During the summer holidays, we move for a few weeks to our summer house. While, the move is quite a headache - especially for me - I get to enjoy eating out on the weekends. This is far easier in summer as there are a good number of restaurants that set up their tables on the promenade. It’s quite nice to dine in the evening facing the sea and feeling the breeze and listening to the sound of the sea as it rocks the fishermen's boats..
It was on one of that nights that a young lady who was probably from an Eastern European country placed a few ornaments on our table accompanied by a note in Italian. I was particularly disturbed by the note which was read to me. Indeed, this note was telling us that she was a deaf person who didn’t mean to bother us. However, she was only asking us to give her a minimum donation of 5 Euro, and, in exchange she would give us one of the ornaments as a thank you.
While I felt sorry for the young lady, I also knew that it would be wrong to give her money - even if she was offering me a gift in return. I knew that charity wouldn’t improve the girl’s situation. But, I also knew that my Deaf friends wouldn’t be happy to know that persons like this girl were going around telling people how tragic their life was because they were deaf by handing out notes only aimed to pull at people's heartstrings telling them how their lives without hearing was such a sad and tragic one.
Undoubtedly, other people gave in to their emotions. But I was more suspicious when she opened her pouch to give change to her new clients to reveal stacks of Euro news. And, then, I asked myself whether she was deaf in the first place. I am now almost certain she was not. It was just an act. She was not even poor but was probably being exploited to do this by someone else as what I would discover is a scam. Indeed, when I arrived home, I wanted to do some research on whether the episode that happened on that night had happened elsewhere. You know what? I was right, similar incidents were reported across Europe as a scam (refer to this article).
What is sure is that this incident says a lot about the attitudes that still exist in our society about disabled people. Many of us cannot imagine a life without music, noise and speech. However, being Deaf is an experience shared by millions of deaf people worldwide who enjoy life as much as we do. Deaf people who go to school, study, work and have built their own families and, yes, have children of their own too. Perhaps our own prejudice about the ‘tragedy’ of living a life without hearing emerges out of the fact we try to imagine how it’s would be like to be deaf when we’ve come to take hearing for granted. Unfortunately, our assumptions are based on a degree of ignorance, if not plain arrogance as we consider those who are Deaf as ‘less fortunate’ than us.
The truth is, however, that we are considering things only from our point of view. We underestimate that we, as human beings, can adapt and thrive in our different ways. Undeniably, this isn’t implying that acquiring a hearing impairment later on in life is not painful and requires us to make significant changes in our life. What I’m saying is that we should understand that a life that would appear unbearable to us can be a full life and we, who are different, are whole human beings. Indeed, we have much to learn from our human diversity and take a step back before making unsound judgments.