You Speak So Well!

Hard to Hear Compliments

Whenever I meet someone new face-to-face, the introduction inherently requires a preemptive mention that I am profoundly hard of hearing. The goal is to put the person at ease and offer reassurance that the conversation between us will optimally flow just fine.

Inevitably, my newfound fellow observes with genuine goodwill how impressed he is: “Deaf, really?” he marvels. “You would never know it.”  And then, as if my ability to convey intelligible information were a huge surprise, he exclaims, “You speak so well!”

Of course, my new acquaintance and infinite hearing-others mean it as a compliment.  But in my shoes, excuse the pun; it’s hard to hear it that way.

Think About It

What if I remarked in kind?— “Hearing, really?” I say, “You would never know it.  And I bet you speak well too!”  Suddenly our casual meet and greet would go a tad awkward, don’t you think?

Hearies may think this twist a bit over the top. But think about it. It’s stereotyping to the max to assume a person who is deaf or hard of hearing does or does not articulate vocally to your satisfaction.

Most hearing people, with all due respect, haven’t a clue

Most hearing people, with all due respect, haven’t a clue about the social, physiological and developmental affects of hearing language (or not) and voicing it (or not).  Prejudice is more about ignorance, than malice. So stay clear of the topic if in doubt.

Who Speaks Well?

The default definition of “speak well” depends, of course, on the language. For example, complimenting a Deaf person’s ability to voice orally is presuming that it’s a compliment at all.  It may not be.

In the United States and Canada, American Sign Language (ASL) is enormously celebrated within the Deaf Community as a source of pride, identity, and cultural loyalty.  Moreover, visual language is arguably more inclusive across all cultures regardless of auditory characteristics.

Perhaps it is we who were born to hear who are challenged to speak well.

In other words, if we insist to judge, perhaps it is we who were born to hear who are challenged to speak well.  I am sure members of the Deaf Community will happily applaud our efforts to learn ASL so perhaps, some day, if we really work at, we can communicate normally too!

Personal Matters

These are very personal matters and hardly qualify as safe-bet conversation when making a good first impression. Moreover, the presumption, though innocent, still evokes the most repulsive prejudice of all: that quality of speech correlates with intellectual acuity.

It is not your observation that bothers; it’s your surprise.

See, my dear hearing fellow, it is not your observation that bothers me; it’s your surprise. A three-year-old child may be worthy of your speak well raves, but not me.

I suffered very significant hearing loss three years ago.  Up to that time I could detect most sounds assisted for a while by high amp hearing aids. After functional hearing for 48 years my world suddenly plummeted to the brink of silence.

And yes, I speak well indeed.  Helped quite a bit by the fact that I have been a trainer and leadership facilitator for over 20 years. And, of course, I was born hearing (tone deaf in one ear; but able to detect language).

Proper Sound

Yes, it is true that some people who are deaf and who brave to voice do not articulate verbally the same as those of us who grew up hearing.

Many Advocates today encourage a bilingual/bicultural approach to language development and education. Still others may have been subjected to the deplorable practice of denying Deaf children the joy of sign language on the premise it would force-feed vocal communication and lip reading.

Each such grace-filled voice is surely as eloquent as any so-called “proper sound” uttered by a hearing person

Of course, you and I who grew up hearing have no idea what that must be like.  But I am very grateful today to know that each such grace-filled voice is surely as eloquent as any so-called “proper sound” effortlessly uttered by a hearing person.


I mean no disrespect.  To the contrary, until three years ago, my entire life resonated in concert with you who hear. Then suddenly, it was gone. And as each year passes the memory of your sound fades further and further away.

But you can still hear me; so listen:

Yes, it is sad to no longer hear my children’s laughter. Yes, I long again for the sounds of music and nature. Yes, it feels isolating at times and that hurts.

You can still hear me; so listen. I am not trapped in cold dark silence. 

But I am not trapped in cold dark silence. Every voice I do not hear resonates peace within me pure as bright white snow. I am blessed with precious grace to neither judge nor pity nor compliment in error any form of human sound or silence.

The Difference

Today I do not know your voice. And I cannot compare it with any other. I can no longer hear you. I cannot hear anyone.  So I don’t know the difference.  Every voice on earth speaks well to me!

And I am a better man than I have ever been because of it.

Thanks for listening.

4 replies
  1. Lisa Johnstone says:

    Hi Brian,
    Thanks for writing this. I often wonder where my deaf / hoh cohorts are so we can shake our heads collectively when people comment about our excellent speech. I hope to read more from you! Lisa

  2. Karen Carroll says:

    Your message is as clear as the words you wrote. Acceptance. It has not been an easy road for you, but it is one that makes you who you are today. Grateful. The things you realize in the non hearing world most of the hearing population miss out on. Your insight is heightened and your understanding of the nature of humanity is spot on. Your own life experience puts you in a unique position. This perception brings inspiration to all of us.

    I hope this holiday season brings you new joys to celebrate.
    Love as always,
    Your cuz, Karen


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