Deaf for a Day: What Is It Like to Be Deaf?

We recently held a Deaf for a Day experience at community-incubator and co-working space 1909 in downtown West Palm Beach. Members voluntarily participated for a short time to experience what it would be like to be deaf.

By wearing earplugs for a day or muting a Zoom call, members of the hearing community tried out what it would be like to be deaf for a day (and some only made it an hour!).

Below, we share their real-life experiences:

  • “Only one hour and I was killed! I tried to get into conversations, but the tool I’ve used my entire life was not working. I got scared, embarrassed, felt excluded and awkward … that hour took soooooo long. I just wanted to get away from people and lock inside myself.” -Rodrigo Griesi
  • “Deaf for a Day was an amazing, eye-opening learning experience. I thought it would be easy to follow along a Zoom call while on mute if I could follow along with the written communication on the call, but it was so hard to do while also trying to look and be involved in the current conversation while it was happening in real time. I never realized how overwhelming losing one sense could be—something as simple as everyday communication becomes incredibly difficult. It’s important to try to understand the difficulties some people face in everyday communication so we can gain empathy and come together to find solutions and give everyone access to the communication we all need.” -Yahira Rodriguez
  • “I was blown away by how difficult and exhausting it was to have to try and read and watch people’s lips and reactions to keep up with a conversation. I barely lasted 20 minutes! I remember looking at Saida and her big smile and wondering how on earth she can be so positive and happy—I am in awe of how she handles herself. It was also really interesting to learn about ways to make events more accessible. I have been in the event-planning world for years and was never exposed to these concepts, which made me pretty disappointed in the way we as a society think about these things. I can only imagine how difficult and frustrating most events are for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. I feel like I was in the dark ages before knowing this information. I also recently learned that the ADA act was passed 30 years ago, so these concepts aren’t new; we just aren’t implementing them as a society.” -Shana Ostrovitz
  • “I attempted to bake without listening; I burned cookies and messed up our dreaMallows. Everyone laughed when I provided the feedback during the call, but then I started thinking and shared with Saida that I rely on listening to hear and use the machines. It took a lot more work to bake without listening to machines.” -Milka Gordillo

As a deaf person, I am so happy that people wanted to experience my world. I was surprised to see that this experiment allowed hearing people to see some of the challenges I experience daily. I never complain about it because I know that some people have it a lot worse than I do—especially those who were born hearing and became deaf.

As a result of this experience, I noticed that people truly seemed to get a better understanding of what it’s like to be deaf. They were more accommodating and helpful, slowing down their speech or offering to write things down to assist. 

If everyone tried this experiment, even for just an hour or a day, the world might become a more open-hearted and patient place to live.

What do you think it would be like to be deaf for a day? Would you be willing to try it? If you’re deaf, have you ever asked your loved ones to try this experiment? What do you wish the hearing community understood about being deaf?

Special thanks to Skye Sherman for helping me write this story. And thank you to 1909 for always supporting me.