When I go out with friends, I try to keep conversations going. I’m not very talkative but I like to join in the conversations and being polite comes naturally. Recently, I went for coffee with two of my friends and the cafe was packed with people but we got a table at the corner, not long two ladies arrived and one of them asked if they could sit at the spare chairs at our table as they were still waiting for their mother and they would move as soon as she arrived because they didn’t want her to miss them. We agreed, after all we were only there for coffee and a chat, not a business meeting, so we didn’t mind them joining us.

We got talking anyway, the lady who asked for the spare chairs introduced herself, her sister and chatted with us no bother, but for nearly ten minutes her sister briefly smiled or nodded her head and said nothing the whole time, even when we made attempt to include her in the conversation. At this time, I’m thinking how rude for her to just sit and ignore everyone at the table, I mean how hard can it be to just say hello or say something to join in the conversation? So my “special needs detective self” went to work. In my head I’m thinking maybe she’s nonverbal, I looked in her ear, there was no hearing aid or hearing device around her neck, so she’s definitely not hard of hearing, her eyes moved in the direction of the door everytime someone walked in, so another box ticked she’s not visually impaired, so what’s wrong, were we such bad company that she didn’t think to make the effort to be polite to us?

Not long after my head was searching for clues, their mum rushed in and apologised for being late, said hello to us and thanked us for letting them wait at our table and right before my eyes, she started to sign to the lady who didn’t talk to us. Oh jeez, how did I miss that? She’s deaf. I had looked for clues in the wrong places. We quickly tried to apologise for not making any effort to include her in our conversations, one of my friends and I attempted to correct our wrong by finger-spelling hello and sorry, this made everyone to laugh. When they left, my friends and I felt really horrible, it turned out we all thought the same thing, how rude of her to have just sat there and say nothing, but we were wrong.

In my mind, she had no hearing aid or device, so no problem, she could hear us, but when I realised she is Deaf, I suddenly realised apart from the alphabets and numbers, communicating with this lady would still be a challenge. On the other hand, making an attempt to include her was nice but ineffective as she couldn’t hear anything we were saying. I kept wondering, why did her sister not tell us that her sister is deaf? On reflection, she has probably reached the point in her life where she doesn’t need to excuse her sister’s inability to communicate like us.

(The Irish Sign Language Alphabets)

This brings me to the question “Can you sign?”.

I recently attended lectures in Communicating with the Deaf, now I can sign the letters of the alphabet and numbers using the Irish Sign Language (mind you, the Irish Sign Language is completely different from the LÁMH Sign Language, which I use). Apart from the Irish Sign Language Alphabets, there is also The DeafBlind Alphabets, The Block Alphabets and The Two-Finger Spelling Alphabets, so there was a lot to learn. I want to encourage you to learn a little at a time. I am going to try and brush up on my signing and practice using the basic signs like; hello, goodbye, sorry, please and thank you.

In this modern age, when there’s a big push for “inclusion”, it made me think how many people we meet and “exclude” just by the way we stereotype them or the lack of ability to communicate effectively with them.

I would encourage people to learn basic sign language, such as how to say “please” and “hello”. By doing this, we could push towards more inclusion for the Deaf community in our society today. Also, try not to stereotype like my friends and I did. This could backtrack our progress in creating a more inclusive society. For me, this was another lesson learned.