What to do when you feel numb
What it means to be deaf
Deaf people experience the world in a fundamentally different way than hearing people: They are never woken up by low-flying planes or police sirens. You can experience the beginning of spring without the twittering of birds - and if someone sitting next to you is on the phone loudly on the phone, you can still read a book in a relaxed manner. Most hearing people ask themselves: Is there nothing wrong with them? The answer is no.
A large map of the world hangs over Antonia's bed. The 24-year-old has been on the road a lot. She has toured Vietnam and Cambodia and just traveled through India for ten weeks. As a deaf person, does she have to pay attention to something special when traveling? Antonia thinks for a moment. "Nope, not really." At most, her vibrating alarm clock, which looks like a wristwatch, should be in her luggage. The fact that Antonia is deaf doesn't matter when traveling. Nevertheless, hearing people often have the prejudice that deaf people are missing something, she says.
VIDEO: "How can I miss something that I don't know?" (1 min)
"As a child I thought everyone was deaf"
Antonia grew up in Munich. Her parents and her two brothers are also deaf. Sign language is Antonia's mother tongue. "As a child, I thought that everyone was deaf simply because I was around me," she recalls. "I had the feeling that I had seen people signing everywhere in the subway and in traffic, so I used to be just not aware that not everyone was doing it." Antonia is a self-confident, young woman - and socially committed. In her free time she looks after deaf refugees, supports hearing parents who have had a deaf child - and she is the chairwoman of "iDeas", an advocacy group for deaf students at the University of Hamburg. She is also currently writing her bachelor thesis in psychology.
Deaf - much more than a medical definition
From a medical point of view, people are deaf from a hearing threshold of around 90 decibels - that means, at best, you can still hear sounds at the volume of a jackhammer. However, the residual hearing ability is different for everyone. But being deaf is much more than just a medical definition. It also means belonging to a culture of your own, the deaf culture. Sign language in particular connects the approximately 80,000 deaf people in Germany. They have their own sign language theater, Deaf poetry slams or deaf sports clubs - to name just a few examples. Hearing people who do not speak sign language find it difficult to enter this world.
To be deaf - an invisible handicap
Antonia can describe countless everyday situations in which hearing people react strangely to her. If, for example, she is approached on the supermarket shelf and signals that she has not heard anything: "Most of the time, people apologize, turn around - and hey presto, they're gone again." In doing so, she would like people to take a moment to ask their question again slowly or, ideally, simply to write it down.
By the way, you sign "deaf" by moving your outstretched index finger from your ear to your mouth. Very few people know that. "It's a relatively invisible handicap," says Antonia. "That's why a lot of people don't know how to deal with it." Antonia doesn't see herself as disabled at all. "Handicapped or not handicapped, that is a point that does not concern me at all," she says. "I only notice that when I interact, when I'm in society. Then I get disabled." It starts with announcements on the platform, missing subtitles on television - or lecturers at the university asking whether Antonia's interpreters can correctly translate scientific questions.
Linguistic nuances: "deaf" or "deaf"?
By the way, Antonia prefers to use the term "deaf" instead of "deaf". "I think 'deaf' is simply more positive. 'Deaf' is always so focused on the deficiency." But everyone handles it differently. 23-year-old Bella, for example, tends to use "deaf" - out of habit. Only "deaf and dumb" is taboo. This term is perceived as discriminatory because the deaf are not mute. You can make yourself understood in the same way as hearing people, just in a different language.
"You hear the movement of the water, I see it"
Bella stands by a canal in Hamburg's Speicherstadt and looks out over the water. "You hear the movement of the water, I see it." Bella studies pedagogy at the University of Hamburg and like Antonia has been deaf since she was born. "Deaf people have a fundamentally different perception than hearing people," she explains. "The visual, in particular, is much more important to us." For example, deaf people have a much larger field of vision than hearing people. They can still perceive even the smallest movements on the periphery. But also the body feeling is much finer in deaf people: For example, they perceive music through the bass. They feel steps on the floor or a slight breeze when someone walks into the room - or they notice the vibrations of a vacuum cleaner. So hearing people have to free themselves from the thought that their way of perceiving is the only real thing.
How deaf people learn to speak
At home in both worlds
"I can hear and control my own voice through the hearing aids," says Bella. But sometimes she just wants to walk around deaf. 1 min
Bella and Antonia both learned to speak when they were little. At that time you were visiting a speech therapist. "It was such a playful approach to using my voice and not being inhibited about using it," says Antonia. For a deaf child who cannot hear themselves and who does not even know what their voice sounds like, learning to speak is of course much more difficult than for a hearing child. They have to acquire the spoken language technically and know exactly how to form a sound and which speaking tools one has to use for it, i.e. what role the mouth, lips, breathing or vocal cords play. "In the beginning I had a lot of fun with it and was always happy to come to the appointments," recalls Bella. "Then I had my hearing aids with me and was able to control what I was doing right." But for both Bella and Antonia, sign language always remains their mother tongue. They feel most comfortable with it and can express themselves most naturally.
Why some choose not to speak at all
Nevertheless, the situation in German deaf schools is only slowly changing. Antonia graduated from high school in Essen - and many teachers at her school were also not competent in sign language, she says. "There were situations in which I wanted to sign and the teachers said that if I don't use my voice, they won't sign with me either. But I don't speak as clearly as people who can hear and I am often not understood. I am automatically degraded , no longer at eye level. " That's why Antonia decided a few years ago not to speak at all.
Sign language: equality only on paper?
In 2002, sign language was recognized as an official language in Germany. Deaf people therefore have the right to free interpreter support when visiting a doctor, going to authorities or going to court. In reality, however, one is still a long way from real equality. In the case of inpatient hospital stays, for example, the health insurers refuse to cover the costs.
Another example is their studies: Antonia and Bella study at the University of Hamburg with the support of sign language interpreters. In order for the costs to be covered, you must submit an application for integration assistance to the social welfare office. Antonia sometimes had to wait a whole semester for approval - but the interpreters' bills go directly to the deaf students. And that is not a small amount: sign language interpreters cost 75 euros per hour, for every event you always need two interpreters who take turns. In this way, up to 70,000 euros can come together in one semester.
Saving money is not possible
Up until last year, wealthy people in Hamburg had to pay for interpreters out of their own pocket. "I wasn't allowed to own more than 2,500 euros," says Antonia. She would have liked to save some money for a longer vacation. It was never possible. "I know someone whose mother died while studying, she left him an inheritance - and the inheritance was then confiscated by the social welfare office. He had nothing from the inheritance."
Above all, Antonia criticizes the fact that the deaf students have to manage the budget for the interpreters themselves. "I get the bills sent, have to check and transfer them. There is a lot of money in my account, but that's not mine." This is really overwhelming, especially for freshmen. "That's not fair," says Antonia. "The deaf students have really difficult conditions. And they are made twice as difficult if you look at all the social security conditions again."
Sign language interpreters: costs are not always covered
The spokeswoman for disability policy of the Greens, Corinna Rüffer, sent a small question to the German Bundestag in March 2018. It was about the situation of deaf people in Germany. It turned out, among other things, that to date not a single deaf person has participated in the federal voluntary service. Because the costs for sign language interpreters are not covered. So there is still a lot to do in Germany in terms of equality.
Anything but quiet: life without sound
A life without noises. Without voices, without sound. This is hard to imagine for hearing people. The students Antonia and Bella grew up like this. What does that mean? more
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7 days | 02.12.2020 | 11:50 pm
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