Evening talk

Can you hear in the dark?

Can you hear in the dark?

I can’t! 

When the lights are off, my communication tool—which relies on visual sight since I’m deaf—is taken away. That means I can’t hear you in the dark. 

No matter what you’re saying, if the lighting is dim or totally dark, I’m not listening. It’s nothing personal—I just have no way to know what you’re saying because I can’t see your lips move or your hands signing ASL.

Ever wondered how a deaf person might give you the silent treatment after an argument? I can tell you: I just turn off the light! 

Sometimes at home, if my brother and I are arguing, I’ll turn off the light as a way to tell him, “I’m not talking to you anymore.” He turns it back on and signs to me, “Don’t turn off the light! Listen to me!”

But that’s one of the perks of being deaf: I can tune you out when I’m done with the conversation!

We in the deaf community often make up for our lack of sound by relying on visuals, from reading lips to body language, sign language, or other indicators in our surroundings. But after the sun sets, we’re down another sense.

Dark settings includes environments with poor lighting, like dimly lit restaurants or nighttime events where seeing each other becomes more of a challenge. In these situations, interpretation becomes difficult and fluid conversation even harder. 

Deaf people do a lot of “filling in the blanks” and using context clues, relying heavily on our sight to keep up with conversation. When that sense is diminished or taken away altogether, communication gets harder. In a crowded environment where everyone is talking, especially in a low-light setting, you might notice that we’ll try to avoid conversation. 

Not being able to communicate well in a poorly lit environment is one of the main frustrations of being deaf; it can be an embarrassing and awkward experience, especially when someone doesn’t understand why we’re not comfortable trying to carry on a conversation once the lights go down. 

Personally, in these situations, I find myself feeling like I’m stuck inside a box and can’t get out. I start having anxiety or fully panicking; as you can imagine, the experience is really unpleasant.

When I was younger, my family would often sit outside and have BBQs and I would just fake it, pretending I could hear and felt like I was part of the party, but really I was missing out. In class, when the teacher would turn off all the lights in the classroom for a PowerPoint presentation, I was at a loss. Even if I had an interpreter, I couldn’t see them! I’d miss the entire lesson—all the material from when the lights dimmed to when they were turned on again. 

Darkness may be one of our weaknesses in the deaf community, but luckily, there are ways to handle it. The most obvious way is to turn on a light or utilize a flashlight or headlamp when possible. Having a flashlight built into smartphones nowadays is definitely handy!

If no light source is available at all, that’s typically a situation we’ll want to avoid. 

Special thanks to Skye Sherman.

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2 thoughts on “Can you hear in the dark?

  1. glen

    Wow, this is great. I focus on a lot of screen reader digital accessibility because there are a lot of tools to test for that, but I hadn’t thought about my environmental conditions with regards to communication. Very enlightening.

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