People have already taken the time this week to create challenges and content which aim to simulate the barriers and challenges faced by deaf and hard of hearing people, but they rarely do a good job of explaining our lived experience – let’s talk about that.
This week has seen me avoid so many simulations that I’m starting to feel a bit like Neo dodging all those bullets in The Matrix, except my body isn’t that flexible and instead I’ve just got really bad back pain. To be clear, challenges which look to replicate what videos without captions are like for deaf and hard of hearing people are pointless distractions from meaningful conversations hearing people need to have with themselves, and others.
I talked about this in considerable detail earlier on in this year’s Deaf Awareness Week, when a hearing person who uses their Instagram account to teach British Sign Language (BSL) to their thousands of followers (don’t do this) decided to launch a #NoAudio challenge to highlight the need to caption videos. On Wednesday, individuals were encouraged to share videos which had been muted or had the sound removed to illustrate the isolation Deaf people experience online. Thankfully, by posting a counter-campaign on the app myself, the campaign post was taken down before it even took off.
There’s one major issue with these kind of simulations: whatever the intention, an aspect of a deaf person’s experience is turned into a challenge, a game to complete. It trivialises our trauma without sensitivity, packaging it as entertainment or something which requires the deepest pity from hearing individuals. It’s a sideshow which centralises and distracts hearing people from paying attention to deaf people during a week where it really matters.
I’ve already touched upon some of the things which hearing people need to acknowledge this week, but one of the main points is accepting that they will never fully understand all the challenges that we deaf people face. Societal barriers – not least attitudinal ones – are hard to condense or convey in a one minute TikTok video. Life in general is difficult to summarise in such a short space of time, and when doing this with deaf issues, the issue explored is minimised, along with its impact.
What’s more powerful is giving deaf people the space and opportunity to share their lived experiences with hearing people. Empathy will come a lot easier in these conversations, and you’ll be steered away from falling into the trap of pity or faux inspiration – emotions which are easily heightened on social media thanks to algorithms and the way these platforms are designed.
In short, we don’t need you to simulate our struggles; we need you to understand it, and work with us to dismantle it.