Deaf and don’t sign?

Sign language is strongly associated with deaf people. But what if you’re deaf and don’t sign?

Being deaf and not knowing how to sign can seem as if you’re part of yet another minority. We’re here to tell you that you are not alone. Out of roughly 5 million people in the UK who are deaf/hard of hearing, only around 16,000 are fluent BSL users. (Although this number might change with the recent 2021 census result).

Here are some examples as to why sign language isn’t more prevalent:

  • You may live in a rural area where contact/travelling to meet others to give you opportunities to sign is difficult
  • Sign language lessons are not available in your area or too far to get to
  • Learning a new language can be frustrating and time consuming
  • Only been taught basic signs
  • No one else to learn/practice outside of lessons with
  • Never had the need to or don’t feel necessary to
  • Speed of signing by other fluent BSL signers can be overwhelming
  • Communicating without using your voice may feel strange to you

With the above points in mind, the deaf community is very much like the LGBTIQA community, with a massive spectrum of people with varying degrees of signing or oral ability. Given we’ve established that the vast majority of deaf people in the UK aren’t fluent in sign language, it can feel difficult to place yourself into a community of Deaf identifying individuals that do.

But that’s no reason to stop you from meeting others like yourself!

As those in the deaf community will be very familiar with most of communication pitfalls that can happen on a daily basis, as they would have had the same experience as you have in that area.

If you are with an individual or a group of signers and don’t understand what is being talked about, don’t be embarrassed to ask them to repeat what was said, as they will normally be more than happy to make sure the information is clearer for you in order for you be more involved and to communicate more effectively! We’ve all had someone say ‘never mind’ when asked someone to repeat what was said, so it’s very rare for a deaf person to do the same.

Living in a rural area can limit your options, however there are ways of connecting with others online. Especially since the pandemic, it is now easier than ever and you don’t need to understand sign when reading text or messages online. Joining the Deaf Rainbow UK Facebook group is a great place to start. You’ll encounter deaf LGBT people from all over the UK. You might even be surprised to find someone who lives nearby! It goes without saying, please be careful with whom you meet online.

Should you meet another deaf person and find that you’re unable to understand, even after asking several times for them to repeat the conversation, your trusty mobile can be of great help here by typing out each other conversation. There’s also gesturing, which I’m sure you’ve had experience on your travels when meeting foreign people. If all else fails, there’s always the trusty pen and paper! Others in the deaf community are pros at using this method at certain times in their lives, so don’t feel silly to use this!

At first, coming from having little to no contact with those who sign to those that do can seem overwhelming. But don’t get discouraged if you think you’re getting it wrong, nobody is perfect. After all, you’re familiarising yourself with a new language and new people! Enjoy it!