not. It's fantastic for people who can't get out of the house much. (Like me.)

JoHarrington on 10/31/2012

Thank you. :) I've certainly embraced it with open arms!

sheilamarie on 10/31/2012

Good topic. I can understand how the internet could impact someone with a hearing impairment. There's more than one way to express a gregarious personality!

JoHarrington on 10/16/2012

I don't know if it was so good for the novelty value, or if it really was that wonderfully sociable. I haven't tried it again since to try, but only because my friends and I haven't been on-line together at the same time for a couple of weeks.

Oh! I forgot to mention the visually impaired, so thank you for bringing that up. Someone I used to work with was a rep for the RNIB. I remember him telling me how wonderful his laptop was, as he'd got a text-to-speech program installed.

Greekgeek on 10/16/2012

Oh gosh, I love your story about watching movies while doing text-chat! I'm a little hard of hearing, and any chatter throws me out of a film so I can't concentrate. That sounds like a fun idea!

Seriously, thank you for sharing what the web does for the deaf. It's also revolutionized the world for vision-impaired people who can now use text-to-speech and speech-to-text tools to translate between the spoken and written medium and communicate without relying on a sighted person to transcribe written materials into Braille for them.

JoHarrington on 10/01/2012

Thank you very much for sharing the point of view of a dyslexic. I've never had to use that software, so I was unaware of how horrific it is. I'm sorry that the Age of Technology has done this to you.

As for a reading option on websites, that would be so easy to do. It may be time-consuming on the part of the webmasters, especially those with large sites. I'm sure a program could be written to do it automatically though.

Let me muse on this for a while.

kate on 10/01/2012

It wonderful how new methods of communication are overcoming traditional barriers for deaf and hard of hearing people. I also think its great you mentioned dyslexia and how those who have it are often very disadvantaged by today's dependence upon on-line information. As for assistance technology!! Screen reader is SSSOOOOO SSSLLLOOOOOOWWWW it is painful to use and Dragon voice recognition software takes ages to get used to your voice and then rewards your patient instruction by crashing every 5 minutes. I think a lot more needs to be done on websites generally - like a reading option built into the website - this would be universally useful surely - not just for individuals with dyslexia.

JoHarrington on 09/29/2012

You're very welcome. Thank you for making them. <3

I recommend it. It's a way to have a conversation without having to rely on the background noise staying gone.

Ragtimelil on 09/29/2012

Wow, thanks for mentioning my buttons and my article. Excellent article. I've never done the chatting thing online. That sounds interesting.

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