The Dance of Communication

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There’s a famous quote of Helen Keller that gets to me. How it rubs me depends on whether I’m having a challenging day or feeling on top of the world.

“Blindness cuts you off from things. Deafness cuts you off from people.”

The quote is believed to have come from a letter to Dr. James Kerr Love (1910), published in Helen Keller in Scotland:

The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important, than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus — the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.


I never know if I’m lipreading someone correctly. This was apparent during a recent conversation in the boat with a friend, when he realized the conversation was way off the topic. I completely misread what he was communicating and he stopped the conversation to clarify my understanding. Turns out, I was indeed way, way off.

Some days, the communication flow is completely ON and the back and forth banter is easy. Other days, the communication dance is an awkward one, especially in group conversations where words shoot back and forth at the speed of light. Without communication access and adaptations of some kind, whether text, sign, or lipreading, there are times when I feel completely alone in a room full of people.  That’s what Helen Keller was referring to about being cut off from people.

I feel this every time I come across a video that isn’t captioned or a podcast with no transcript. A piece of the world is cut off.

The one that hurts the most is the “never mind.”

Sometimes it is hard for others to comprehend the communication challenges that come with being deaf or hard of hearing.  “You’re not really… deaf, are you?” is a question that pops up now and then.  More than once I’ve shown up at an event or workshop with an interpreter, much to the disbelief of friends who’ve communicated with me just fine one-on-one.  Lipreading a room full of people is impossible.  I attempted this at a workshop given by a well-known motivational speaker. I think I walked away with about 15% of what was said.  Think of it this way–you wouldn’t want to listen to the radio when it’s full of static and fades in and out, would you? An interpreter makes my world come in with surround sound.

Any time two people dance together, they have to be in sync to make it work. And so it is with the dance of communication. So the next time we’re together, I’d love it if you’d reach out and do this dance thing in sync with me.  I’m always thankful for the people in my life who understand the communication challenges and do what’s needed to make the dance a smooth one.






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