Paula: I noticed Michelle for several reasons. In addition to her beauty and penchant for bright colors, I’d never seen her at church before, and she sat alone in the front row.
When I introduced myself, I learned why Michelle sat up front: She was Deaf. She also read lips. A few weeks later, I invited Michelle to pick blueberries with me. Would we be able to communicate? I wondered with trepidation as I picked her up.
Michelle: I thought, Here we go again, when Paula approached me after a sermon.
Most people have one of two reactions when they realize I’m Deaf: they either want to quickly leave the conversation as they seem intimidated, or they’re so fascinated by my deafness that they only seem interested in that part of me.
When people realize I’m Deaf, they either quickly leave the conversation or they’re so fascinated by my deafness they only seem interested in that part of me.
Although Paula did ask about my deafness, she genuinely showed interest in knowing who I am. I remember thinking, This woman isn’t intimidated by my being Deaf (or at least she doesn’t show it). She was one of the few who kept making a genuine effort each week.
After our initial conversations at church, a blueberry-picking trip—which was much less difficult than we both expected—marked the beginning of a close friendship.
Together, we hope these ideas will better equip you to love your Deaf neighbors as yourself.
Ways to Love Your Deaf Neighbor
You might feel largely ignorant of, and even scared to interact with, Deaf people. Should I invite them over for dinner? How would that even work? For starters:
- Bring your new Deaf neighbor food or a simple note. Those who are completely Deaf often have a lower reading and writing ability because English isn’t their first language.
- Write messages back and forth, if your Deaf neighbor can’t read lips. Try downloading the Ava app; it transcribes your conversation on your phone.
- Begin to acquaint yourself with sign language. Many Deaf people are willing to teach you basic sign language and appreciate your willingness to learn. (Note: ASL is used in America, although there are different dialects. For example, an African American person will sign some words differently than an Asian American person.)
- Don’t walk up behind them and touch them. They can’t see or hear you coming, and you’ll give them quite a scare.
- Ask your Deaf friend how to handle introductions. This will keep others from falling into a fast conversation your Deaf friend can’t follow. I have told people, “This is Michelle; she can lip-read.” (For many people, “deaf” and “hard of hearing” are acceptable, but “hearing impaired” can seem belittling.)
- If you have the opportunity, introduce your deaf neighbor to the new American Sign Language Bible. Deaf people won’t necessarily know it’s available, as it was completed in 2020.
Ways to Love Your Deaf Neighbor at Church
Here are a few ways to help your deaf neighbor in a Sunday worship service:
- Offer to email the sermon manuscript a day beforehand. If you’re not in leadership, ask your pastor if he would be willing to do this.
- Point the Deaf visitor to the sound technician to see if an assisted listening device is available.
- Learn which churches in your area have a Deaf ministry, and point your friend to those. (Be careful how you say it so they know you’re not trying to get rid of them; you just want them to know their options and thrive wherever they worship.)
- Don’t assume that just because you know sign language it’s a good idea for you to interpret for your friend. A Deaf person might feel bad turning down your offer, but you will not help if you’ve not been trained as a professional interpreter.
- Offer to sit together on a Sunday. If they read lips, they’ll sit up front to grasp as much as possible. How many people do you know who love to sit up front alone?
Ways to Love Your Deaf Neighbor Who Can Read Lips
Few deaf people can read lips like Michelle, but if they can, here are a few tips:
- Make sure your room is well-lit. If you’re in a car together, turn on the interior light when driving at night so they can see your lips if you say something.
- Talk slower and enunciate more.
- In a group setting, ask people to raise their hands before they speak so the Deaf person knows where to look and read their lips. Then, remind other group members when they forget.
- Fill your friend in on what others say. Repeat things and bring them into the conversation as much as possible. (You would want the same if you were trying to fit in with a group of people who spoke a different language.)
We never would’ve known at that first blueberry-picking adventure just how much life we would experience together. Today we share kid duty, the kitchen table, and the highs and lows of daily life together. We are grateful.