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Being deaf (davidpeter.me)
663 points by sarenji 698 days ago | comments

mechanical_fish 698 days ago | link

I could try to find a deaf girl. However, I don’t want my kids to have an increased chance of deafness.

This sounds like a classic case of premature optimisation. Cross that bridge when you get there. Thousands of other deaf parents have done so. Their kids were fine.

Even if they come out hearing, we’d need to make sure they’re raised right — who will teach them how to talk?

Let me respectfully suggest that this is just untrue, a persistent myth about language learning. Hearing kids learn spoken language just fine, even if their parents don't use it. (Parents have a natural tendency to overemphasise the percentage of the time that their kids spend listening only to them. ;) But kids listen to everyone.)

One thing that does happen is that hearing kids of deaf parents become fluent in both ASL and a spoken language. Which is not a problem. It is in fact kind of awesome.


bad_user 698 days ago | link

     One thing that does happen is that hearing kids
     of deaf parents become fluent in both ASL and a 
     spoken language
This also happens inside families that migrated to another country. The parents do not speak the foreign language withing the walls of their own house (the foreign language being an inconvenience for them), but that doesn't stop the children from being very fluent in both languages from a very young age.


devolve 698 days ago | link

As a person who was raised with two different household languages at different times, I can offer anecdotal evidence that this holds true. My refugee parents decided that their native language (Romanian) would be an obstacle for me in their new country (Thailand) and went for English instead. Then we got asylum in Sweden and I learned Swedish in kindergarten and so on.

In Sweden my parents started speaking Romanian at home, which I also picked up. It became a coherent triangle of languages, where home we spoke Romanian, outside of home Swedish, and English on TV and in school.


tocomment 698 days ago | link

So you learned English from TV? I thought I've always heard that didn't work.


dimitar 698 days ago | link

Works really well if you are a kid. You get really solid foundations then and you gradually improve.

This is why its important for your kids to watch Cartoon Network in English. I think this is how I and a whole lot of other 20-somethings learned the language.


warp 698 days ago | link

I learned most of my early english from TV. I grew up in the Netherlands, speaking Frisian at home and Dutch at school. At the time dutch tv did not offer much programming aimed at children, the more interesting cartoons to be found on cable tv were on english language channels. I would tape Transformers episodes and watch them over and over.

Later on I started consuming other media (video games + video game magazines, american comics), so that by the time they started teaching english to me at school I was already relatively fluent.


deltaqueue 698 days ago | link

Just another anecdote, but every Dutchman and Swede I've met has a much better grasp of the English language than any other country, and they all attribute it to how much American TV they watch. Probably just a corollary relationship given how English classes start at an early age, but I can't imagine the practice hurts.


tjoff 698 days ago | link

I find it quite easy to find a correlation between countries that dubs their TV/movies with poor English comprehension.

It really helps and without it people wouldn't be in contact with English that often (at least before the internet) and if you never refresh your knowledge it will most definitely fade. Yes, we start learning English at an early age but a lot of students excel way faster than teaching allows once they get over the initial hurdle (much thanks to TV and internet).

As a Swede I feel that we are quite good at understanding English but we are quite poor (comparatively) at speaking it (although we can often make ourselves understood it isn't pretty), which isn't that surprising considering how seldom most people in Sweden need to talk in English (but we constantly consume it).

Compare France and Germany with Sweden and I think the biggest advantage that Sweden has is that we don't dub any movies or TV (except for cartoons and movies targeted towards small children). That and that people in France tend to get upset every time the are reminded that french isn't the only language in the world.


risratorn 697 days ago | link

That's an observation i've made myself a dozen times too, i'm from Flanders (Belgium) where basically not a single show on public television is dubbed, all shows are subtitled and I'm confident that it has been a great stimulation in my ability to speak and understand english, even though it's not perfect. When I look at the other side of the country (Wallonia) where they speak french natively almost all shows on public TV networks are dubbed in french. The wallonians I know are pretty hard to understand when they speak english, they might grasp the grammar and spelling but their pronunciation is really bad.

PS: I don't mean to generalize here, it's just my personal observation, of course there are a lot of french talking people who speak perfectly understandable english fluent. I just feel that the fact that I've watched english spoken television shows all my life has helped me a huge amount in learning english.


jarek 697 days ago | link

I don't think it's quite as simple. Poland has been dubbing foreign TV/movies since the early 90s (in addition to having a rich homegrown tradition of children's entertainment) and English among younger generations is widespread and quite good, if not Scandinavia/Netherlands good.

I'd be willing to bet a correlation with country's population and relative economic power would be much stronger.


iaskwhy 697 days ago | link

It might be then good to analise another country, a poorer one and not in the north, say Portugal. Almost nothing is dubbed in Portugal and you can see quite a difference between Portuguese and Spanish people speaking English. Same for French or Italian people.

Still, Scandinavian youth seem to have almost perfect English and that is not true about Portugal where it's mostly good enough. I'm sure education has a role here somewhere.


screwt 698 days ago | link

A Dutch friend of mine said watching English-language TV was a great help learning english. Just hearing the language a lot does wonders for recognising the sounds of words. Plus she said a lot of shows would have Dutch subtitles, so you get the link between sound & meaning.


nessus42 698 days ago | link

An ex-girlfriend of mine moved to the US from Romania at the age of ten without any knowledge of English. As an adult she speaks completely fluent English with no hint of an accent. She claims that she learned English by watching TV.

Though of course, she was also living in a country where most people speak English, so I'm sure that must have helped. I'll have to ask her how long it was before she started school again, and how well she understood English by that point.


bad_user 697 days ago | link

In Romania movies on TV and at the movie theaters are also aired in English with Romanian subtitles. English is also learned from school, sometimes from the second grade.

When I was 11, I was watching Cartoon Network in English (yeah, I still love cartoons) and I could understand everything. My spoken English is still not so great, but it's nothing that couldn't be fixed with a month living in the US or UK.


kitsune_ 697 days ago | link

I had learned a good amount of English by playing NES games at the age of six. I watched and understood Akira four years later. The film was in Japanese, subbed in English. Note, I don't speak a word of Japanese.

Watching English TV shows at an early age will give you an advantage later on.


devolve 698 days ago | link

No. I learned English at home, and I kept up with it through TV and school. Also, I've always preferred to read in English, which probably helped a lot.


marssaxman 698 days ago | link

When I lived in Antwerp, I learned a fair bit of Dutch by watching Dutch TV with English subtitles. I have lost it all since then but I got to the point that I could generally make out basic conversation in shops and so on.


sp332 697 days ago | link

It doesn't work well if you just put a TV on around a very young child. But if you're paying attention (and a bit older) it should work OK.


hu_me 698 days ago | link

tv is a very effective medium for improving command on english. in my case i started with english when i was around 10 and then slowly built up my language skills starting with disney cartoons > national geographic > tv and movies


sarenji 698 days ago | link

This sounds like a classic case of premature optimisation. Cross that bridge when you get there. Thousands of other deaf parents have done so. Their kids were fine.

Actually, you're right. Sometimes the girl I like is deaf, sometimes not. I should be fine with kids either way, and put in the work to make sure they develop right. I'm rethinking this entire paragraph. Perhaps I should have said I don't specifically search for a girl who is deaf, and then just left it at that, or just removed it entirely. Love is love.

Let me respectfully suggest that this is just untrue, a persistent myth about language learning. Hearing kids learn spoken language just fine, even if their parents don't use it.

Some (old) studies had suggested otherwise, but you made me remember the bilingualism argument, which is gaining traction. I do know that if you have a hearing child to both deaf parents, it's very important to expose the child to spoken language as much as possible. Of course, I hope I'm that kind of parent :-)

Bilingual kids do have a lot of advantages over kids who only know one language. I'd be very happy to teach my child, hearing or deaf, both sign and English.

Thanks for the insightful comment.


ataggart 698 days ago | link

As a hearing child of two deaf parents, I'm one data point against the notion that such a child's language skills are harmed. Sesame Street is a wonderful thing.


wvenable 698 days ago | link

There have been a few IAMA's on reddit from children of deaf parents. I googled for one but found several. You might find them interesting:





pooriaazimi 698 days ago | link

There are thousands and thousands of orphan children out there, why not adopt one? I'm not deaf, and thankfully have no physical illnesses (except that I sit too much in front of a computer), so there's no statistical reason to fear that my genes could go wrong, but I'm sure I'll never have kids.

I don't want to judge other people, but to me, the idea of having a child while there are millions of orphan children (a huge percentage of them are healthy and very smart) who would love nothing more than a home is very unethical.

I know that this might be a controversial view and most people don't feel this way, but I just wanted you to know that there are other alternatives.


hef19898 698 days ago | link

First, non of what I'll be writting is an offense of any kind, I'm just putting it first because a) my other language isn't english 2) it's a sesitive subject and 3) it's awritten communication - annonymous.

You are right, love is love. And one thing I learned, never argue with it! Never! So secondly, I don't think there is anything wrong with premature optimisation, everybody wants their kids to be allright and, yes, normal. If they are not, you still love them and you can't predict it anyhow but I completely understand if you want to reduce risks. since I was faced with a similar decision myself (thank god my genes turned out ok), my girl-friend and I decided to go for it. Exactly because we wanted our kids to be allright.

And as for the rest of your post: you opened my eyes on a subject I never really thought about, thank you very much for that!


idleloops 698 days ago | link

Yeah I think you could remove that section entirely.


thunfischbrot 698 days ago | link

> This sounds like a classic case of premature optimisation.

My thoughts exactly. Before I was forced to admit that I cuold use less technical terms when describing social or psychological phenomena ;)


jeffool 698 days ago | link

Warning: A long meandering post, about multiple things, because my day job is at a relay center, taking calls from/to deaf people.

I absolutely understand his fear of letting a relay operator help him here. Now, obviously this fellow can write in English awesomely, and like any other place my coworkers are great people and (the vast majority are) trying to do their job well, so on paper you'd think it could work... But man, when it gets ugly, it gets ugly. You never realize just how much conversations change when a single "not", "un", or required inflection is left out. You know how us hearing people may misunderstand a joke or reference in text/IM? Yeah. That times twenty, because when texting/IMing, you're trying to take the medium into account. Phone conversations are so trivial to the hearing, we ramble at a million miles per hour and often don't include references to our demeanor in words or tone.

It even matters what state the relay operator is working for at the time, as the laws of how the call must be handled are state laws. In Utah you must read exactly what's typed by a deaf person, even if they speak ASL, and must directly transcribe what a hearing person says, even if the deaf person doesn't speak English well. In California, where many people primarily speak ASL, you can translate from English to ASL, and ASL to English. Of course, for us hearing people it's less translation, more interpretation.

One of the biggest problems I have at work? Phone lines suck. It's hard for us to hear (not to understand the deaf accent of, but literally audibly hear) so many callers, both deaf and hearing. And it's rough transcribing a voice with normal call quality and even moreso if the other connection is bad. I never realized just how bad phones sucked until I worked there. I can go home and use Google Talk on my laptop and it sounds crystal clear in comparison to any phone.

Relay calls work well for saying hi to your mother and (usually) calling up your cell phone provider. You will not be explaining fizz buzz to a potential employer. I love my coworkers, but the first time you say "So you'd use a switch-case statement," they'd write "So you use which case statement q" ("Q" indicates a question,) and keep typing, because asking people to repeat themselves infuriates them, and makes them lose their concentration. And because of honest mis-hearing. You don't know the topic, so you don't know you heard it wrong, so you go on.

Finally, why don't modern cell phones handle TTY calls? Turn the phone landscape, put a scrolling conversation banner at the top and the keyboard at the bottom. You'd think it'd be cake. Anyone know what the problem is there? If nothing, then someone get on that, make an app. Make yourself some money. Just credit me as an inspiration. ;)


jallmann 698 days ago | link

> Finally, why don't modern cell phones handle TTY calls?

My phone (a Droid 3) has a TTY mode. Not sure what that entails though.


wesbrown18 698 days ago | link

This means that they change the audio encoding to not exclude the tones of BAUDOT. You can then hook a TTY up via the headset cable.


driverdan 698 days ago | link

Your comments about ASL and English are interesting. There are people who only/primarily speak ASL and don't speak English? Does this account for the low literacy rate the OP mentioned?


wesbrown18 697 days ago | link

Exactly so. The main issue that I have is with people who tie literacy in English as a measure of intelligence and functionality. Some of the most brilliant and eloquent orators and storytellers in American Sign Language I have met were functionally illiterate -- but through their beautiful hands, magnificent images were painted in space. It is also a failure of the education system, trying to teach English in Signed English or Spoken English. The most effective teaching of English that I've seen is by a fluent American Sign Language speaker who can explain the different parts of speech.


captdeaf 698 days ago | link

Hi. I'm 32, I'm deaf, and an engineer. Formerly of RIT (though I left long before graduation). Currently located in the Bay Area of CA.

My first job was with Amazon. I was their first deaf corporate employee, and had to fight for every interpreter hour I got. Quit after a year. Did remote contracting for a year and a half, then went to Google. Quit after 2.5 years, and now I work in an office with deaf friends, we do consulting+etc (and are hoping to eventually bootstrap our own startup out of our office =).

Bottom line: Even Google may have utterly fantastic engineers. But even though they gave me a daily interpreter (11-3pm every day, and on demand outside of that, no problem), it's still isolating.

For the other commenters: No deaf person will ever hear anything that isn't told directly to them. Nobody realizes that. In a group discussion, nobody's speaking directly to the deaf person. An interpreter helps, but only somewhat.

One analogy I always liked to tell hearing people: Imagine if you lived in a world of telepaths, where everybody could communicate with each other except for you.

As for the post:

Solitude: Yes, this won't change. Yes, it sucks. I got a cochlear implant last year (yes, at age 31). Though since I wore hearing aids for the majority of my life, I still had enough hearing-related processor neurons in my brain left. It's been fantastic.

Group conversations: This is why I work in a deaf office. Sure - the pay is considerably lower than Google, there's no free food and the work may be considered duller, but it's as relieving as going home after wearing a blindfold all year long and being able to remove it and use your eyes again.

Managers and teammates may sympathize and wish they could learn, but the stark fact is they really don't have the time. It's a very high pressure environment, and everyone needs to constantly be at their best. This, again, is considerably harder for us.

Love: Sure, it's hard, but it's nowhere near impossible, as I can attest (Been with my current, hearing, girlfriend for 4 years).

To go off on another note you stuck in here: I agree - deafness is just another adjective. Not an identifier.

Interviews - Yes, it sucks that they don't know jack, but you really need to take the lead in your interviews.

Don't let them try and figure it out - That wastes their time (not a good thing) and likely leads to a solution that is no good (live meeting). Instead, they'll express their interest in interviewing you - "What time can we call you?". Write back with your requirements, e.g: "I would prefer to converse via (skype, gchat, what have you)."

My Amazon screen interview, amusingly enough, was in a Text MUD (The interviewer noted my background in it and had an interest). My Google interview simply via gmail chat. My other screen interviews have been via AIM or GChat, because I demand them. In-person interviews? Require an interpreter. If it's in an area familiar to you, suggest an agency and/or a specific interpreter.

Screencasts, talks, video tutorials: Add to this list webisodes like "The Guild" and "SMBC Theater". Video-on-demand like netflix and hulu (both slowly improving), amazon instant video, showtime and hbo, etc.

Sadly, nothing ever happens without ridiculous amounts of (pick one) 1) Legal action. 2) Personal work. 3) convincing. Among my personal items of pride is that I am one of the engineers who first convinced them and then developed Captions for YouTube. (Alas, they didn't go for the "community captioning" idea.)

Access services: I'm a signer, not cued speech, alas, but this is why I never went to class =). cough. You can find interpreters and transcribers all across the board on the technical spectrum. I went through a number of interpreters before I picked my regular interpreter, and trained her on the vocabulary. (Poor interpreter had to read through a 200 page print-out of internal Google vocabulary!)

(Of course, this post did remind me of one very early phone interview with a tech shop while using text relay. "Do you have any experience with eunuchs?" (unix))

Deaf Culture: I am with you there.

Friends: Welcome to humanity. We're very social creatures no matter how we try to fool ourselves at first. I was content to be isolated in my dorm room early in college (and before that). But later in college, and ever since, a growing discontent with being isolated from in-person interactions.


Kluny 698 days ago | link

Hey, I'm also deaf and studying programming. I had an internship at a web design company, which ended badly, mostly due to my misreading of social cues. Do you have any advice on how to avoid that in the future? And is there some kind of meet up forum where I can meet other deaf programmers? Most of the deaf people I meet in everyday life are semi-literate, and, though perfectly nice people, not very interesting to talk to. It'd be nice to find more people like me.


becho 698 days ago | link

I commented above; posting here so you see it too --

We would like to host a meetup (in the Bay area) and have a drink and get to know each other. If you'd (and anyone else, all are welcome) be interested in that, email me at bobby at brilliantecho.com and I'll put something together.


Kluny 697 days ago | link

Hmm, I live a bit far from the Bay area to make the meeting. I really want to have some sort of community, now that I know there's a couple of us. How about a facebook page? Would all of you contact me, shannon at rocketships.ca, so I can invite you?


Mz 697 days ago | link

Re social cues: See if you can find a socially savvy friend to kind of mentor you. By that I mean someone who might hang with you, critique what you do and help you find a means to bridge the gap. I have done a lot of that for my two sons. They are not literally deaf but are ASD, which I have described as "socially deaf" (in other words, they just don't read social cues well or instintively know how to react appropriately). It has made a big difference.

Take care and best of luck.


liamotootle 698 days ago | link

Hi captdeaf, would you please email me at liamotootle@gmail.com? Several of my friends are RIT graduates and our circles of acquaintances may overlap. I'd also like to ask some questions about your deaf office and the CI, if you don't mind. Thanks!


citricsquid 698 days ago | link

The way he talks about office communication and missing out on things reminds me very much of being a remote worker, I don't think I can begin to imagine how frustrating it would be to be in the office and feel like you weren't there.

A few years ago there was a wonderful post on somethingawful.com from a deaf person who answered questions and talked about his life experiences, there was hours and hours of content to read and it was really informative and interesting, unfortunately it's hidden behind the archives pay wall now.


jyothi 698 days ago | link

That is an excellent point you bring up there: remote workers are very close to being deaf. There are so many things you feel like expressing - small things not worthy of a call or an even an email - a chat works but still not the same effect.

Being a remote worker is like being both deaf and dumb.

I hope one day we would have the Cisco tele presence affordable in small offices too http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQpBPUbNJcM&feature=fvwre...


shakesbeard 698 days ago | link

I don't think this is accurate. As a deaf person you see when conversations take place, and when you are excluded from them. As a remote worker you don't get this consistent reminder.

You are correct, that it might be similar when trying to do small talk, though.

PS: I work 100% remote.


jwingy 698 days ago | link

Sorry I understand the point you're trying to make with your analogy, but I think it greatly understates the fact that deaf people have to deal with this in EVERY aspect of their lives, and not just work. No disrespect, just wanted to point that out.


liotier 698 days ago | link

The presence of remote workers in a team greatly enhances written communications - take most open source projects for example : for lack of frequent oral interaction they are heavy on forums, mailing lists, bug trackers, wikis etc. I guess that the presence of deaf people in a team might provide the same challenges and produce similar effects. But I'm not sure that deaf people want to be treated entirely like remote workers : as the article shows, the need for social life must be taken into account too.


anotherdeaf 698 days ago | link

TL;DR It sucks to be so isolated (and that’s probably why this post is so long in the first place)

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I didn't realize until now how much it meant to me to hear about others going through similar experiences.

I’m 22 and I just realized now that I haven't really communicated with another deaf person for about a decade since I graduated from elementary school where there was a small, tight-knit class for handicapped students. The lack of communication might ironically be a byproduct of doing too well in school. It started when I first transferred out of my handicapped class into the “regular” class in elementary school. Then I transferred to an academically prestigious school district while everyone else went to the middle school with the better disability program. And at the moment I’m a student at UC Berkeley, where I learned that there are probably only about 30-something deaf students out of a population of ~36,000 (and, surprise surprise, I never managed to come across them). I guess the point is, after that long of a time, I can't help but start believing that I’m the only deaf person everywhere (which, on second thought, is probably true most of the time).

So as I read through your post, I couldn’t help but feel a stabbing pain of recognition that, “hey, I totally had that same feeling before too...” Especially the group conversations, where I often smiled and laughed with everyone pretending that I heard the joke. Oh and there’s the frustrating lack of subtitles in video tutorials and screencasts too. Then again, it’s not new to me to learn based on reading alone, since it’s been the same with almost everything else: elementary school, middle school, high school, university. But still, it sure would have been nice to follow along with the speaker in the videos.

Admittedly, my hearing circumstances are rather different from yours since I grew up as a hard-of-hearing kid who could still hear and communicate orally as long as my hearing aids are in. However, two summers ago, I jarringly lost all usable hearing in my left ear without an explanation. And sadly, it just had to be the better ear that I used for everything hearing-related like phone calls and listening to music on earbuds...sort of like losing your right hand when you’re right-handed, so now you have to learn how to use your left hand. Afterward, I learned that I had a genetic condition where my hearing was fated since birth to progressively worsen and peak as I reach my 20s.

Since then, I really struggled with hearing in a new, scary way that I never experienced when I could at least hear with hearing aids in both ears. No matter how hard I tried to concentrate on the lipreading and body language, I could barely comprehend others and would miss just as often as I scored. Now I can’t help but laugh at how my younger self really overestimated her pro lipreading and bodyreading skills. Since I was groomed to live and succeed in the hearing culture, it doesn’t help that I can’t do sign language either. However, I just learned about the Cued Speech system for the first time from your post, so I’m rather excited about learning up on this system with my sister later today.

But for now, what ended up happening after losing my left ear’s hearing is that, for about an entire year, I didn’t talk. Back then, it was normal for me to go through an entire day speaking less than 5 words (“Hello roommate!”, “Bye roommate!”). My younger sister eventually managed to keep me human by calling me on the phone everyday to chat for hours. (Since I know the sound of her voice like the back of my hand, I can understand her 90% of the time...beats my 50% average by a long shot.) And when we eventually moved in together, she’s my handy second ear out in the wild. We’ve worked out a system where she watches my face closely when I’m interacting with the clerk or waitress so she can smoothly step in at the slightest quizzical or panicky expression and say stuff like “Yes, we’ll both have that drink, thank you.”

For now, I’m saving up for a cochlear implant, so I’m optimistic that I’ll manage in the end, especially with the help of my sister along the way. So to Alice when you wake up and read this in the morning (I’m writing this at 3:45AM), thank you. :]

I’m so sorry for this wall of texts, I originally had nothing to say and now I ended up with too much to say. I think reading your post really opened up a dam of all these memories, thoughts and feelings. Once again, thank you for sharing, and I hope you do well on your next venture!


hersisteralice 698 days ago | link

TL;DR I actually made an account to reply to this

Hi, sister here. It's 8 AM and she's (^) currently sleeping soundly near me, but I'd thought I'd contribute my own 2 cents on the whole matter.

I'm Alice, and I've grown up with a partially deaf sister whose hearing has gotten progressively worse in the recent years. I've watched her listen to me with ease years ago to leaning over and struggling to what I have to say now today. I'm currently studying music and aspiring to be a composer, and what does scare me is the thought that my sister won't be able to listen to my music when the time comes. She's the one who's supported my endeavor the most.

And now that I think about it, I never really "feel" that she has this hard of hearing situation. It's never been that way to me, I just accepted her since I was young and we've both been raised normally together like everyone else except for those awfully boring visits to The Hearing Doctors in which I frittered waiting around whining what's for lunch.

My sister has been fortunate enough to have the opportunities to grow into the person she is now. Of course, that doesn't undermine her struggles at all, but I understand that everyone has a different experience even within a group of relatable topics. I'm glad that my sister's never been socially isolated or bullied, like another close friend that I have.

I'll call him C here. He's an online friend (real as any other friend) and I cherish him a lot. He's 21, partially deaf, and has had cochlear implants. His life experiences differ a lot from my sister's. He's faced much adversities. C's been bullied when he was younger, has gone through depression, been socially isolated (at one point homeless) but is making considerable progress today in his game design education and I believe he'll succeed on his own someday. There was a time I didn't understand why he was so self conscious about his voice. The first time I heard him, I realized his speech was slurred - especially with the 's' and 'l' if I remember correctly. Once I got past a certain threshold, it was fairly easy to understand him and I didn't pay too much attention to some pronounciation difficulties.

Although we've been slowly drifting apart and now we're busy immersed in our lives, I won't forget the stories that he's told me or the things he's taught me. OP, thank you for posting your story. You sound like someone's who been through a lot.

And also -- don't give up on romance. I forgot to mention that there was a point in time that I liked C (romantically!), and he knew that very well. What can I say? I was attracted to his wisdom and motivation to keep on going, no matter how tough things got. :)


becho 698 days ago | link

You're not alone. I've posted elsewhere, but would like to invite you (and anyone who's interested) to a meetup/beer/drink with us. If you're up for that, and in the Bay area, email me at bobby at brilliantecho.com!


Swizec 698 days ago | link

I know I'm echoing everyone, but this story was just so profound I have nothing to say. It's very rare to wake up in the morning, go on hackernews and find something this worthy of attention.

You almost made me forget to eat breakfast. Thanks for the great read and I'm glad to hear things are looking up for you.

Here's to hoping three years from now look as better than today, as today does compared to three years ago :)

PS: to startup founders hiring foreign workers, they feel like this too. I've seen it in the eyes of some people at some offices. Work on making everyone feel immersed in the office culture. If you think you are, work harder.

PPS: to workers where foreign people are involved, it's your job to make them feel involved. I know it's easier to just do things normally. Make an effort.


caffeineninja 698 days ago | link

David, that was a very eloquent and well-written post and I certainly hope that you came away from writing that with a better sense of well-being.

I, too, am deaf, but our experiences are different. I was born deaf and am profoundly deaf with 85+ db loss in both ears. At the risk of sounding conceited, I'm what you would consider a success story.

A background:

As a child, I lived in San Diego, and my parents (at the advice of my speech therapist) enrolled me in a deaf school in Los Angeles that specialized in mainstreaming deaf students. I went there for 3 years and then joined a normal school in San Diego in 2nd grade wearing hearing aids.

At some point in time, I developed an ability to lip read and was able to speak without difficulty. This enabled me to have normal conversations with my hearing peers, and I was able to socialize.

So, trying to keep this short, I went through high school, went to college, received a cochlear implant (about 6 years ago), graduated from college with a degree in design, and I've actually worked with a number of companies in teams. I also met my wife (who is hearing) in college, and we've been together 10 years and married for almost 4.

I'm currently in my third week working as a lead designer for a YC startup in San Francisco, and it's a 6-member team. Great people, and there have been no issues as far as communication, and the team members here are very willing to accommodate any challenges I may have.

With that said, because lip reading requires me to intently watch people, I share your frustrations when it comes to conversations in an open office environment and in group conversations, but I found that one of the best ways to try to control that is to engage in conversation rather than be the 'fly on the wall'. I greatly rely on context when I lip read, so it's important to know what the context of the discussion is. It's actually much harder to lip read someone when you don't know what the context is.

Now, I have to say something - you said you use Cued Speech, and you sign. I believe that if you continued to do so, it would only frustrate you further. Furthermore, I'm surprised that you didn't make use of your speech therapy benefit, as that's probably the best way for you to overcome the difficulties you have. Learn how to lip read too - it's a fun party trick. :) Also, try to engage in normal conversations with your co-workers, no matter how challenging it might be. Practice is important. They will respect you for it. I completely understand the challenges of having a handicap and the challenges behind getting accommodation for your handicap, but I find that the best strategy is to ignore your handicap, overcome it, and come up with ways to accommodate yourself, not others.

If OP is David, you can contact me here on HN.


veb 698 days ago | link

I'm deaf too, however I don't have a cochlear implant and like you I learned how to read lips and body-language when I was a child. I agree with you too, much easier to control (hehe) or engage in the conversation rather than be the fly on the wall.

What really gets me though, is when you see those micro expressions flash over peoples faces and then you start to doubt what you perhaps misheard or what you should've said. This is the most annoying of all problems I've ever had to deal with, as I am constantly second guessing myself, which isn't pretty.

Another thing to all deaf people out there who rely on lip-reading -- how do you go for concentration and memory when it comes to having a decent conversation? If I concentrate really hard, I'll find that I can understand what's going on, and converse back. However, if I do too much of it, my brain starts to wander because it simply starts getting too tired to concentrate at such a high level for long which ends up making me feel stupid and I either only remember the start of what they said, or the end.

For hearing people, it goes like this:

>Person says something

>You then have to playback what you've just heard, seen what words they could have said with their lips, the context and the way their body language is.

>Your brain then does some computations and tries to figure out what's being said

>Your brain then tells you to say XYZ

This goes for every word they say. So if you're not concentrating at 120% you'll miss some words. Context is important, because I LOVE YOU can also look like COLORFUL if you're trying to lip read someone -- but you won't fool any professional lip reader like us ;-)


Kluny 697 days ago | link

I'm reposting a comment from earlier to make sure you see it:

Heya, I'd like to start some sort of community for those of us who are deaf and work in technology. I'm studying programming in Victoria, myself. Want to contact me, shannon at rocketships.ca, and I'll invite you to a facebook page? If you have a better idea than facebook, let me know, too.


driverdan 698 days ago | link

Is there anything us hearing folk can do to make it easier?

When I've had conversations with people who lip read I've made sure to keep my speech at a reasonable pace, avoiding talking too quickly, and I tend to sharpen up my pronunciation and annunciation to avoid slurring words or letters.


DanBC 698 days ago | link

Don't have a beard or a face covering. (This can be tricky with some cultures requiring a face to be covered.)

Don't have a bright window behind you (which will silhouette your head and make it harder to see your mouth.)


adaml_623 698 days ago | link

I'm very glad you (caffeineninka as somebody who definitely knows what he's talking about) has said that the OP should use speech therapy as that was what I was returning to this thread to encourage. I can guarantee that there are people out there who will listen to your words however difficult it is at the beginning for both of you. Paradoxically people are often more likely to become your friends the more you need their help.


Kluny 697 days ago | link

Heya, I'd like to start some sort of community for those of us who are deaf and work in technology. I'm studying programming in Victoria, myself. Want to contact me, shannon at rocketships.ca, and I'll invite you to a facebook page? If you have a better idea than facebook, let me know, too.


sarenji 697 days ago | link

caffeineninja: The email field is invisible on HN, so you'll need to put it in your about. Either way... my email is in my profile.

A lot of my post outlines a struggle as I become more proactive. I'm leagues beyond what I used to be 3 years ago, but obviously I'm still not completely there.

I couldn't find any good/reputable speech therapists in SF, but I should have been more proactive on this. Do they have to be specifically deaf ones?

> At some point in time, I developed an ability to lip read and was able to speak without difficulty.

Can you expand on this, either on here or email? This seems like the most important part, especially as I'm not at that point.


becho 698 days ago | link

Always great to hear of and meet more deaf or hard of hearing folks working in the Bay area. I own and run a technology startup here in the Bay area; there's four of us, all deaf. 'captdeaf' is one of us and commented below.

We would like to host a meetup and have a drink and get to know each other. If you'd (and anyone else, all are welcome) be interested in that, email me at bobby at brilliantecho.com and I'll put something together.


kentosi 698 days ago | link

Thanks for taking the time to share this story.

I'm not deaf, but I can very much relate to some of what you've said. Especially the loneliness part.

I'm an English speaker who's spent the last year in France. I'm currently working in a French company, and the spoken language is still VERY difficult to follow (ie - when they use slang, jokes, etc). For six months, I've been feeling like I'm in the shadows quietly sitting with my colleagues at lunch and hearing them laugh at jokes while I'm still trying to figure out what they were talking about with a lag of 10 seconds. It's frustrating, crushing, and you want to just go and hide somewhere.

Yes I can ask them to repeat things, yes I can ask them to explain the jokes, but it just makes me feel like dead-weight that needs to be dragged along. It's frustrating beyond anything.

The advantage on my part is that I can get (and have gotten) used to the language to the point that I now follow things quite well. And with time it can only improve. I'm not sure how this will pan out for you, but I wish you all the best. The fact that you're putting in the effort is in itself an awesome thing.


davedx 698 days ago | link

Same thing here, but in the Netherlands!

I've noticed that I'm gradually getting better and better at understanding what people are talking about. It's a long, hard task to get to the stage where you understand the jokes and slang, but it is doable. Good luck! :-)


edw519 698 days ago | link

Thank you for the wonderful post, David. Perfect for us hackers. In our world, but not completely. With a human touch we often gloss over. And with plenty of fresh data.

Now here's what to do: Have business cards printed up with 2 links (and nothing else) on them, one to your blog post and one to this discussion thread. Then hand them out as you see fit. The people you meet in real life deserve to know this just as much as we have. I hope that helps.

Best wishes and no matter what else life throws at you, keep building!


welp 698 days ago | link

Wow, this article has hit be pretty hard as well -- I have been profoundly deaf since I was about three and a half. The fact that my deafness hit quite late means that I'm pretty proficient at oral English (thanks Mom and Dad!), it does mean that I miss out on a lot at work or in my social groups.

I have had to put so much effort into getting out there and meeting new people, but now that I have, I wouldn't give up any of my friends for the world as they are pretty amazing and make sure that I'm included in everything. As in anotherdeaf's story[0], if I'm at a pub or MacDonald's or something, and they know I've not heard something they will quickly step in to sort it out. None of them get embarrassed or anything when I asked them to repeat what someone else said, and all of them are happy to say the same thing over and over until I've got it -- I guess what I'm trying to say is that when you've found your friends and trained them up, they'll stick right by you. People always ask me how I got to be so confident, but the truth is I'm really not, I'm always terrified of meeting new people but I put myself out there and make a huge effort to talk to them, ask questions and just get on with them in general. It is horrible and I'm always exhausted afterward, but the rewards make it worth it. Just stick at it, talk to people, and you'll be good to go.

Have you taken lipreading classes ever? If not, you should definitely consider it. It means that I can happily talk to people in swimming pools, e.t.c., when I can't wear my hearing aid.

Insofar as work is concerned, I've never had any issues with special arrangements for interviews -- I tend to email recruiters directly, but IBM, Google and Twitter (as well as other smaller companies) have been more than happy to make special arrangements for me. Always, always ask, the only tip I would give you is to put an obviously fake telephone number in (e.g., 000000000).

Oh, and don't worry about the girls. If they're worth it then they will come to you :) And definitely have kids. Even if they ARE deaf, they will still get a lot out of life, and things have been improving so much since I was at primary school all those years ago.

Also if (any of) you want to just shoot shit or have someone to chat to about deaf stuff, my email address is in my bio, so feel free to send me an email or add me on gtalk.

[0] http://hackerne.ws/item?id=4002231

EDIT: (Also I have just sent out that article and links to some of the comments in here to my best friends, partly as a way to say thanks to them for all the trouble they've put in for me over the years, and also to help them understand where I'm coming from some of the time.)


saizai 697 days ago | link

Why don't you just give out a relay number? Even I have one - people call, they get a relay op who pings my IM. Works well.


rdl 698 days ago | link

"The only good access service I’ve ever gotten is Cued Speech. In a basic sense, Cued Speech is a system that uses signs for sound. It was invented to battle the spectacularly low deaf literacy rate. (The average reading level of deaf 17- and 18-year-olds is at the fourth grade level.2) "

Wow. That is seriously depressing. I can't even imagine being deaf and not reading a lot. (I actually don't think my life would be seriously negatively impacted by being deaf; it would be an excuse to take meetings on IRC and via email, which would improve productivity for everyone; I already largely prefer subtitled video content. The only thing I'd really miss is listening to audiobooks while driving.)

(I've known several deaf and a few blind people who are amazing software engineers; over the Internet, it's pretty hard to tell.)


bad_user 698 days ago | link

     I actually don't think my life would be seriously 
     negatively impacted by being deaf
I think you should reconsider your assumptions, because with any of the 5 senses gone, your life will be seriously impacted in a negative way, even more so for eye sight and hearing.

Some people can cope with such a disability, but only through tremendous effort. On deafness, that means you won't be able to participate in conversations the way normal people do, so you'll have to read lips and learn how to pronounce sounds by examining how other people move their mouth and tongue.

Many people with deafness since birth can't do that, preferring instead to stay close to other people that know sign language. Imagine how life is for them when they can't communicate with most people they meet.


thunfischbrot 698 days ago | link

Sometimes I feel the same way, though I recognize that this is a kind of 80/20 rule as well. While I could do without about 80% of spoken word I hear everyday, missing the other 20% would really throw me off. And this is just the hearing part, not being able to express yourself would probably be even worse.

Viewed from afar it might not seem such a huge disadvantage, but I even stopped being a strict vegetarian because it can be such a hassle sometimes. In theory you can always find vegetarian alternatives, but it can be tiring to always have to explain yourself and go the extra mile. If cutting one group of foods out of my daily intake is too much for me to bear every day, how could I judge what losing speech and hearing would do to me?


nessus42 698 days ago | link

> I actually don't think my life would be seriously negatively impacted by being deaf

You couldn't be more wrong! Deafness is far worse a disability than blindness for most people in terms of integrating into and succeeding in society. The reason for this is that human beings are social creatures and deafness isolates people, while blindness doesn't. This is the reason that there is a whole unique deaf culture that tends to stay separate from mainstream culture. Within deaf culture, deaf people are not isolated.

This is the reason that many deaf people are morally opposed to cochlear implants. They feel that it is an attack on their culture--the culture that allows them to belong somewhere and thrive.


rdl 698 days ago | link

Maybe for normal people being deaf would be a huge disability, but as a nerd, I would rather be deaf than even just have really bad (uncorrectable) eyesight.

Professionally, you could absolutely live a full life as an individual contributor while deaf with minimal accomodation. It might be hard to be an entrepreneur or senior manager, just due to the large number of in-person meetings required, but even that could be worked around (missing out on the informal communications would be a problem in some places). I would have zero problem working with a deaf engineer where all communication had to be by IM/irc/email/commit, vs. verbal; it would be just like a remote worker, which we have huge experience with as a profession now. I mean, I IRC with people in the same room to avoid distracting other people, to be more clear, and to produce a record. A deaf coworker would basically mean I could wear my HD600 open headphones instead of my DT770 closed headphones, that we'd need a visual paging system and alarm, and not a whole lot more. I've worked with people who spoke such horrible English that it was far preferable to have them write vs. speak, too.

I agree the "growing up deaf" part might be a lot different (and probably worse), but as an adult, if you suddenly went deaf (as has happened to me on several occasions), not a huge problem.

Looking for a workplace with a lot of remote workers is probably the best way to be a first-class team member while deaf.


brainless 698 days ago | link

You are trying to imagine something that normal humans can not easily. That is why you are probably very wrong. Do not assume your life would have been very similar if you were deaf. Remember each and every day of you life would pose more struggle, much more than you go through now.


pbhjpbhj 698 days ago | link

There's the flip side too. The OP mentions that they largely reject Deaf culture instead identifying as deaf.

Some Deaf people enjoy their lifestyle and the community and culture that surrounds them so much that they would choose for their children to be deaf so that they too can be a fully accepted (!) part of that same culture. TBH I've a lot of sympathy with that position.

In short, be cautious. A sign user living amongst a deaf community might well feel offended at your pity and assumption that theirs is a lower quality of life (for some measure of quality).

I think the OPs chosen field must be particularly hard - speakers have difficulty with communicating code/markup too, it requires a mix of communication media to effectively and unambiguously communicate code IMO. Transliterating code in to English can be tricky, I bet it's hard in sign too.

I'm interested whether the OP uses ASL at all (or some other sign language) or only uses Cued Speech. Also whether they've attempted to educate their colleagues in Cued Speech and if that has helped at all?


miyudreams 698 days ago | link

Easier said than done. You've never been deaf, so how would you know? Even if you try to imagine being in their footsteps, it's not the same. I definitely can't imagine myself living in complete silence. If you live in silence, the isolation will probably make any normal person depressed.


mistermann 698 days ago | link

> I actually don't think my life would be seriously negatively impacted by being deaf

The irrational optimism on this site is starting to get a bit carried away.


jamesgeck0 698 days ago | link

Forget audiobooks; I'd miss driving.


driverdan 698 days ago | link

The deaf can drive. Unfortunately many deaf drivers try to have conversations with their passengers, leading to a similar situation of texting and driving.


dm8 698 days ago | link

Great article. OP - If it helps, I also have a minor physical disability. I can't type properly with one hand (congenital defect, although its impacting aesthetics more when compared to motor functions) yet I'm working as an engineer for few years. And now I'm part of founding team at a startup. It never acted as an impediment in my life or career. I generally don't mention about it (to anyone) because I feel I get unwanted sympathies and awkward looks. As I'm perfectly normal like otherwise.

Don't worry about hearing disability. It will only affect you if only you think so. And there will be some times you'll feel lonely and depressed (like after your bowling alley incident) because you are not part of the norm. Always remember, despite all the odds you are doing amazing (compared to others). So use that as an inspiration. That said, I would like to wish your well in you career.

P.S. This is the first time I'm talking about it in public forum (in my entire life). So I'm inspired from your post :-)


wesbrown18 698 days ago | link

I read your post, David, and I found it very akin to my experiences. In a lot of ways, I am you -- but fast-forwarded fifteen years. I am in the prime of my career now, considered to be one of the best in my rather specialized and intersecting fields of high performance computing and automated malware analysis; I am a Chief Architect of a startup company, engineering manager of a small crackerjack development team, and I am Deaf.

I empathize with the feeling of being the last to know things. Unless it is written via email, IM, or directed at me personally, I do not know it. I have found a company structure that mitigates that particular issue, in that I am part of and leading a remote engineering team. There are no members of the team that share offices, so all communications and 'lunchroom conversations' actually happen over IM, the phone, or in the group chat room.

For a long time, I was just as isolated as you are -- for many years, I was the 'hacker in the corner' that you slid food to under the door, along with tasks to do. I was a security consultant that was given targets to hack, and write reports. But I did very little customer interaction, by intent and design. I am old enough that text relay over a TTY was my only option.

I had a US Robotics modem attached to a Sun Sparcstation in my basement, that was BAUDOT capable. I had GNU screen running, attached to that serial port, and sent the console up to my office. In this way, I was able to answer and make calls from anywhere that I had a SSH connection, including my early text-only RIM Blackberry.

Text relay is awkward and horrible in a lot of ways, and I share your pain. I can trace the turning point in my career when Video Relay Service started being offered over the Internet, along with the early model Sorenson videophones. Because I was able to communicate fluidly via the interpreter, using voice-carry-over, when neccessary, my coworkers started to see me as more of a concrete person.

Because of the doors that Video Relay opened, versus text relay, I was able to emerge from my 'hacker in the corner' persona, and advance to become an extroverted and respected Principal Consultant who managed client engagements.

I have a pretty cool Tandberg/Cisco E20 Videophone on my desk with built in VCO. It has a Bluetooth connection to my hearng aids, so when I dial a number, I get the audio shunted straight to my ears. Further, with the built in VCO, there is no call complexity in voicing for myself. I just pick up the handset, or speak at the screen in speakerphone mode.

When I speak, the other hearing people hear my voice. When the hearing people speak, the sign language interpreter translates what they say; using the contextual and spatial nature of American Sign Language, the interpreter is also able to identify which speaker it is with a body shift. Because there is very little latency versus transcibing, the conversation is natural and fluid.

Two times a week, as engineering manager, I lead the conference call where the engineering team gets together and gives status updates and issues. I also handle client and customer calls that require a personal touch from an engineer.

Reading your post about your frustrations dealing with the phone, I do need to point out that the easiest path is to accomodate the interviewer or other people's request for a phone number. All the services that offer telecommunications access for the deaf are required by the FCC to provide a real and personal number that anyone can dial.

This is the key factor here -- rather than trying to tell them to not use a phone, give them a phone number that is linked to the access service of your choice. This includes CapTel, which is real time transcribing of phone conversations, by an operator that uses dictation. http://www.captel.com/

I know that you do not identify yourself as culturally Deaf, or as a fluent signer, but American Sign Language interpretation provided by a competent video relay service agency that is selective about its staff is far more fluid and latency free than captioned telephone. The interpreter can even indicate in expression if he or she is unsure about the subject matter -- and more importantly, the interpreter can convey the tone of voice that the other person is using at the moment. This is what has allowed me to be an effective consultant, being able to determine emotion, even by proxy.

As far as love, girls, dating, and marriage, I am married to a Deaf/HoH girl myself. I keenly empathize with the frustration that is dating when you are deaf. Dating is supposed to be a nice experience, where you figure out if you're compatible or not. But if you are concentrating so intently on trying to understand the other person on a date, then how can you feel the chemistry or spark that is supposed to happen?

My first date with my eventual wife was a moment of grace, a breath of fresh air. It was the first date that I've ever been on, that I laughed and felt comfortable at. Yes, we were nervous, yes, there were some dialectal and communications difference, but I enjoyed myself and so did she. One date and then another, and I moved to be closer to her, proposed, and married her.

We primarily sign in our household, because it is the communications method that is the most relaxing. When we sign, we do not concentrate, or feel frustrated. When we emerge into the world outside, it is not as terrible a chore to put on our hearing aids and concentrate intently on hearing people -- because we have our retreat and solititude.

You should not choose not to marry a d/Deaf/HoH girl based on how likely it is that you will have deaf or hearing children. The majortiy of Children-of-Deaf-Adults I have met have felt themselves enriched by the experience of being a CODA, of being truly bilingual in a widely different form of communications. They find much to laugh about, in the form of communications. By being CODAs, they are enriched by bilingualism rather than crippled by sign.

I am not advocating against Cued Speech as a primary form of communications; as a matter of fact, when I think about it, Cued Speech has some advantages over sign language when it comes to hearing people. It does not require them to learn an acutal language; it is easier to teach eight handshapes and eight locations around the face. It is also easier to do Cued Speech and speech rather than simultaneously doing American Sign Language and English. Cued Speech is a change of mode rather than a change of language.

The sad reality however is that there will probably never be any form of telecommunications access that used Cued Speech. I would actually use a Cued Speech VRS service if it was available, as it does not require me to merge two linguistic streams in my brain, Spoken English and American Sign Language into a conversational model. And the alternative, CapTel, doesn't have the same sideband communications capabilities or the reduced latency that American Sign Language interpretation offers.

In a nutshell, my message is, there are options to ease your path through life, including Captel, and VRS. Do not exclude love based on deafness.

Let me know when you're done with Hacker School, and we can discuss whether a remote job with us might be a good fit for you. We're doing some of the coolest stuff around over here, building a special-purpose supercomputing cluster.


zaroth 698 days ago | link

This is a really hard post to try to comment on, but here's just a thought. The first thing I felt reading the story was impressed. It's a good article on HNfp. But are you asking too much out of "work"?

It is great to hone a skill, apply it, create great things with it, and ultimately survive and thrive off of that skill. I think that's incredible. The internet has certainly help open more opportunities for those with disabilities.

You're fighting an inspiring fight against your disability. Give your co-founder and your co-workers some major credit too. It's not every startup/founder who would make the hire.


sarenji 698 days ago | link

Thanks, this means a lot. What you say is true. I've had a hard time separating work from personal life, since this is my first job (ever!). Going forward, I have a better idea of what to expect.

I also wanted to make it clear that I'm extremely thankful to my work for taking the chance to hire me. I love literally everyone here, even though, sometimes, I feel alone. Now, I'd consider all of them my friends. That's the basic sense I tried to get across with this post.


pwim 698 days ago | link

Have you considered doing your own start up? From reading your story, I saw several opportunities. In particular

I don’t know if it’s whether they never saw my note, whether they rejected my resume silently, or whether they attempted calling my phone number (which doesn’t take calls).

stood out to me. It wasn't clear to me what happens when someone called the phone, but seemed like it rejected calls. Why not have an answering machine like service, where people can leave a message and it gets transcribed?


jeffool 698 days ago | link

There are actually answering machines for the deaf. But to use then you have to either have a tty machine, or call it through a relay service (711). But most online forms won't accept phone numbers that include the extra digits.

Conversely, the deaf can call 711 on a tty and have the operator check, and transcribe, their voicemail. But I can understand the concern they're getting it wrong, and th fact that many just don't like their privacy invaded in that fashion, and would prefer to skip voicemail, given the ubiquity of email.


AngryParsley 698 days ago | link

That sounds like it would work pretty well. Set up voicemail, but have it mention that the person is deaf and that an SMS or e-mail would be more convenient. The tricky part is transcription. If you want better transcription than Google Voice, you have to use a human.[1] That means Mechanical Turk or a TTY operator.

My main concern is how viable such a product would be. Depending on who you ask, 0.2-0.4% of the population is considered deaf. That's not a very big potential market.

1. I find it amusing that Google Voice transcribes robot voices particularly poorly. I've had voicemails from PagerDuty transcribed as "This is the FBI" when the actual message started with, "This is PagerDuty".


daeken 697 days ago | link

> Depending on who you ask, 0.2-0.4% of the population is considered deaf. That's not a very big potential market.

It's definitely not a very big potential market, but it's a substantial sector of the population that's very, very underserved. I think that there's a lot of potential to make a decent chunk of money while doing a lot of good. I've been thinking a lot for the past year or two about technology for the blind (both in terms of assistance devices and games) and I've come to the same conclusion there, largely.


benvolioT 698 days ago | link

I believe Google Voice offers machine transcription of voicemails. Not perfect, but better than nothing!

I agree that this sounds like a business opportunity. Perhaps use Amazon's Mechanical Turk to outsource transcription to humans (who tend to be better at this than machines)?


pbhjpbhj 698 days ago | link

Twilio do transcriptions as a built in part of their service. IIRC you have to declare the requirement as part of the dial verb. They've got very good walkthroughs that you could use to make an answerphone and have the transcriptions of all calls sent to your email account or wherever.


deafscribe 698 days ago | link

49-year-old deaf professional here. Used to work as a web dev in the 90's, until the dot.com crash in 2000. Last gig was working for the Washington Post.

I can relate to everything sanenji's described - I'm quite like him but older. Been married twice, once to a hard of hearing woman, now with a deaf woman. Raised two fantastic children, do freelance writing on the side (here: https://influentialprose.wordpress.com/ and more recently, here: http://unitedrepublic.org/author/kmcleod/

Web dev work was great starting out. I did all of my early work solo as a consultant, then joined a firm in Arlington, VA and continued to do projects solo there. Because I communicated chiefly by e-mail, I got on good terms with all my co-workers. I didn't join others for lunch for the same reasons Sarenji mentioned, but I didn't much mind since I love to read and used the time to do that. I had a robust social life in the deaf community, so after hours I got my people time.

Everything changed when the firm was bought out by a larger company. The new management implemented a team approach, which necessitated at least one team meeting each week. I asked for 'terps, but only got them for the once-monthly company rally meeting. The real work was coordinated during the weekly meetings, and I had no clue what was being discussed. That went downhill fast, and I moved to the Post and stayed there until they began cutbacks.

I've spent the last 10 years working at a residential mental hospital for deaf patients, which has been a real adventure.

I just want to say to Sarenji - love is where you find it. Whether it's a hearing or deaf person, run with it. Just remember this; no one person is an island. Your mate comes with a network of friends, family and work, and you'll become part of that network whether you enjoy it or not. Chose carefully.

Kids - most children of deaf parents are born hearing. Mine were. They'll definitely benefit from growing bilingual. Don't worry about it. If it happens you get deaf kids, you'll be the best kind of Daddy they can possibly have, cuz you've been there and done that.

I tutored English at Gallaudet University for a while, and once worked at a residential deaf school. I've got deaf friends who are at that (not mythological) 4th grade reading level and others who read and write probably better than most hearing folks.

The common denominator I've found among deaf adults with strong English skills is they were exposed early and often to English with their parents, through reading stories. Some used ASL to explain the English, some just read the story together in signed English, but either way, early and regular exposure makes all the difference.

I think it was Helen Keller who observed that being blind cuts you off from things, and being deaf cuts you off from people. Me, I balance my life by socializing in the deaf community and doing what I can professionally in different areas, so I don't feel isolated.

Make the most of your abilities, and keep learning, all the time - it's far better than being bored.

Given all the accommodations and opportunities available for deaf people in the U.S., we probably enjoy the best environment any deaf folks who have walked this earth have ever known. Which is not to say it's perfect, but it's good enough to grab with both hands and build a satisfying life.


wesbrown18 697 days ago | link

Amen to this -- my parents knew that if I was deaf, that I would need to learn by other means, ergo, reading. My father read to me every day since I was a child -- it did not matter that I did not understand him, it was the association and encouragement that helped. I was behind as far as literacy, until I started taking a real interest at 8. By the time I was 11, I was reading Star Trek Giant Novels.


kevinchen 698 days ago | link

Throughout this entire post, I kept coming back to one thought: when we build things, accessibility isn't just about adding ramps for wheelchairs.


abecedarius 698 days ago | link

For most company interview applications, they ask for a phone number without alternatives. ... I never hear back from these.

I've seen the same kind of thing. When I started looking for work in the bay area in 1996, when my email got a response, it was always with "give us a call" or "what's your phone number?" (when I'd already noted I couldn't do phones -- this was before internet phone relay). I'd write back politely reexplaining the issue and offer alternatives, and always, always, that was the last I'd hear from them.

To the recruiter or whoever, the deaf candidate is a bit more trouble, weirdness, uncertainty, which apparently was just enough to consistently push me into the wastebasket; to the candidate, any one such episode can be shrugged off, but when it happens repeatedly, for months... that's something else. Try to remember this when you find yourself on the other side of this dynamic.

(I finally got an interview with Peter Norvig's startup because he personally remembered me from a bug I'd found in his book. Similar story for other job offers -- contacts matter.)


masukomi 698 days ago | link

I appreciate taking the time and effort to put this article out there, and hope that it will help us hearing folk to improve our dealings with deaf people, but I can't help but have the following thoughts:

1) can the poster not lip-read? I realize it's not 100% accurate and you only get the portion of the conversation from the person you're looking at at the moment but from the description it sounds as if the poster isn't getting ANY of the conversations.

2) Didn't take the offered speech therapy funding?!?! WTF. I wouldn't even remotely suggest that every Deaf person needs to learn to speak BUT if you are feeling so left out of conversations with hearing people, and it's effecting you so significantly emotionally not taking advantage of this just sounds crazy.

I recognize that us hearing folk can never fully understand what it's like to be deaf, but at the same time this post really makes it sound like the poster hasn't been taking any steps to counter the situation that's causing them emotional distress. Getting your employer to pay for someone to come in and translate for you is NOT the solution. Sure it may help, but unless they're going to follow you around all day it only addresses a teeny portion of the problem.

Also, regarding the avoidance of the deaf community: I can understand not identifying with Deaf culture, but getting together with other deaf people doesn't have to be about that. I live in Cambridge, MA (very white and very english speaking). On my street there's a portugese club where people get together simple to communicate in a familiar language. Down the road there's a portugese sports club where they get together to watch soccer. A couple miles away there's a Korean church. These people are primarily getting together because of language. This sounds like exactly the same problem to me. The poster has trouble dealing with oral language, feels isolated as a result, and then actively avoids getting together with people who do speek their language, thus increasing the sense of isolation.

Yes, there's much we hearing folk could do to help improve the poster's situation, but it seems as if the poster isn't doing much to improve their situation either.


sarenji 698 days ago | link

1) Lip-reading is hard. In a group conversation, how many of the people speaking are actually looking at you? How do you follow a back-and-forth? What if someone interrupts? Who is it? People vary in lip-reading skill. I'm on the lower end. If someone says "Lipreading sucks," and you get 50% of it, you get either "Lipread" or "ing sucks," neither of which tell you anything. In longer sentences, you can sometimes guess, but I seem to be terrible at it?

2) My speech has never been a problem as my work understands me quite well. I perceived I had bigger things to deal with, like working on understanding what people say and getting up-to-date on stuff happening at work.

3) I have many Deaf friends back in college who I try to hang out with. I'm still learning sign language from them, and they've all been very helpful and supportive. Until I become proficient enough to actually participate in signed conversations, though, I still don't feel as if I belong.

By the way, me being more proactive is something I'm also working hard on :-) It's all a process.


roberthahn 697 days ago | link

I'm profoundly deaf, but my parents worked to integrate me into hearing culture. Which means lip reading.

Lip reading is not a panacea. To illustrate, try mouthing the words "I want to vacuum" -- and be careful who you mouth them to!


pbhjpbhj 698 days ago | link

>can the poster not lip-read? //

They mention consonantly difficulties - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cued_speech and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manually_Coded_Language seem quite good; from Cued Speech (ibid):

"It is a phonemic-based system which makes traditionally spoken languages accessible by using a small number of handshapes (representing consonants) in different locations near the mouth (representing vowels), as a supplement to lipreading."

Note also that being a proponent of cued speech apparently sets the author against a large part of the Deaf community who it seems take that as an affront to their culture and language.


davedx 698 days ago | link

Just want to say I strongly identified with the lunchtime loneliness thing. I recently moved to the Netherlands and fortunately, I am in the position to change the fact that I can't understand what people are saying (by learning the language) - but still, I've had quite a lot of incredibly lonely lunchtimes until I could pick up what people were talking about.

It really was the time of day that I started to just get down about before it even began, and would spend time at my desk rather than try to participate in lunchtime. I'm a naturally sociable person so it was a bit "step back" for me to not be able to understand the conversation, and I especially hated not being able to understand the jokes.

I still have this, but of course I have the option to learn the language, which I am doing. I don't have any suggestions on how to improve this experience for you, just want to let you know that you are far from alone in experiencing this, and there are many people out there that understand how isolating it can be in the workplace.


ralfd 698 days ago | link

Very interesting and informative!

The eternal drunken night question "Deaf or blind?" I would still answer I would rather be the first than the latter.


Just remembered this hilarious comic which I read years ago. "Dorm of the Deaf":



gwern 698 days ago | link

Ah, that brings back memories of NTID. Especially the deaf sex bit.


gregd 698 days ago | link

I read your post with extreme interest and came to a better understanding about being deaf. Thank you for that.

I have a few questions. Can you sign? Can you read lips? Can you pronounce words? The reason I ask is I once had a deaf friend. He didn't sign, or at least didn't try to with people that didn't know ASL, but he could read lips. He could read lips so well that he could tell if you were just mouthing a word or actually saying it out loud. He would often admonish us if we simply mouthed a word to him. :) It got to the point where the only impediment to ongoing conversations with him, was that he had to be looking at you. He was so good at reading lips that he would often pickup parts of conversations he wasn't a part of ( like "overhearing" one ). If he wanted to know what was going on, he simply had to look in people's direction and read their lips.

It was awkward for the first day or two. Him looking right at you, you getting over mouthing words to him, him replying to you in the tone that only a person who can't hear their own words would. To me, it was no different than learning to speak with a foreigner but the added benefit was that we seemed to pick it up after no more than a week of solid talking, laughing, mocking, and understanding. I seem to recall him telling me to shutup on more than one occasion. Coming out of his mouth, it sounded more like "shauuuuup" with no real emphasis on the T or the P, but I knew what he meant.

I don't profess to know whether or not he's gone through the same loneliness as you, but it seems that he found a way to be a part of "normal" that worked for him and for the people around him. Does this mean I wouldn't have learned sign language? No. This also wasn't a work environment and it predates any technological "advancements" that may be at your disposal now.


ars 698 days ago | link

> The average reading level of deaf 17- and 18-year-olds is at the fourth grade level.

Why??? I would have expected exactly the opposite. Words can open entire worlds. And today as never before a deaf person can communicate with people. The internet is text based as never before in human history.

It can't be because written speech is based on oral. It's certainly possible to learn to read phonetically, but you don't have to. That's what sight words are. I read everything entirely by sight and I'm sure I'm not alone in this.

So why?

I would expect someone deaf to read at a blistering pace, and to type equally fast. To the point that they could communicate entirely by typing at almost the same speed as speech.

What assumption am I making that is incorrect, since apparently that's not what actually happens.


jacobr 698 days ago | link

You won't get exposed to language nearly as much as a hearing person. Also, sign languages don't use regular English words, so your vocabulary will not be expanded that much in conversations.


jeffool 698 days ago | link

I won't pretend to know about literacy rates among deaf people, but I want to underline jacobr's point here: ASL is not "English with hands" any more than spoken Japanese is "English with different sounds". It's a different language, with different grammar, and different rules. Don't let the "American" throw you off.

They may use familiar words and letters when writing, but you can say the same about many European languages, and as an English speaker figure out some sentences in Spanish or French. Now, you may figure out MORE in written ASL, but it's still different.

Though, if I recall, ASL was based off of a French sign language. That's why adjectives go after the nouns in ASL.


neilk 698 days ago | link

Sign languages are proper languages of their own, and even if they are invented by hearing people, when a deaf community adopts the language it usually diverges quickly from the hearing culture language.

So, you're right that there was a precedent to ASL that came from France but don't assume that ASL is much like French.


rmc 698 days ago | link

English came from French (& German).

(For relaxed definitions of 'French' and 'German')


pacaro 698 days ago | link

Yeah, the history of English is waaay more complex than that. But one thing is pretty clear, it isn't a Romance language, and isn't derived from French; it does have a huge French influence, but almost entirely in the form of loan words.


rmc 698 days ago | link

What's interesting is how the upper class words are the french words. This is due to the Norman invasion. So the germanic word "cow" which the farmer deals with gets turned into "beef" for the lord. The lowly germanic "chicken" becomes a french "poultry". A simple germanic "house" is not as grand as a french "mansion" or "manor".


neilk 698 days ago | link

I have a deaf friend who can type a long paragraph with proper capitalization & subordinate clauses, in the time it takes me to hunt and peck a lowercase tweet. But she may not be representative - she comes from an academic/scientist type family and she got a university degree. The average deaf kid may not identify with schooling that much.

Anyway, when we hang out she types these long paragraphs on her Sidekick & I reply with more Hemingwayesque prose on my iPhone. But it doesn't approach the speed of oral or signed speech.

(Related: try reading out the contents of an hour long chat you have with someone over IM; you'll find the whole thing takes just a few minutes.)


jff 698 days ago | link

I attended RIT, which is also home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. As "captdeaf" (who posted elsewhere in the thread) can probably attest, some deaf students are really bad at written English. The explanation I was given by a deaf guy I knew on IRC was that they were over-exposed to ASL and basically had English as an under-emphasized second language. I think he also pointed out some things about ASL that make English harder, but I don't remember them well enough to reliably repeat here--perhaps someone who is deaf can help me out?


Harkins 698 days ago | link


Short version: the stat is 15y old and mostly measures the unbelievably bad teaching theories (oralism, mainstreaming) that hurt a lot of deaf kids and are still being fought over.



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