16 May 2009

'Don't shout; I am Deaf'

Since 1992 I have been involved with the Deaf to some extent, especially here in Bacolod City, and often celebrate Mass in Sign Language. I was largely inspired by Fr Joseph Coyle, a Columban priest - not related - who died in December 1991 and who was a pioneer here in the Philippines in working with the Deaf.

I have met a number of Deaf priests but until today was unaware of there being at least one Deafblind priest, Fr Cyril Axelrod CSsR (in photo). I came across the story below on the website of the British-based Independent Catholic News. My highlights, some in red.

The story is about Deaf Awareness Week in Britain but it contains many very practical points for hearing people communicating with Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons. It's quite common for hearing people to tend to 'shout' when they're trying to communicate either with a deaf person or a hearing person who doesn't speak English (or whatever our own language happens to be) well. My late father tended to do that whenever he met a foreigner who couldn't speak English well. but his welcome was always absolutely clear.

Don't shout; I am Deaf
By: Shell Roca
Posted: Monday, May 11, 2009 3:34 pm

Catholic Deaf Awareness week happens from 9 - 16 May.

Many events will be taking place around the country to highlight not only the inclusion of people who are Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing but also their skills and energies and what they can bring to Parish and Diocesan life.

In Westminster, Fr Cyril Axelrod CSsR, a Deafblind Redemptorist priest, will be celebrating Mass for the Deaf Community and the Catholic Actors Guild taking place at Corpus Christi Church, Maiden Lane on Tuesday 12 May at 6.30pm. Fr Paul Fletcher SJ, a Deaf Jesuit priest, will be leading a group of Deaf adults on retreat in Walsingham during the annual CDA pilgrimage.

So how much do you know about the Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing people in your communities? Many misconceptions abound linked to communicating with people who have some form of hearing loss. 1 in 7 of the UK population experience some form of hearing loss, that is one in seven of the community in your parish church.

Don't shout; it doesn't help. Many, although not all, Deaf and Hard of Hearing people lip read. Lip reading requires a great deal of skill. Only 30% of English words can be read accurately on the lips. Shouting at a person distorts the lip patterns and means it is much more difficult to lip read.

When talking to a person who lip reads make sure that the light on your face is good. Stand or sit directly facing the person and keep your head still; moving it from side to side makes lip reading very difficult. Speak clearly and naturally. Deaf and Hard of Hearing people are used to lip reading normal speech. Accentuating the lip patterns can be confusing. If the person does not understand you, try rephrasing, using different words to explain what you are talking about. Some words are much easier to lip read than others. Above all persevere, don't give up. We all like people to spend time with us, Deaf and Hard of Hearing people are not different.

Around 75,000 Deaf people in the UK use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language. For these people a parish can be very isolating if there is no one else there that knows any BSL. Why not try to learn BSL? Local authorities are usually the best place to look for BSL courses and this time of year is the ideal time to look for courses starting in September.

If you are aware of a Deaf person in your parish, check with them after the Mass that they have all the notices including those announced at the last minute that didn't make it into the newsletter. Ask the parish priest if they can provide a copy of their homily, or a script of keywords and names, for the Deaf person to read. Above all please make sure that the Deaf person feels included; they are part of your community.

Does your church have an induction hearing loop? When was the last time it was checked? More importantly when did you last check with a person who uses a hearing aid if the loop was working properly? Many times I have heard people say: "I don't need to use a microphone, I have a loud voice". By taking that approach anyone who relies on the hearing loop will not be able to follow what you are saying. Your hard work in preparing your presentation, homily or liturgy will be lost on people that want to be included and want to use their skills and talents to benefit your parish and the Diocese as a whole.

So the next time you meet a Deaf or Hard of hearing person, don't shout, relax, welcome them and ask them how they want to be included, then smile!

If you would like more information, please contact: Shellroca@rcdow.org.uk

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